Random album reviews

Bruce Dickinson
Skunkworks (1996)

  1. “Space Race” - From the very beginning we’re in a territory light years above the previous two albums. The sound is better, the riff is killer, the lyrics are fucking great. “Space Race” is a simple opener but my god is it awesome. The polished grunge sound sounds so good, like we’re flying up into outer space ourselves. Killer. 9/10
  2. “Back From the Edge” - A frantic-paced opening and we get more great guitarwork. Love the production effects playing on the ears. Pumping, pounding, with lyrics on a depressed but determined subject, and a fucking amazing chorus ties it together. Emotional playing and emotional singing make this one root deeper than a normal rocker. The triple layered chorus outro is straight fire. This song is amazing, pure and simple. 10/10
  3. “Inertia” - Third song opens quietly, like a spring about to snap up, before it lets go and hits hard on the chorus. A unique approach to writing about the horrors the band saw in Sarajevo. My god, Bruce’s lyrics are so fucking good. He’s on another level compared to the past two solo and Maiden records he did. Another awesome fucking song. 9/10
  4. “Faith” - We keep the energy going at a more mid-paced level with a heavy motherfucking riff. The lyrics! So fucking raw, so angry, so convicting, and so well-written. It hits home too, whether you can relate through a dying relationship or in stepping out of the shadows of religion. Amazing song, fuck me up with this shit. 10/10
  5. “Solar Confinement” - The intro to this one feels like “When Two Worlds Collide” but better in every way. The guitar just slides through beautifully here. Lyrics, once again. Masterful. Simple but effective chorus, and Bruce is such a master he’s able to change up the vocals slightly for amazing effect. Bridge echoes Queensrÿche’s “Anybody Listening?” Another excellent song. 9/10
  6. “Dreamstate” - A moodier, slower song as Bruce rants about people “lying on [his] case”. The vocals seem to carry over the issues from BTP on this one. A step down from the previous five tracks but only slightly, because it’s still a good track. 7/10
  7. “I Will Not Accept the Truth” - A pummeling intro before Alex plays his best Stone Temple Pilots distortionless guitar. The lyrics are simple but effective. It’s pretty groovy. As it progresses, Bruce begins to push himself more vocally. The solo sounds like Kirk Hammett playing Maiden. Probably the weakest point on the album but it’s still good. 7/10
  8. “Inside the Machine” - Another heavy riff with some seriously groovy bass opens this futuristic number on the second LP. Bruce swears allegiance to this machine of his (I assume it’s about computers?) in a poetically optimistic-yet-bristling-with-cynicism fashion. Chorus slaps. Great song. 8/10
  9. “Headswitch” - A faster rocker now where Bruce puts effects on his voice just cuz. It’s short but sweet. That “dribbling with come” line is still so out there, though. 8/10
  10. “Meltdown” - Drum intro! I feel like this song is a spiritual sequel to “Faith”. Bruce is once again raw lyrically and vocally, delivering powerful lines and a killer chorus. The bite here is incredible. Excellent song. 9/10
  11. “Octavia” - Plunging back into the pool, we take a bit of a chill pill here. Wonderful instrumentation, great lines. Another simple but great track. 8/10
  12. “Innerspace” - Launching with a grungier Led Zeppelin style riff, Bruce sums up the message of the album (discarding the negative and embracing life) in this penultimate song. The chorus is awesome. The callback to “Darkness Be My Friend” is a nice touch. Wish the solo was longer, but otherwise this is a great song, love that outro too. 8/10
  13. “Strange Death in Paradise” - The closing song opens heavy yet melodic as Bruce waxes nostalgic about weapons of mass destruction. What a powerful and poetic statement on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s a song that uses the words to bring to life religious and political indifference to the bombing, before the mask is pulled off by the end in the face of those saddled with living through the horrors. Brilliant song. Awesome song. Fantastic closer. 10/10
A huge step up from its predecessors, Skunkworks deserved more attention than it got. The polished grunge sound backing Bruce’s voice and lyrics works tremendously and all these songs are good to fucking amazing. It’s slightly frontloaded, as the first five songs are incredible and it dips slightly from there, but it still remains a great record with great songs and it would’ve been interesting to see where Skunkworks had gone from there.

