Lion Records Special
Lion Music Records is a small Finnish label which deals mainly in hard rock, progressive metal and instrumental guitar music. Current artists on their books include Lars Eric Matsson, Alex Masi, Vision, Baltimoore, Torben Enevoldsen, James Byrd, Rolf Munkes and of most interest to progressive rock fans, Condition Red.
Reviews in this issue:
Condition Red - Condition Red
Of all the names found on the Lion Music label, Condition Red must be the one that strikes a familiar note with lovers of progressive rock. Though this is their debut album, a certain amount of hype has been created around this band, nonetheless due to the utilization of many well known names from the Scandinavian rock scene as well as a number of guest musicians. Born out of a concept by guitarist/bassist Lars Eric Matsson (Matsson, Vision, Astral Groove) and keyboardist Alexander King, this album features Ella Grussner (lead vocals, violin) (Barka Vall), Torgny Stjärnfelt (lead vocals), Alex Masi (guitars), Esa Pietilä (sax), Eddie Sledgehammer (drums) (Baltimoore) and guest keyboardist on two tracks (3 and 8), Derek Sheinian (Dream Theater, Planet X, Platypus).
The underlying groove is one of a progressive metal album, though there are various interjections of jazz, fusion and classical elements. As can be seen by the length of the tracks, a lot of space has been given to the musical virtuosisms of the various members allowing each one to expand and make full use of his/her individual instrument.
Calls Out My Name starts the album with a classical overtone, as the music seems to be more in a Renaissance style, though as the double bass drum kicks in the music slowly picks up with the occasional metal interjection coupled with some nice Hammond licks. Three and a half minutes into the track we get the first vocals, and immediately one senses that this is going to be the main flaw within this album. Both vocalists seem to posses a limited range and somehow do not seem to fit into the musical style played, in fact it comes as a relief when the group moves into the instrumental sections of the track.
Judgement Day is one of the album highlights as the group never stray form a jazz/swing groove with some interesting saxophone playing. Even the guitar solos never seem as heavy sounding as they do on the rest of the album. Suffice to say that at just under ten and a half minutes, this track features everything that you could possibly want and expect from a lengthy progressive instrumental, constant changes in both time signature and musical interchanges.
Life Is Now reverts back the progressive metal style that somehow suits the group, especially when looking at the c.v. of the musicians involved whose background is well within the metal kingdom. Keyboard solo is courtesy of Derek Sherinian which also involves utilizing some good atmospheric and orchestral effects. The instrumental Bach On The Streets Again is utilized to showcase the two prominent guitarists (Matsson and Masi) that feature in Condition Red, yet this does not detract from violinist Ella Grussner having her say in the matters.
Fly Me High is one of the albums' weaker tracks. True it does have some interesting time signatures, yet the track remains very bland with some strained vocals. Lighthouse, on the other hand, makes up for the disappointment of the previous track. With an atmospheric sax-drenched opening, the group romp into some great Hammond backed riffs together with a lovely bass run. Occasionally this is interrupted by some delicate saxophone which helps break the continuous guitar riff-raff.
The short (by this album's standards!) Learning To Live shows the strength of this group lies in having a strong backing power chord backbone to the strong structure, which means that the group seems to excel when the song is well within the metallic vein. Final Words closes this album which once again features guest keyboardist Derek Sherinian. Here the group thread a softer path though essentially metallic, the sound is cleaner with less distortion and some nice piano playing.
All in all this album makes an interesting listen though it has its shortcomings. The production work leaves a lot to be desired especially as to where the drums are placed within the mix, while the vocals as I have mentioned time and time again just do not blend in well with this style of music which requires a much more powerful voice which has a wider range than what is offered here. The album does have its musical moments though and this should act as a guarantee for the group's musical future. As a debut, they are going in the right direction. Time will tell.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Note: this album has also been reviewed by Remco in 2000. In his review he rated the album with a 5.
Alex Masi - in The Name Of Bach
One of the most admired and transcribed classical composers is Johann Sebastian Bach. What Alex Masi has done on this album is take works that Bach originally wrote for various other instruments such as the clavichord, harpsichord and violin and transpose the music and adapt it to either an electric or an acoustic guitar.
