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Music Reviews: Voyager, Opeth, Morton, Michael Schenker, Jon Lord and Motherlode

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I hope everyone is enjoying the Indian summer and long weekend in climes about to head into the descent towards winter. Just in time for Halloween, Nox Arcana has released another one of their explorations in symphonic gothic musical madness in the form of The Dark Tower. A great sound-track that your 2011 All Hallow’s Eve party needs.

Voyager: The Meaning of I

The philosophical title of this CD should give a good clue as to what kind of the band we are dealing with here. Yes, this is progressive metal. Previously known for being a symphonic or melodic metal band, Voyager are certainly heading down the path created by the mighty Opeth. What might be surprising to some is that this is an Australian band that does not owe anything to AC/DC or Cold Chisel in their sound. Their music is positively Scandinavian in vibe. The band must have found a corner of Oz that reminds them of Northwestern Europe.

I am just being silly of course. But this is damn good music from quite an impressive band. The title track is very Opeth-esque in scope and fits nicely in the vibe of the album, complete with death metal-esque rough vocals. “He will Remain” has a touch of Pink Floyd about it. Overall this album comes across as one which sees a band stretching its wings musically and enjoying every minute of it. This is a solid release that is consistent in its quality and broad in its scope. An enjoyable album all around.

Opeth: Heritage

This review is for the “special edition” of this release that adds two tracks, both of which fit neatly into the overall theme of the disc. Much has been said about this release and there has been much nashing of teeth.

Reviewers on metal sites have been scathing in extremis. The old school fans have finally realized there is no going back from the progressive journey this band is on. There are no touches whatever of the band’s former self.

This is a progressive album that barely even dips into the realm of metal in its entire length. This is an exploration of the early days of progressive rock as filtered through the brilliant musical minds of this band. Steve Wilson, progressive polimath and prolific musician, handles the production and it is quite obvious to anyone who knows his work.

This is an album for mellowing out and introspection, not head-banging. The truly epic soundscapes therein contain elements of jazz and the ever-present classical. There is no sense at all this band care a fig if their fans don’t go along with them on their journey. There is no sense of trepidation in the tunes on here.

If you are along for the Opeth ride then find a comfy chair, a glass of your favourite tipple and prepare to let this music wash over you.

Opeth, like Anathema before them, has gracefully made the transition to neo-progressive rock. This is exactly what I was expecting from Opeth and they delivered it in the classy quality we have come to expect from them.

Morton: Come Read the Words Forbidden

Based in the Ukraine and named after the main man behind this effort, Morton is not a real estate company but a power metal band. While this is their debut, they had an EP out last year to give us all a taste of the band.

This is a solid album of power metal that does not necessarily break any new ground but never manages to sound too much like any of its influences. The band namesake’s voice is quite apt for this music and he seems able to make sure it is never grating. For one thing, unlike some vocalists for this sort of band, he can actually hit the high notes he pens for himself (he is “composer” for the band as well). This is a mature release for a band that has only been around for a couple of years.

It is a decent collection of 13 songs that never gets boring or boorish. There is even a hint of catchiness in most of these tracks; I particularly like “Oblivion”. While quite not at the point that makes them truly memorable, the listening gives you a fleeting bit of pleasure. It clocks in just under an hour which is a good move for a new band — a solid release from an up and coming power metal band.

On the basis of the development from their EP to this debut their next release could be truly something special. Good to see quality metal coming from the former Soviet republics.

Michael Schenker: Temple of Rock

Mad Mickey is back with an impressive album of his trademark hard rock. This is pretty much his best work for quite a while. Then again he has whipped out his little black book of musos and rounded em’ up. He has even got back together with ole’ muckers like Robin McAuley.

MSG for a couple of albums in the late 80s stood for McAuley Schenker Group when Schenker went for a more commercial sound. Mikey’s brother and Scorpions guitarist Rudolf Schenker is on here. Herman “The German” Rarebell of Scorpions of old plays drums on this record & UFO chum Pete Way is on the bass, as is Leslie West of Mountain fame and Michael Amott of Arch Enemy reknown for the song “How Long” as the three generations of guitarists. In short if they were ever mates of Schenker and still alive they are on here. Michael Voss his new vocalist delivers the goods in droves; then again he also produces the album.

The music is some of Schenker’s strongest in many a moon. This is damn good hard rock that at times has a hint of the bands he has been in before. There’s a touch of Scorpions, a smattering of UFO and plenty of the MSG of yore. If you are a fan of the guy then this would be the release to pick up and fans of hard rock could do far worse than this. Schenker has remembered what he does best and delivered it in droves. And hell, it’s got William Shatner introducing the entire thing: what more could you ask for?

Jon Lord: Sarabande

This is a re-release of an album Jon Lord put out in the 1970s. As with most successful groups in the 70s, solo albums seemed to be de rigeur for members of Deep Purple once the band split up.

Not the first time, of course, Lord is delving into composition rather than song-writing. The Concerto for Group Orchestra performed by Deep Purple to much acclaim in 1969 was in fact meant to be a solo record for Lord. He did it again by conposiing Gemini Suite the next year. It was not until recently that either appeared on record.

Deep Purple were one of the first rock bands to perform with a symphony, a trend that continues today with all forms of heavy rock, and this is very much an orchestral outting for Lord. It would not be considered symphonic rock or rock with symphony by any means.

It’s an enjoyable enough set of eight tracks and is nothing too over-indulgent. No doubt it was a labor of love for the talented keyboardist, but it is more for fans of Deep Purple and Lord rather than a mainstream release. However if you have it on vinyl or always wanted to hear what it was like, this is quite a nice release.

Motherlode: Tomorrow Never Comes

This is one fat slab of Zeppelin-tinged heavy rock that oozes class and quality. There are hints of soul and blues about as well; horns and the touch of funk give an extra bit of zest. This would not have been out of place seeping out of your speakers in your Trans Am back in the day.

One of the greatest assets of this bunch is the brilliant vocals, which are both rich with melody and grit. Then again they are Swedish so the melodic thing is almost a given.

I think anyone with a sense of yearning for good time hard rock will have a hard time resisting the charms of this CD. It’s great fun and is missing a lot of grime that features in most hard rock today. There is nothing the slightest bit Accept or AC/DC about this bunch.

It’s far more 80s heavy rock, which actually got played on AOR radio back in the day. Then again they released their debut in 1986, so it’s a been a bit of gap between records (this is their second).

How can you resist the pleasures of tracks like “Wild Dog”? It’s appropriate that its released by Yessterrock, because this release sounds like its a reissue of something I missed the first time around.

If you like your hard rock with a touch of smirk that never takes itself too seriously, then take a listen.

On that melodic hard rock note I need wrap this up for another week. Stay safe and rocking out there as the days get shorter and the nights get colder.

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