Total: 86%
Bruce Dickinson
Accident of Birth (1997)

  1. “Freak” - Roy Z is back, baby! And guess who else is doubling on guitar? Fucking Adrian Fucking Jesus Christ Smith. They kick us off with a heavy but bright and chirpy riff that dives right into brutal guitarwork as Bruce steps up again. As much as I like the previous albums (and love Skunkworks), as soon as “Freak” switches on it’s over. This is the music Bruce was born to sing. Mystical, magical, and fucking rock’n’roll, this is a killer opener and just a flat out awesome song. What a way to kick off his rebirth. 10/10
  2. “Toltec 7 Arrival” - A ghostly synth track with blooming guitars announces alien arrival before…
  3. “Starchildren” - …we kick into that bulldozer riff! Mid-paced but heavy as fuck, “Starchildren” lets Bruce RIP! He plays the devilish role of an arriving extraterrestrial bent on control extraordinarily well. When he sings, “You don’t need a god, because I’m here now!” I believe him. That chorus is fantastic. The solo is a bit of an oddball but fits the song super well. Love the held note at the end. I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head for days now. It’s just so good. 10/10
  4. “Taking the Queen” - Medieval shadows dance in front of the light as an acoustic guitar lights up the halls as snow falls outside. Have I yet mentioned that Bruce is the best singer ever? This song is probably the best example of his mastery. His wonderful quiet voice on the verses, the power erupting in the chorus, and the peak of the song — the incredible bridge where he throws all the tarot cards to the wind and ascends beyond the heavens. An excellent song, there’s no doubt about it. 9/10
  5. “Darkside of Aquarius” - Piano bridges the gap between the two songs before the boys let it rip with a crushing riff. Bruce brings all the mystery out with the verses, utilizing harshness in his vocals to fantastic effect. The chorus is amazing. I used to find the fact that it doesn’t return at the end a detriment, but listening to it again now I find I’m not fazed by it. The song enters new dimensions by freeing itself from the chorus cycle. The solos are great, the riffs are like a train running down the tracks. We hit a quiet sea as stars flash above us, and then the heaviness returns as we push the wheel of dharma with Bruce. Anthemic, incredible, amazing. I still get chills from this song, but now for different reasons than I once did. The choir behind the main vocals in the outro is fantastic. My sole nitpick is that I wish it went on longer and didn’t fade out. Besides that, fucking brilliant song. 10/10
  6. “Omega” - I’m listening to the vinyl pressing, so this is the next song in the tracklist. It actually flows fairly well (although it was a dumb decision to move it). The acoustic verses are gorgeous, the lyrics fantastic. When Bruce raises the note in the second “burning SKYYYY” during the pre-chorus, we really reach astronomical heights. The chorus instrumentation is so chunky and heavy it’s great. I love the instrumental section too. I used to think the faster piece was out of place but as time goes on it only adds to the brilliance, especially when H and Z double the guitar solo. That piece alone is like a snub to Blaze era Maiden, daring them to reach the same heights. Just powerful. 10/10
  7. “Man of Sorrows” - An orchestral build and a crashing storm ushers in Bruce’s magnificently emotional voice. We step outside of the album’s main vibe for a more theatrical ballad, and it is rapturous. Everything from the verses to the chorus to the solo is amazing. Bruce’s Crowley obsession has blessed us with some great material, lemme tell ya. Another absolutely fire track. 10/10
  8. “Accident of Birth” - Late in the tracklist, we finally see the title track make its appearance. And it holds nothing back. So good. Listen, I know the tens on this album are starting to fall a bit too often to be taken seriously. I wish I could sit here and say, “Yeah, I don’t like this so I’m giving it a nine,” but I can’t. These songs are just so good, and this is another masterfully crafted rocker. My hands are tied. 10/10
  9. “The Magician” - Crowley reappears, but this time trades away the sorrow for a much more fun rocker in which Bruce just goes off like a fucking jester. Anthemic, perfectly suited for the stage, and complete with blazing guitar solos too. At this point I’m just spellbound, lost in the sounds of Bruce and the boys laying down YET ANOTHER classic. Incredible. Incredible incredible incredible. 10/10
  10. “Welcome to the Pit” - And now we slow things down for a dynamic, Sabbathy riff that sounds absolutely divine. I don’t know how people dislike this song, it’s great. Lovely darkness with a killer chorus… man. Maybe a step below the majority of the album but still excellent. 9/10
  11. “Road to Hell” - Feels weirder here than “Omega” did earlier, but whatever. On this one Bruce and Adrian compose a rocker that feels like it could fit somewhere in the Maiden canon. It’s a really fun song, but may be the weakest here (which isn’t saying much). The pre-chorus and solo is amazing though. 8/10
  12. “Arc of Space” - The way this song follows “Road to Hell” makes it feel less final than on the normal album (which could’ve been fixed if they tagged “The Ghost of Cain” on at the end). But nevertheless, what a strong closer to this amazing record. Bruce’s vocals over the wonderful acoustic strumming works so well. The chorus is beautiful. Ugh, I love this album. Perfect way to close out the record. 10/10
???? How do you make music this good? This isn’t just on Maiden level, this is vastly superior to nearly every Maiden album ever released. Bruce found his forte with H, Z, and the rest of the band, and released a monumental metal album. As great as Skunkworks is, this is what Bruce was born to play. It’s so good it almost makes me cry. Ugh. Fuck me up with this shit.

