When a discussion arises on who the current heavyweights of the melodic hard rock scene are, the list of names being bantered about cannot avoid a mention of Harem Scarem. And certainly for good reason. After a five year hiatus, in 2013 the band reunited to re-record from scratch their milestone release “Mood Swings.” Since then, Harem Scarem have consistently released high quality studio albums, with “Thirteen” and “United” being shining examples of the band showcasing their amazing trademark sound. At the same time, these albums offered a stylistic progression which makes Harem Scarem a band to point to for the evolution of the genre.
The new record, “Change The World” is a logical next step for Harem Scarem. While it isn’t a million miles from where “United” left off, it still shows a band at the top of their game. A cohesive unit still able to deliver a power-rock-packed punch, swaggering riffs, and hooks to die for. Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance without a doubt show the world that their partnership still works.
“We really only have one goal when we start working on a record and that is to try and write the best songs we can,” says Pete Lesperance, “In the beginning, Harry and I work individually on parts and than bring them together to see if we have a good starting point for some songs. I think we’ve finally found our stride (I should hope so after 30 years of being a band) and we just try to keep ourselves happy musically, but deliver something that we feel the fans will like!”
With the addition of Mike Vassos on bass, Harem Scarem are returning and ready to dominate.
1. Change The World 2. Aftershock 3. Searching For Meaning 4. The Death Of Me 5. Mother Of Invention 6. No Man’s Land 7. In The Unknown 8. Riot In My Head 9. No Me Without You 10. Fire & Gasoline 11. Swallowed By The Machine
Harry Hess: Lead & Backing Vocals, Keyboards Pete Lesperance: Guitars Creighton Doane: Drums Mike Vassos: Bass Darren Smith: Backing Vocals
UPCOMING TOUR DATES:
May 28 @ The Edge – Ajax Ontario (CA) May 29 @ The Red Dog – Peterborough Ontario (CA) May 31 @ The Rockpile – Toronto Ontario (CA) June 5 @ Sweden Rock Festival – Solvesborg (SE) June 6 @ Gruner Baum – Dessau (DE) June 7 @ Cacaofabriek – Helmond (NL) June 11 @ MS Connexion – Mannheim (DE) June 12 @ Musigburg – Aarburg (CH) Nov 29 @ Heat Festival – Ludwigsburg (DE)
Here is my list of Top 10 Melodic Rock/Metal/AOR Albums of 2017. This list does not reflect the other members of Power Of Prog or its followers. Hopefully you will discover that quality rock still exists. This is a first in a three part series of Top 10 of 2017 lists. The other two lists will be Progressive Rock and Progressive Metal.
1. Coldspell – A New World Arise
Label – Escape-music ltd. UK
Band Members Niclas Swedentorp – Lead Vocals Michael Larsson – Guitars Chris Goldsmith – Bass Perra Johansson – Drums Matti Eklund – Additional Keyboards
For the last 20+ years TEN have been one of the most ‘criminally under rated’ sometimes brutally overlooked bands within progressive melodic metal communities and even the AOR community. This band first entered my radar with 2000’sSpellbound and 2001’s Far Beyond The World. All I could fixate my interest on was the beautifully eloquent yet very versatile lead vocals of Gary Hughes. Both Spellbound & Far Beyond The World made me a instant fan of any work related to Gary Hughes. A little later on I would come across a very well written and produced Rock/Metal Opera created by Gary Hughes titled One And Future King Parts 1 & 2.From that point on I was totally sold as a fan of Gary Hughes.
It seems TEN has been a very white hot band within the last five years. First they would release both the critical and fan approved Albion in 2014, Isla De Muerta 2015 and The Dragon And St. George EP in 2015. Now in 2017 the band makes yet another triumphant return with their heaviest and darkest album since The Twilight Chronicles and The Robe that album being Gothica. This also marks TEN’s triumphant return to Frontiers Records srl.
In TEN Gary Hughes has managed to successfully surround himself with a lot of the top melodic metal/rock, AOR talent in the world. Joining Gary Hughes is Dann Rosingana – Lead Guitars , Steve Grocott – Lead Guitars , John Halliwell – Rhythm Guitars , Darrel Treece-Birch – Keyboards , Steve McKenna – Bass , Max Yates – Drums. This lineup here manages to keep TEN well balanced between its main elements of progressive metal, melodic metal, hard rock, AOR. These lineup also has been proven one of the most consistent lineups serving the needs of the band while satisfying a global fan base that seems to grow more and more with every album and tour.
TEN’s Gothica is a darker more seductive album lyrically. This is matched in harmony to many of the darker heavier instrumental portions that accompany the lyrical content from track to track. TEN also put the ‘Adult’ inside of AOR or Adult Oriented Rockwith their lyrical content that is so racy and laden with sensual innuendo’s. I am shocked they have not had a Parental Advisory label placed on the front of their albums. TEN also have had the uncanny ability to match their album cover art with the melodic content that lies within each album. Now I am will point out some highlights from every track.