Born and raised in Venice, Italy, Classical works of art must have formed an integral part of this guitarist's youth and this comes to the forefront on this album. His first foray into the musical world was via the Heavy Metal group Dark Lord in the mid-eighties. However the lack of musical appreciation from the public in general during that era led to the disbandment of the group and Masi started working as a session musician and as a solo artist. Maturity in age also brought about a deeper understanding of music and this led Masi to delve deeper into classical music especially baroque music with the result being this album, In The Name Of Bach.
Some of his "traditional" could be slightly disappointed with this outing as the only feature on this album is the guitar work of Alex Masi and most times he is not using searing power chords and bone-crunching riffs yet delicately playing a semi-acoustic guitar. On the other hand this album could be considered a lesson in adaptation and an inspiration to those guitarists who think the be all and end all of guitar playing is Jimi Hendrix or Tony Iommi. Yet even these guitarists acknowledge the power and inspiration of classical music.
Opening with the all to familiar (and covered) Toccata and Fugue in D minor DWV 565, the album is a run through of some familiar and other less familiar Bach tunes. Of course there is a slight hint of improvisation here and there but all within limits. One cannot expect to describe each and every track individually but look at the whole album as a single entity. This album makes a great introduction to Bach for those who are uninitiated in his music and is an extremely relaxing and comfortable listen. On the other hand, traditionalists would be up in arms against what they could deem to be travesty, yet in my opinion Masi has done justice to these tracks. What is definite, Bach is NOT turning in his grave!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Torben Enevoldsen - Heavy Persuasion
Following his 1998 debut album, Guitarisima, Danish guitarist Torben Enevoldsen has returned, this time with a totally instrumental album backed by a string rhythm section playing ten tracks of good hard classical rock. The two backing musicians are Fleming Hansen (bass) and Mickey Hurricane (drums). As all guitarists who grew up in the eighties listening to hard rock/heavy metal, Enevoldsen's main influences are Tony Iommi, Richie Blackmore, Edward Van Halen and of course, fellow Scandinavian, Yngwie Malmsteen. Another guitarist whom I feel played a role in the technique and tone that Enevoldsen uses, but not mentioned too often in any of the interviews he has done is Michael Schenker.
From the onset, the track Heavy Persuasion shows the listener what he is in for. The guitar is set right in the front of the mix while the rhythm section is relatively subdued but by no means is this ineffective. The guitar work is crisp and sharp while the tonality of his guitar playing is clear throughout. Of course it is impossible not to make any comparisons, especially when there is a vast number of instrumental albums featuring such guitarists and possibly most important of all there is no new musical style.
Desert Groove, Cloud Nine and Go Figure show Enevoldsen's ability to create strong melodic licks much like Satriani and Schenker like to do while the backing rhythm is moving at a fast heavy rate. The tempo is slowed down for two tracks (Another Page, About Time), yet the lead guitar work remains virtually similar to previous tracks with just the rhythm slowing down. About Time also features some drum programming by Enevoldsen, though this is barely audible and thankfully (as opposed to Joe Satriani) it does not overrule any of the underlying rhythm and detract from the rock. The same applies to the track Spacewalk.
Temple Of Hope, Heads Up and Off Limits are proof of Enevoldsen's Scandinavian origins as they feature some furious fretwork, much like Yngwie Malmsteen loves to do. On the whole this album is a good instrumental album and should appeal to all those who like guitar instrumentals. On the other hand there is no new musical innovation as this kind of guitar work has all been attempted before with varying degrees of success and of possibly more importance to the readers who like progressive rock, the progressiveness in this music is practically non existent, this is pure hard rock/heavy metal.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Matsson - Another Dimension
Mattsson is the group project of Finnish guitarist Lars Eric Mattsson together with vocalist Bjorn Lodin (Baltimoore) and drummer Eddie Sledgehammer (Condition Red). Together this trio have released this album which features a combination of strong melodic heavy metal coupled with a certain element of progressive rock (though the metal has more of an edge than the progressive!).