Total: 96%
“Road to Hell” - Feels weirder here than “Omega” did earlier, but whatever.
What, did they monkey with the song order on a reissue, or was this from a vinyl release?

Reminds me of when they fooled around with the track order on Alice In Chains' Dirt, which also messed up the flow...
What, did they monkey with the song order on a reissue, or was this from a vinyl release?
Yeah the vinyl back in the day was two sided, which swapped the placement of “Omega” and “Road to Hell”, and the reissue (part of the Soloworks box set that I got for Christmas a few years back) is a double LP that keeps the edit. With extra space it’s a little disappointing they didn’t add in “The Ghost of Cain” somewhere, but whatever. It’s a great sounding vinyl and the tracklist change doesn’t bother me enough to get frustrated but I still feel like it’s dumb.

Reminds me of when they fooled around with the track order on Alice In Chains' Dirt, which also messed up the flow...
Which tracklist are you referring to? Cuz the change they did as far as I know is bringing “Down in a Hole” up to track four, which I think fits way better (and was the original intent before the studio messed up the tracklist on the first pressing).
Which tracklist are you referring to? Cuz the change they did as far as I know is bringing “Down in a Hole” up to track four, which I think fits way better (and was the original intent before the studio messed up the tracklist on the first pressing).
That’s the one. Didn’t know the backstory, but I always thought the original track order (“Rain When I Die” into “Sickman”, and “Angry Chair” into “Down In A Hole”) made more sense, and I assumed they moved “Down In A Hole” up into a more traditional ballad slot on the record once it was released as the final single.
That’s the one. Didn’t know the backstory, but I always thought the original track order (“Rain When I Die” into “Sickman”, and “Angry Chair” into “Down In A Hole”) made more sense, and I assumed they moved “Down In A Hole” up into a more traditional ballad slot on the record once it was released as the final single.
Yeah here’s the Wikipedia article:

I like where it’s at, probably because I’m not a big fan of “Sickman” and that gives a great four song opening as opposed to three. I love “Would?” but a lot of those songs after “Rooster” just aren’t as good as the highlights and it almost feels like an afterthought since it’s tacked onto the end. So I think that “Down in a Hole” avoids the same fate when moved up to track 4, but to each their own.
My quick review of Bruce's solo albums:

Tattooed Millionaire - really fun album. I don't like only two songs. The best songs are the title track and ''Born In '58''. The opening song is pretty good too. The others are nice rock songs and I like them (especially ''Dive! Dive! Dive!'' and ''Gypsy Road''). The chorus of ''No Lies'' is great.

Balls To Picasso - this album is underrated. Replace ''Hell No'', ''1000 Points Of Light'' and ''Fire'' (not bad songs though, nice choruses) with ''The Breeding House'', ''Fire Child'' and ''Winds Of Change'' (I even like ''Cadillac Gas Mask'') and you have a killer album from start to finish. The opening song is unique and with a great instrumental section, ''Gods Of War'' has a huge chorus, ''Laughing In The Hiding Bush'' is underrated too, ''Change Of Heart'' is a classic ballad, ''Shoot All The Clowns'' is a lot of fun, ''Sacred Cowboys'' is a gem (that chorus!) and ''Tears Of The Dragon'' is one of the best songs in metal. I wish we could hear Thank Heaven and Original Sin someday.

Skunkworks - this is my least favorite solo album of Bruce. I'm just not a fan of this style. My favorite songs are ''Back From The Edge'', ''Inertia'', ''Solar Confinement'' and ''Innerspace''.