The Grail starts out with the lead vocal serving in the capacity of a chant. Soon the twin lead guitar riffs along with the keyboards open the track up with a wonderful wall of sound. The guitars take this track in many different chord progressions and time signatures. The riffs carry the track with the big bass/drum rhythm section. Gary Hughes gives the listener the appearance he is singing with a isolated vocal in harmony with the instrumental portion of the track. One of the unsung heroes to this particular track is Steve McKenna – Bass & Max Yates – Drums giving the track a lot of teeth and bite where the rhythm guitar and the twin lead guitar’s can take root on this melodious canvas. About the 4:40 mark the drums really anchor another isolated lead vocal section to allow the lyrical content of the story to come through smoothly. Their is a spiritual element in the lyrical content. Darrel Teece Birch – Keyboards actually incorporates a beautiful grand piano sound to the track. The Grail is the epic of the album clocking in at 8:03
Jekyll And Hyde is obviously a story of two personalities within one person. This starts out with the sound of someone walking the brick streets before being engulfed in a strong unified rhythm section between all instruments involved. The lead guitar bleeds through from time to time to add accent to the heavily induced rhythm section. The lyrical content is seriously dark much like the title of track itself. The lead vocals are more soulful on the track. The piano adds a classical element in certain places on the song. The rest of the song is a straight away hard rock song.
Travelers starts out with a sound effect of a clock tower both ringing and tick toking giving the track a subtle sense of urgency with the listener. The lyrical content talks about time and how humans have used it in both our lives and our travels. About the 1:05 mark the track explodes into a heavy wall of sound with a big guitar and bass/drum section. The lead vocals keep getting stronger with every song and Travelers serves as a great example of them. Much in the tradition of hard rock there are towering guitar solo’s serving as transitions within the song.
Man For All Seasons begins in a very traditional folky renaissance chord progression much like what would of been heard in the 16th century Europe. It gives the appearance that a king has returned home to his castle and kingdom. This track takes away a lot from Gary Hughes early work with 2003’s Once And Future King Parts 1&2. The folky passage in soon joined by a straight away hard rock chord progression passage. The lyrical content even speaks of a a era ruled by King Henry. The twin lead guitar and the stringed section gives the song some extra fire. The track maintains a very steady and progressive melodic metal chord progression. This track builds layer upon layers subtlety and gradually. Both twin lead guitar’s very fluently back off one another in their solo’s as if they are communicating back and forth.
In My Dreams starts out with a thunderous rhythm section that meets the senses of the listener immediately. There is also a noticeable method to the madness with the open intro. This track has a lot of the AOR elements you would find in a film to a 1980’s soundtrack. Lyrically it is a risque style love story perhaps by a adolescent with a hard crush on a girl or full grown adult woman for that matter. The twin lead guitar solo’s really play off one another giving the stringed portion of the track a deeper level of fullness.
The Wild King Of Winter opens up very atmospheric with steady keyboards and lush guitars to form a semi electric/semi acoustic landscape allowing for the listener to be enveloped within the song. It soon takes off with a blistering straight ahead dark heavy guitar. This is one of those tracks that make Gothica darker than the last few previous TEN albums. The heavy instrumental portion gives the listener the appearance that there is this great conflict about to happen or is in progress. The riffs are also straight away galloping riffs that remind much of early NWOBHM sound. The thunderous rhythm section remains pretty consistent throughout the song providing both heaviness and depth.
Paragon lyrically talks about virtue or the lack thereof. This track is another one of those with lyrical content that put ‘Adult’ into Adult Oriented Rock or AOR. The opening starts with a beautiful piano in harmony with a isolated vocal that opens the story up for the listener. This song can be looked upon as a power ballad with some heavy elements within the guitars and full rhythm section, all that can be heard very well. With all the erotica and love elements there is still a darker under layer in the song.
Welcome To The Freakshow starts out like you might expect it, a total circus. The opening is as if the listener becomes a audience member in the town circus. This would be a adult circus. Once again there are some heavy erotica elements. This track here is also a great testament of how Gary Hughes & TEN can tell several stories within the album construct. Although there may be a common theme present every song has its own uniquely written, recorded and melodiously articulated story. Welcome To The Freakshow is a perfect example to this. The song even gets a little bluesy and gritty the further along it goes.
La – Luna Dra -cu – la opens up with a heavy chord progressive passage with big rhythm guitars in harmony with the bass/drum rhythm section. The twin lead guitars continue to add depths and layers. It also opens with very dark elements which are appropriate due to the very nature of the title. Some of the lyrical content is reminiscent of a Bram Stoker novel meets a Boris Karloff film. The guitar solo’s are a bit nasty yet groove laden. This track is also more into the melodic heavy metal genre. The band pulls no punches and spares no expense being intentionally heavy on this one. There is still a erotic tone through the song as well.
