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Music Reviews: Nazareth, After Hours, China, M.ill.ion, Big Life, Pathfinder

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Another week and another bunch of reviews. This time they are actually the physical version of the releases, almost a rarity for a reviewer these days. Before I get started, though, why not check out Rival Sons? I will do a full review next week, but if you like Led Zep, these guys hit that same place.

CD Reviews

Nazareth – Big Dogz

Nazareth are back with a cracking album that reminds those of us that remember them in the old days why they were headliners. A close friend was telling me recently about the time he saw Aerosmith and Queen open for Nazareth in the US. Nazareth, despite, their Scottish ancestry, have a similar sound to old Aerosmith. I wonder if the touring rubbed off on the young Aerosmith?

It’s not just the sound that harkens back to the band of old that features two original members in the form of Dan McCafferty and Pete Agnew. The album title reminds the old listener of the great album and title track that was Hair of the Dog. There is nothing on here that rivals their huge hit “Love Hurts,” however.

However if you want a solid hard rock album from a great band the you can do far worse than this release. It is certainly the best thing they have released that I can remember for many a time. McCafferty is on cracking form as is the band, the “new” members have been with the band for over a decade. Maybe Aerosmith can return the favour and take them out of on tour.

 

China – Light Up the Dark

This album opens with a riff that would not be out of place on an Audioslave release. Then again on “Hey Yo” they sound a bit like Loaded. Then the album descends into familiar hard-rock territory. This is very much in the Gotthard and Bonfire mode, not a bad thing of course. It’s not surprising that this bunch have done well in Japan; they have also bothered the charts in the UK, Germany and Switzerland. Another thing: now you can safely name a damn good band from Switzerland other than Krokus.

The band has had quite a wonky past, losing members and fizzling several times over the last decade; not that that seems to be reflected in this album at all. This is a very solid release of European hard rock. The sound is slick and the band is tight as can be. The sound is tinged a bit with the current American hard rock sound and that might be because the album was produced by a couple of guys from LA. The track “Gates of Heaven” is pure power-ballad bliss that would have been huge in the ’80s.

Could this be the album to break this lot into the US? Well it damn well should be, if quality and consistency matters. And hell, if they can get away with the name China in Japan, it should work anywhere.

 

M.ILLI.ION – Sane & Insanity

The band has a daftly spelled name and the title of the album doesn’t make sense. Not exactly a good start for any group, maybe except for this one. Their legions of fans and successful records tell us otherwise. They claim influence of Whitesnake, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy, although you would be hard-pressed to hear any of those influences on this CD. This is pure Scandi-hard rock, with lots of Europe and their ilk, especially considering Ulrich Carlsson is a dead ringer for Joey Tempest on lead vocals.

They have played with almost everyone in hard rock and it shows. Whatever you might say about them it’s a very tight band. The only trouble is that some of the time the songs seem a bit mass produced. You have heard it all before somewhere else. There is nothing on here that really jumps out and grabs like tracks on this sort of release should. Granted there are a few that make a mark after quite a few listens, but there is nothing really instant.

The title track does have a certain quality to it, though, which makes it stand out. And like “Fuel to my Heart,” it’s very keyboard heavy. The final track, “Seize the Day,” is probably the one that has the most instant pleasure. Overall this a decent CD, but having heard so much about this lot I was expecting something more impressive.

 

Big Lie – Big Life

Once you get past the rather odd voice of Mark Thompson-Smith there is something pretty good going on here. This is a hard-rock band featuring the talents of Steve Newman of Newman and T-S of Praying Mantis and Sweet fame. Newman has worked and performed with the likes of Steve Overland from FM, the phenomenon that is Phenomena and Grand Illusion. He is firmly entrenched in the UK-based AOR scene, and it shows in droves on this release. This is slick AOR that, while recognizable, never gets boring or samey.

That is not to say it’s all soppy ballads and key-heavy tweeness. There are rocking tracks like “Close to You.” They do have the catchiness formula down pat and it’s a rare track that just washes over you on this release. If one were forced to draw similarities it would be to TOTO, at least to their poppy work. The track “Calling” will remind Canadians a bit of their own The Tea Party.

Of course being an AOR band, an über ballad is a must and here you have “I’m Still Be Here.” It’s delivered with all the class and quality you have to expect from this sort of band nothing twee or wince inducing for sure. As is the norm, the release finishes with a mellower track in the form of “Nothing Without You,” which really demonstrates T-S’s vocal abilities. It’s catchy and hard not to sing along to on the second or third listen. This is a solid release from a quality AOR trio.

 

After Hours – Against the Grain

John Francis, lead singer of this lot, has something of a familiar style to his voice. However it’s one that works really well with the music. He has very much a Steve Perry tone to his singing, but not at all times. The band is very much in the Journey mode and that is no bad thing, especially on “Turn on Your Radio.” The band has actually been around in one form or another since when in that great year in rock that was 1987, they released an album then fizzled.

For an album that was supposedly recorded “for old time’s sake” this is one solid release as if there was some unfinished business for the band. For my money there is not one duff track on this entire release. It’s all catchy, well-crafted music that might not get you up on your feet, but has its place. Well, the acoustic version of “Eleventh Hour” tacked on the end is a bit unnecessary but that is just being pedantic.

This is a solid AOR release for those that just can’t get enough of Journey-esque AOR. If you need something to tide you over until the new release from that band, this might just be the thing. To be honest it’s rare a band that is so aptly named.

 

Pathfinder: Beyond the Space, Beyond the Time

This a decent power-metal record but a few things continued to irritate me every time I listened to it. It took me a few listens to figure out what they were. First of all the band doesn’t have the songwriting skills to make it through fourteen tracks. Secondly, the lead singer seems to be unable to keep himself from singing high notes that are neither clever nor pleasant to listen to. Yes, he can hit the note, but only just, and it gets tiring. He seems to be better with a female vocalist to track vocals with.

That said this is a debut for the band from Poland and as a debut it’s still rather good. There seems to be some sort of concept creeping through the entire album, which is ambitious for a first release.

There are people raving about this release online and I really can’t see why. Yes it’s decent, but its nothing that special in the quality genre that is symphonically tinged power metal. None of the songs really leaped out at me and made me feel as they should with this genre. The band is young, granted, and need time to mature. With a bit of gentle persuasion with the songwriting and vocal problems these guys could in fact be great. Lots of potential for sure, but not quite there yet.

 

On that missed note its time to say goodbye for the week. As always stay safe and rocking as you go.

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