Accident Of Birth - my favorite solo album of Bruce. Such a masterpiece! All songs (without ''Freak'' and ''Welcome To The Pit'') are great. ''Man Of Sorrows'', ''Road To Hell'', ''Omega'', ''Darkside Of Aquarius'', ''The Magician'' and the title track are all classics.

The Chemical Wedding - another masterpiece! Unsurpassed sound! The title track, ''Gates Of Urizen'', ''Book Of Thel'', ''Jerusalem'' and ''The Alchemist'' are brutal classic songs (''Return Of The King'' too).

Tyranny Of Souls - the third masterpiece! I love this album. Every song (without ''Believil'') easily could be in my Top 10. ''Eternal'' is a great and unique song too.
EVERGREY - A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)
Napalm Records (2022)

Only a year after Escape Of The Phoenix, Evergrey´s allready back with their 13th studio album, the first one for Napalm Records, A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) With a length of 50 minutes, this album just feels like the perfect Evergrey dose. A warm transparant production gives the listener a welcome relaxation after a tough working day.

Evergrey has a good ear for strong opening songs. Save Us is no exception to this rule with its chuggy guitar riffs and melancholic chorus where the voices of thousand Evergrey fans can be heard together with Tom. It has an anthemic feel and I´m pretty sure Evergrey will play this live for many years to come.

With Midwinter Calls we allready have one of my favourites of this new album. Classic dark Evergrey with emotional vocal lines of Tom and a gorgeous chorus. A very melodic guitar solo leads into an enchanting adapted verse...this is superb!

Sometimes an album needs time to digest, to fully understand what the musicians meant to express with their songs. At first Ominous was my least favourite song. But several listens later it crawled underneath my skin, and now it´s just "wow!" It starts like a ballad, gets heavier and contains a few back to back guitar solo´s that lift the song to epic level. The electronic sounds at the end, give it a gothic feeling. 3 songs far...What an amazing start of this new album!

Call Out the Dark is the most accessible track of the album and is a welcome song after the daring Ominous. Yet another typical Evergrey chorus and juicy guitar solo makes it complete.

The Orphean Testament is Evergrey by numbers, it has a vibe that goes back to their Recreation Day album. Minor complaint is the chorus is almost the same as one of Escape Of The Phoenix but it´s just a minor complaint because it really fits the song. The doomy part in the middle with eerie keyboard solo gives this song a proggy touch. Followed by a cutting guitar solo and chuggy rhythm guitars before everything comes together again in the mighty chorus again makes this Epic number 2 of the album.

Still no time to rest: Reawakening starts ferocious and showcases with an emotional singing Englund, fast bridge and majestic chorus. The keyboards and drums in the background make this a truly masterpiece of a song.

The Great Unwashed has a doomy intro, typical chuggy guitar riff and an unexpected chilling soft part with a melancholic singing Tom and a weeping guitar solo later followed by keyboard, drums and another solo. The song ends with spooky keyboards playing the doomy intro riff.

Heartless is a faster song driven by chuggy guitars and keyboards in the verses but with a slower but beautiful chorus. This will be a great song if played live! In the middle there´s only keyboard and the incredible voice of Tom! We get another great guitar solo and the chorus. The keyboards that introduced the song also finish it and make a perfect transition to

Blindfolded. The heaviest song of  A Heartless Portrait has chuggy guitar riffs and an anthemic chorus which will do it great live. It also contains a fast guitar solo answered by a short but effectieve keyboard solo.

Ending the album with the ballad Wildfires was a smart move. Especially after the previous heavy song. It makes this song even more pure than it allready was. This is one of their most touching songs which fades out beautifully.

Another great album for this amazingly underrated Swedish band and certainly one of their best of this decade. It will be hard to top this one but if there's one band capable of it, it´s Evergrey.
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Scorpions - Rock Believer

Scorpions returned in early 2022 with their 19th studio album, "Rock Believer", having planned to record the album in 2020 they were able to take advantage of this pandemic and release a strong album. The opener "Gas In The Tank" kicks things off with sirens and is full of charisma. Klaus sounds good and the band is tight as always, it is a perfect opener and it feels like a classic Scorpions track which has been left in the vault for years just waiting to be unleashed. Roots In My Boots and Knock Em Dead, continue the hard rocking approach. I recall the band mentioned they wanted to make a more high energy record and this 1-2-3 punch sticks true to it. While Roots In My Boots isn't one of my favourites from the album it does pack a decent punch. Knock Em Dead is a decendant of their early 80s midtempo rockers. Rudolf and Matthias have some great guitar tones throughout the album, although these two tracks have shown in some ways that they are playing it safe for Klaus, which given that he was 72 when this was recorded it does make sense. That being said, thus far the album has been full of charm and all 3 songs are quite catchy.