Into Darkness opens up with a sound effect much like a film projector inside a cinema. The track opens up musically with a beautiful piano of Darrel Treece Birch. This song is a all out heavy power rock ballad. It soon picks up and takes various twists and turns into heavier dimensions and breaks and comes back to the power ballad element. The vocals are isolated perfectly as to allow the story to harmoniously be articulated towards its target audience. The beautiful twin lead guitar solo’s really stand out in the production as well.
Paragon (Bonus Mix) – Japanese Version Only this track is a more user audience friendly version that is only on the Japanese version. It is also edited down considerably from the album version to be radio friendly also. There is more heavy keyboard atmospheres present here as well.
TEN’s Gothica is the perfect album for their return to Frontiers Records srl. There is a little bit of every element the band has utilized over its 20+ years in the business. Once again Gary Hughes surrounds himself with some of the top musicians in the world to carry out such fantastic vision. Gothica also proves that melodic heavy metal and AOR can also have a darker heavier appeal to attract a much larger audience. TEN’s Gothica gets a 5/5for staying true to their vision and values their fans and audience members have come to expect.
Over the last 30+ years AOR, melodic hard rock, melodic heavy metal have certainly interchanged and mixed from time to time. In the United States and North America in general we have seen bands like Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Survivor, Toto etc , gain world wide success on the AOR front. Some progressive acts from the 1970’s like Yes and ASIA even adopted elements of the AOR sound to remain relevant on the charts. Then something began to happen with the pop metal or glam metal started developing really high quality yet sometimes cheesy videos.
Some heavy metal and aspiring hard rock bands that did not want to be branded with the cheese factor morphed into Melodic Metal/AOR bands. Soon bands of the older guard like Bad Company with Holy Water,Joe Lynn Turner era Rainbow(1980-1984), later Honeymoon Suite, Bohnam and Giant would begin to add some heavy metal elements, some progressive elements and the real backbone of melodic emphasis. By melodic emphasis I mean big range lead vocals and backing vocals to match note for note harmony to any given composition. Finally you had bands that were able to combine all these elements like Bad English, Firehouse, Steelheart, Mr. Big and Treat.
Although they may of went a little under the radar here in North America, Treat were huge in Europe and especially Japan. In 2016 Treat are better, heavier, and more melodic than they ever have been. Their Frontiers release Ghost of Graceland has proven that Treat are still a powerhouse band to be reckoned with. Ghost of Graceland proves that a band can age really well like a fine wine and still write, record and produce a album on their terms without it sounding dated.
Treat’s Ghost of Graceland has a little bit for the pure melodic rock, AOR, melodic metal fan. It is compiled 12 tracks for the standard release or 13 tracks for the exclusive Japanese Edition. This review is brought to you courtesy of the Japanese Edition. The band opens up the album with a straight away blistering yet melodic self titled track Ghost of Graceland. The track Ghost of Graceland starts with thunderous riffs and rhythm section before going into a more level melodic passage. Ghost of Graceland is very tight on the harmonious interchange between lead vocal to backing vocal.
Moving forward the vocals of Robert Ernlund– vocals are done with such precision and clarity. He has certainly maintained his range while many of his contemporaries have started to struggle. Anders Wikström: Lead Guitars and vocals Pontus Egberg: Electric Bass and vocalsPatrick Appelgren Keyboards and vocals all join Robert Ernlund with a mini choir and such spot on accuracy throughout tracks like I Don’t Miss The Misery, Better The Devil You Know, Inferno and Alien Earthlings, etc… that carry a very heavy melodic riff and rhythm section that all focus around the backbone of the band Jamie Borger: Drums.
On Ghost of Graceland you will find many more straight away melodic metal, AOR and some heavy metal throughout the entire album. There is really only two true ballads Do Your Own Stunts and the other on the album being Together Alone, which on the Japanese Edition that I am using on this review, shows up as a piano based track as a extra Japanese release only at the very end. The one main focus I keep hearing on the album is the storytelling element within each song and composition.
Some have said it is all production. I disagree with that. I believe the band placed a higher emphasis on the writing and tracking thus making the production much easier. The band not only focus on good storytelling but they also place a emphasis towards the melody, vocal harmony and even the instrumental to vocal harmony elements. The sound is a modern sound no doubt. Not too many bands of their genre or community from 30 years back can really claim that their sound has progressed forward in maturity and structure. Treat are one of the few that have not went backwards. 30 years later they still continue to leave their mark on melodic metal/AOR/progressive rock. Treat Ghost Of Graceland gets a 4.5/5 for progression and maturity.
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