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Music Review: Place Vandome, Robert Berry, Shakra, Susperia, and Procol Harum

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Another week, yet another batch of rock on my music player to fill the house while I write. This week we have something rather old and a few things rather new. All rather good to be honest, and things for different tastes, from the heavy to sublime.

Place Vandome: Streets of Fire

Former Helloween lead vocalist Michel Kiske has become of a bit of a journeyman vocalist ala Joe Lynn Turner and Jorn. The guy is one of those vocalists that can pretty much take any song and make it his own without coming across as daft. He can do anything from croon like Sinatra to belt em’ out like Sebastian Bach though the blues of David Coverdale and Robert Plant.

Place Vandome, who have no French members despite the name, do a wonderful line in melodic rock that evokes Journey, Night Ranger, and other arena rock bands. What makes this release such a pleasure to listen to is that he has eschewed the bombast that seems to be prevalent in many such modern releases and goes for something far more crooning on tracks that warrant it. Yes, of course, there is prime Whitesnake in the form of “Dancer” which reeks of big arenas, huge choruses and catchiness in extremis. “I’d Die for You” would fit perfect on late-80s Whitesnake, Winger et al releases, without being twee as so many of wanna-be power ballads .

Kiske and his crew of musos, from bands such as Primal Fear, Sainte Demon, Leverage, and Work of Arting really push the boat out of this one. It gets under your skin and takes hold. A great collection of arena AOR that has all the elements you need from this sort of release. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Shakra: Everest

A monumental hard rock release from this bunch of Swiss hard-rockers picks up where “Infected” left off and shows a band that built on their previous experience. Not sounding at all like their fellow countrymen Krokus, this is a far cleaner sounding type of hard rock that works so damn well if done right. There is a touch of Thunder on here at their heaviest. There is a sense of genuine, rather than contrived, writing and performance on this CD.

The songs have all the right elements for proper hard rock. The choruses are catchy from the first listen, the guitar solos are soaring without be over the top and pretentious, the musicianship is first rate. So often you hear about young hard rock bands who get the moves right, but just don’t pull it off with any aplomb what so ever. You need not worry with Skakra; this is the release that should make them darlings of the melodic hard rock fraternity.

There is enough heaviness about to keep metal-heads happy and not come off as too wimpy. You can tell this lot know there hard rock, but here never a sense they are mimicking what came before. Want proof of damn good hard rock? Check out “Right Between the Eyes” and hear what this lot do so well.

Robert Berry: The Dividing Line

A veteran of bands such as Three (with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer) and the uber-guitar supergroup GTR with Steve Hackett and Steve Howe the man comes with some decent credentials. Some of the tracks on here were meant for the never-released second GTR album, Listen to the People certainly speaks to that heritage.. He fronts a band with former members of Boston, Sammy Hagar, and Night Ranger called Alliance.

So what does the mean for the solo album. It's meant, according to him, as something a bit “more European” than Alliance. I suspect this album aims to be similar to the Scandi rock sound so prevalent from the continent. In the end it rather comes out as an interpretation of that style that does not always hit its mark.

He certainly has a good voice that works with this sort of music. Alas, much of the material on this release never rises over the level of just decent. In other words, most bands would love to release something of this consistency. The problem with many of the songs is that they are pleasant, but don’t necessarily jump out at you. Very few have that catchiness that is so common in the Euro-hard rock releases. It's possible that Berry needs the band format to get the best out of him.

Susperia: Attitude

This albums certainly speaks to an attitude… the attitude of angst and general annoyance. This is dark broody goth-tinged heavy metal done right. There is a sense of bands like White Zombie with no industrial leanings and a lot more melody. At times the band come across in similar vein Black Label Society without the tinge of southern rock. In a sense this lot of Norwegian nutters are just delivering fist-pumping melodic hook-laden metal done right.

This is a more trad heavy metal album from guys in bands that tend to be a bit more extreme including Dimmu Borgir, Satyricon, and Old Mans Child. To this lot playing this sort of melodic heavy metal would be akin for someone in Iron Maiden releasing an AOR album (it happened the band is called ASAP). Its got that sense of catchiness, melody and classic metal that some would call old school. Enjoy the haunting “Mr Stranger” with all its threatening angst.

Ignoring the members of this band and their past to take it on face value, This is a great metal played well and delivered is a great deal of enthusiasm. You would be hard pressed to listen to anything of this consistent quality. One the better metal albums you will hear this or any other year.

Procul Harum: In Concert with…

This is Procul Harum playing with the Danish Nations Concert Orchestra and Choir, taking their already progressive symphonic rock to a whole new level. The music lends itself so well to this sort of treatment, you can’t believe you have heard it any other way. The fact these guys were enjoying their greatest success in the late '60s demonstrates clearly how ageless their music was and is.

“Whiter Shade of Pale” sounds quite staggeringly amazing when played in this setting. Gary Brooker, lead vocalist and pianist, is on amazing form considering his age. His voice probably sounds better today than it did in the '60s. His voices gives the songs such gravitas that when you add the chorale accompaniment it becomes something very special indeed.

This was filmed and recorded over two nights outdoors at festival on the grounds of Ledreborg Castle. The recording, made in 2006, is crisp and clear quite impressive considering the setting. Sold separately there is a CD & DVD. The DVD includes an amusing and very “of its time” recording for a Danish TV show with polite '70s clad fans looking admirably on, in a bit of a daze.

Either choice is well worth the money for any Procul Harum fan and I can find fault with neither. There are extensive liner notes about the event, all in all good value for money containing a stellar performance.

Well that bit of orchestral elegance ends yet another motley collection of recent releases. I hope, at least one finds your fancy. As always check out live music when you can, stay safe and rocking.

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