The albums title track comes in and it appears to be the albums first power ballad, however soon it is clear it is a mid tempo anthem just waiting to be played in a stadium full of fans. A good shift in pace with a tasteful solo from Matthias. Mikky Dee lays down some great drum fills throughout the track as well. Rock Believer however is followed by the standout track of Side A: "Shining Of Your Soul", a track reminiscent of "Is There Anybody There?" and personally I think it is a much better track. It is a Scorpions love song, and damn is it catchy, the guitar work is phenomenal throughout, it seems like the pair of Rudolf and Matthias are delivering spiralling riffs slowly ascending. I could see this song having an incredible light show to go along with it. Klaus has delivers his best vocals of the album thus far on this track. Side A closes out with When I Lay My Bones To Rest, which comes in and Klaus is singing fast, there is no way this track is being sung live, a short 3 minute punchy rocker. Tempo wise it reminds me of "Now!" off of "Blackout", it has a lot of energy and it ends Side A, in style. Uncommon for Scorpions there is no true ballad on this first side of the album, lets see what Side B entails.

My personal favourite track from the album opens Side B, the modern day "China White", "Seventh Sun", a slow fade in unveils a thunderous bass and drum line, before the guitars come in hard and heavy. A midtempo track, Klaus beings singing in a storytelling manner, and he does reach for some higher notes at different points. It is the longest track of the album, and thus far it is easily the heaviest, however the heavier apporach doesn't detrack from the classic formula allowing the track to be catchy as all hell. "Hot and Cold" kicks up the tempo again, while maintaining a strong punch. This song is full of Scorpions cheese, but that doesn't detrack from its effectiveness, although I would have assumed men in their 70s would start singing about things other than strip clubs. I think Mikky Dee is the star of the song, he drives the tempo and really invigorates the band. Lead single "Peacemaker" is up next, another short and fast rocker, the Scorps have held true to the idea of having a true hard rock album like "Blackout". Also it is worth noting we have reached song 9 out of 11 and we still have not had a true bonefied power ballad, while yes there was 3 mid tempo tracks, they were not actually ballads. But back to "Peacemaker", it has one of Matthias' best solos of the album, and the track itself has an incredible push to it from all members.

"Call Of The Wild" slows down and it reminds me of the "Animal Magnetism" era mid tempo with a clear sleeze to it. I'm not the biggest fan of this track, however credit where credit is due, it is a different track than what you'd expect on a Scorpions album especially at this point in their career, it is a bit of a mini-epic and the solo is pretty darn great making the second half of the song more enjoyable than the first. The album closes with its sole ballad, "When You Know (Where You Come From), it isn't a stellar ballad but it is a nice classy way to end the album, it appears to be a bit of a thank you to the bands families and their fans for all the years of touring.

Looking at the album as a whole package, the band has now been releasing albums for roughly 50 years, and while I love their recent work, it hasn't been as consistent. This album however is pretty darn consistent throughout and delivers what the band had been talking about since their 2015 album "Return to Forever" that they wanted to release an album with the agression of "Blackout", I think they followed through.

4 Stars

I intend on slowly reviewing some albums/artists which I have discovered since completing the 365 albums, many I have not done any reviews for the artist, some like this one will be new releases/discoveries from them.

Eliminator - Ancient Light (2022)