To augment the sound and increase the musical virtuosity on this album, the group have brought in a number of guest musicians, a number of whom are well known within progressive rock circles. These include Patrick Rondat (Jean Michel Jarre), Rob Johnson (Magnitude 9), Erik Norlander (Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists), Pär Lindh ( Pär Lindh Project), Esa Pietila and violinist Ella Grussner.
In fact the album can be subdivided into two musical factions. There are those tracks which are straight forward melodic metal featuring some great fretboard work from Matsson ably backed by Lodin's Roger Chapman-like vocals and Eddie Sledgehammer's pounding drums. The musical style would be akin to melodic power metal groups such as Stratovarius, Kamelot and beyond any reason of doubt Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force. On the other hand there are sections within many of these tracks which feature some great interplay between various instruments and musicians as well as some varying time signatures. The progressiveness in the music played here does not involve over elaborate rhythms and/or use of innovative instruments but the way different solos are played especially when two musicians are playing simultaneously or replying to each other's licks.
The first three tracks rush by like a locomotive at full speed, all three of them at breakneck speed with the group pounding away incessantly. Crash And Burn features Patrick Rondat's guitar work on the first solo while Erik Norlander provides the synthesizer solo on Don't Chain My Mind. Angel Blue acts as a reprieve from the fury of the previous tracks with the group slowing down the pace and augmented by Ella Grussner's violin playing.
Burn The Witch is pure metal to the bone, but has some delicate guitar interludes while Burning My Soul sounds so like Malmsteen and his Rising Force, though the guitar work on this track is strengthened by Rob Johnson's playing. Don't Lose Your Patience is a classic example as to why metal groups are considered the foremost bands at creating beautiful ballads. Another Dimension is possibly the first attempt at some real progressive metal with the group showing their tightness with some sudden unexpected time changes though still maintaining that metal edge which at times is interrupted by the Hammond organ playing of Par Lindh.
Road Of Babylon, In Both Ends and Wait For The Angels are relatively similar to the previous melodic metal tracks while Save Our Souls sees the group utilizing the mellotron and grand piano, courtesy of Par Lindh, to create some suggestive sound effects. Memory Lane sees a return to the ballads while the closing number Cry No More finds the band reaching out to an audience that relishes hard rock rather than heavy metal with less of an emphasis on speed and power chords resulting in the group obtaining a polished undistorted sound.
Overall this is a good melodic metal album. Calling it progressive metal would, in my opinion, be stretching it a bit too far though for some inexplicable reasons melodic metal bands seem to have a tendency to call their music prog! If you like good easy listening heavy metal which concurrently features some great guitar and keyboard work, this album will do for you. It's one for the car!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Baltimoore - Original Sin
Baltimoore is Swedish vocalist, Bjorn Lodin.....and musicians chosen by him. That is how the press kit accompanying this album sets out to describe the group and Original Sin is the fifth release for the group, six years after their last album, Thought For Food. Also involved is original Baltimoore guitarist Thomas Larsson (Glenn Hughes), Lars Pollack (piano, organ), Weine Johansson (bass) and Eiron Johansson (drums).
Let's get straight to the point. This is pure balls to the wall hard rock/heavy metal. Nothing progressive about it at all, yet it makes a very, very good listen. Lodin's vocals come across as being a blend between Roger Chapman and Bruce Dickinson while the music manages to do away with any of the fancy material and hits you right between the ears. The ear-friendly choruses are present as is a certain dose of Hammond driven rhythm, especially of storming opener Conviction. Possibly the most obtrusive track on the album which deviates from the standard blues influenced rock is Superman, which frankly sounds a bit too wimpy for Lodin's musical style.
Listening to the album the influences come thick and fast with the opener Conviction sounding like a 70's Deep Purple, Contradiction possesses a riff taken off Bad Boy Boogie (AC/DC) while the rest has taints of Krokus (who Lodin was poised to join following the departure of Marc Storace) and Pat Travers.
As I said, for the progressive rock fan, this album has little or nothing to offer. If on the other hand you are nostalgic for some good plain heavy metal, without any frills, this album will just do for you. I like it!!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.