Richie Kotzen is probably a name you've heard of, he's been playing for long time now, starting out as one of the Shrapnel shredders he played in Poison and Mr Big, more recently he's come back into the public psyche with The Winery Dogs trio along with Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheenan, in between that he has released 21 solo albums that move between rock, blues, funk, jazz and everything in between. I personally discovered him on his 2004 album Get Up which has continued to frequent my record player until this day. I've followed his solo albums off an on since then and I've always found them a bit of a mix bag, so it's once more into the breech for what is Kotzen's 21st solo album.
The mystic influences are writ large on opener End Of Earth and you get that first blast of Kotzen's Cornell-like vocals over the top of the reverbed guitars and layered acoustics before he lights his guitar hero fire at the climax, it's followed by the very 80's sounding Thunder which has a funky riff, some stuttered verses and big chorus where Richie shows his vocal versatility, something that is on display throughout this record. Anyone that is expecting the hard rocking of The Winery Dogs will see another side too Kotzen on this (and all) of his solo albums, here he dips into bluesy explorations on Divine Power, 60's soul on I've Got You and My Rock, modern soul on Cannon Ball and acoustic funk on Grammy. Salting Earth marks another high quality release from Kotzen, there is a mix of styles and an as expected superior performance from Kotzen and it makes for fine listening. 7/10
Liv Sin: Follow Me (Despotz Records)
When Sister Sin called it a day in 2015, frontwoman Liv Sin set about forming a new band to continue her previous metal assault, Follow Me is her debut album with this new eponymous project and just like Sister Sin were known for fist pumping classic metal, this new project is not pop, in fact it ramps up the metal to a degree that wasn't reached in her previous project. Follow Me moves into thrash territory at times with Sin giving the most vicious delivery of her career, this record sonically sounds like Halford's solo projects and the latter Judas Priest, any of the songs on here could have easily been heard on Painkiller, Ram It Down or Angel Of Retribution.
Just wrap your lugholes around the The Fall which kicks off this record and the spirit of Priest looms large, Patrick Ankemark giving killer solos over Chris Bertzell, Tommie Winther and Per Bjelovuk's aggressive rhythm section. With heavier songs like Hypocrite, Godless Utopia, I'm Your Sin, the stomping Immortal Sin which features Schmier from Destruction and the black metal driven Black Souls, the bad really display their metal credentials but they also spread expand their remit with Endless Roads which is slower and more melodic but still carries a metal attitude. Now I never really got on board with Sister Sin but this I really like, it's brimming with attitude, confidence, talent and consists of 100% pure heavy metal from start to finish, impressive. 8/10
Seven Kingdoms: Decennium (Napalm Records)
There seems to be a few female fronted power/trad metal bands releasing albums at the moment Crystal Viper, Mastercastle, Mindmaze and also American mob Seven Kingdoms who are an odd mix of blisteringly fast riffage, classic metal chants and vocals normally found in the folk metal realm, almost a female fronted Blind Guardian. Weirdly it fits together but in any other context this wouldn't work Sabrina's vocals are good and sit in the higher register which may serve as a negative aspect but the musical backing is so dense that you can't help but bang your head. As many of you will know Blind Guardian take a lot of inspiration from J R R Tolkien well Seven Kingdoms equally deal with the literary works of George R R Martin and his Songs Of Ice And Fire books, or Game Of Thrones to anyone that doesn't know. The band's lyrical concepts and even their name comes from those novels and it's perfect subject matter, as this album progressed I found myself warning to the vocals and with every song trying to recognise the characters, plotlines etc became part of the fun. Get this album if you love Blind Guardian, power metal and/or Game Of Thrones, the chances are if love one you'll love the others, then I guarantee you'll love Seven Kingdoms. 7/10
Swedish power metal that has touches of Stratovarius the vocals are the major reason for this comparison, singer Pasi has the high pitched range of Timo Kopitelo. Time is probably a slightly ironic title as they seem have taken a lot of it to release this album having first released a demo in 2005, it's in 2017 that they finally have delivered their debut. As I've said Stratovarius is the overarching musical similarity and on Tale Of Pain the neo-classical guitars sit well with the orchestrations and hooky chorus for a song that has all the Stratovarius traits. Cromonic do add their own flourishes to what is an established sound meaning they avoid tribute act territory and at 9 a song the record doesn't outstay it's welcome, the one thing I would say is that Pasi's lower register is much more palatable than his screechy highs meaning by the end of the 9 tracks only professional power metalheads will be reaching for the repeat button. Time is an adequate record it's not waste but the band will need some refining if they want to stand the test of it. 7/10