Classic Rock’s New Releases Round-Up
Loads of reissues this week, from prog to pomp, AOR to an all-time classic. Plus a nod to a modern melodic masterwork and a mean streak of metal.
Words: Malcolm Dome
Let’s start with a trip back to the late 60s. The Nice were among the pioneers of prog rock, before it even had that term. The band gave keyboard master Keith Emerson the chance to make his reputation. Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon (Microworks) is a double CD collection of previously unreleased live recordings, showcasing the band in their early state as a four-piece, and then as a trio. It is unmistakably brilliant, and proves the band’s pedigree and influence.
Refugee were effectively The Nice without Emerson. Patrick Moraz was on keyboards. While the style changed slightly, due to Moraz, nevertheless they were an excellent band. Refugee/Live In Concert 1974 (Retroworld) is a two-CD package featuring their sole studio album and an entire gig, recorded at the Newcastle City Hall. It proves their worth as prog giants.
The Survivor reissues campaign on Rock Candy continues with the release of the albums When Seconds Count and Too Hot To Sleep. The former suffers a little, coming as it did in 1986 after the acclaimed Vital Signs. But it still has loads of great AOR songs and some impressive musicianship. If anything, Too Hot To Sleep (originally out in 88) is the equal of Vital Signs. Perhaps undervalued at the time, it has a slightly more gritty production that gives the music a real edge.
Still in Rock Candy territory, you can’t go wrong with pomp pompadours Starcastle. The self-titled debut first came out in 1976, and displays a young band starting to merge Yes with a more melodic rock touch. By the time Fountains followed a year later, the band were really into their stride. In fact, it’s a toss up between this one and the mighty Citadel as to which is the definitive Starcastle album.
One of the best melodic rock albums of 2010, Houston’ self-titled debut is mentioned here, because not only is it now on Spinefarm, but the Swedes are playing The Borderline in London on Friday, March 4. This is so sumptuous that it makes late 70s Styx sound like the Anti Nowhere League – well, not really but you get the point.
Maiden United are far more than an Iron Maiden tribute band. To suggest they play acoustic/orchestral versions of Maiden classics is also to do them a disservice. Featuring members, and former members, of Within Temptation, Threshold and The Gathering, they totally strip down the songs on Mind The Acoustic Pieces, and then reinvent them in their own style. The results are impressive, staying true to the original spirit, but bringing out so much of the legendary metal band’s prog aspirations. Oh, and this is Piece Of Mind reimagined in full. Find out more at www.maidenunited.com
Into the murkily bracing world of metal for Devildriver and their fifth studio album Beast (Roadrunner). While it’s full of brutal riffage and no shortage of insane energy, perhaps what is lacking is a little sense of diversity. If you’re a fan of the band already, you’ll be happy with this. If not, there are better albums and bands of this type out there.
Finall, to one of the greatest albums of all time. Rainbow’s Rising (Universal) doesn’t need any extras to convince anyone of its quality. The fact that there are additional mixes adds to the interest. But the sheer vocal prowess, phenomenal musicianship and timeless songs are all we need. Marvel again at the truly majestic Stargazer.
Tags: Anti Nowhere League, Devildriver, Houston, Iron Maiden, Keith Emerson, Maiden United, Patrick Moraz, Rainbow, Refugee, Starcastle, Styx, Survivor, The Gathering, The Nice, Threshold, Within Temptation, Yes