For their second full-length album this UK band delivers a sound somewhere between classic Iron Maiden and early Queensrÿche, with some unfortunately recurring vocal excesses.
  • Arrival - Driving melodic lead work transitions a bit awkwardly into a solid verse with an odd vocal ending. This breaks into a much stronger chorus and a nice interlude. Another round of verse and chorus, then we get a cool multi-part instrumental and solo section with some nice guitar harmonies. This flows into a great vocal bridge before some unfortunate squeals bring us back to the chorus, which gains some sweet lead accompaniment before a brief reprise of the intro closes things out. A very good song with a number of great parts, but a few flaws too. I'm on the fence with this one, but let's say a very robust 7/10.
  • Silent Stone - A pumping bass rhythm and power chords break into an upbeat verse riff. A strong verse vocal leads into a great chorus with nice guitar work. A brief interlude rolls back into the verse and chorus, then we get an extended multi-part instrumental that flows into sweet dual guitar solos, eventually working its way back around to the chorus. Aside from a couple of squeals, the vocal riffing actually sounds great here as we get some more guitar soloing on the tail of the chorus to wrap up the track. Great song, 8/10.
  • Ancient Light - A muted guitar lead is joined by upbeat drums and harmonized guitar breaks before giving way to a great atmospheric verse. A more driving pre-chorus 1 builds nicely, then flails into a weird "ooh, yeah!" for some reason. Another round of verse and pre-chorus 1, then a busier guitar interlude leads into a strong pre-chorus 2 with some unnecessary vocal histrionics before breaking into a pretty great chorus. This is followed by an epic Maidenesque instrumental that builds beautifully back into the chorus, which eventually gives way to a quick, subdued outro. Multiple parts of this song are truly excellent, but the singer goes a little off the rails in places, so let's say a robust 8/10.
  • Goddess Of Life - Driving guitars build into a more varied chorus riff. The singing vacillates between being fine and being way over the top throughout the chorus and subsequent verse. This breaks into a sweet but brief guitar instrumental, then back through the mixed-bag chorus and verse. This flows into a subdued, epic interlude that blossoms into a great vocal bridge and a cool multi-part solo and harmony guitar section. Then we return to the chorus, this time with histrionic vocal riffing on the tail end to finish things up. The music here is great, but the vocals are about 50% strong and 50% cringey. I guess I'll round it up to a 7/10 overall.
  • The Sculptor And The Stone Lady - Aggressive riffage with some harmonies breaks into a sweet melodic lead with soloing. This rolls into a strong verse, a great pre-chorus, and a less great chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a totally unexpected flamenco interlude that supports a pretty cool vocal bridge, ending with some unfortunate squealing. A cool multi-part interlude follows, eventually building into a sparse but epic vocal finale and a sweet harmonized guitar outro. This is another track with some really great parts that gets dragged down by questionable vocal choices. Let's say a strong 7/10.
  • Lord Of Sleep, Dreammaster - A slower, more melancholy harmonized lead carries us through an extended intro. Faster guitars then take over and eventually settle into a driving riff that flows into a pretty good verse and a great pre-chorus, albeit with some more vocal histrionics. This leads into a solid chorus with some nice bass and guitar interplay. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get an extended instrumental and solo section that builds nicely back into the chorus, ending on a quick reprise of the driving riff. Much like "Goddess Of Life", this is a song with great music but uneven vocals that probably deserves a round-up to 7/10.
  • The Library - A percussive riff with a harmonized fill breaks into a strong, driving verse. This opens up into a slower, synth-laden pre-chorus, then a more upbeat chorus with less inspiring vocals. A brief interlude rolls back into the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus. A reprise of the interlude breaks into a driving vocal bridge with some unfortunate squealing, followed by a nice harmonized guitar section, then a solid vocal outro with a quick finish. Another mixed bag, but the music is strong enough to round this up to 7/10 again.
  • Mercy - Aggressive riffage and soloing settles into an aggressive verse with some questionable vocals. A cool melodic lead breaks into a pretty lame and repetitive chorus, then a brief instrumental leads back into the verse and the tedious chorus. A short Maidenesque interlude gives way to a great atmospheric instrumental section before returning to the WTF chorus and a reprise of the intro before a brief Megadeth-ish outro. Despite the strong music, the chorus is a boat anchor on this track, dragging it down to a 6/10.
  • Foreverless - A gentle but urgent clean/acoustic intro eventually settles into a distorted midtempo groove, then cuts into a more driving riff for the verses, trading off between vocals and a sweet melodic lead. The chorus is solid, but uninspiring. Another round of verses and chorus, then we get a pretty good multi-part instrumental that leads into an unremarkable vocal bridge that finishes strong, breaking into a powerful solo. This leads into another round of the "meh" bridge and a final OK chorus. Some cool parts and nothing particularly bad here, so let's say 6/10.
  • The Nightmare Of Aeon - A waltzy melodic lead plays over some doomy chords, leading into a pretty epic verse and pre-chorus, and a very brief chorus. The vocals go a little over the top here, but it mostly works. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a sweet atmospheric guitar interlude that breaks into a great solo before returning to a more aggressive take on the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus, dissolving into a decaying synth tone to end the album. Great music and mostly great vocals, as well as being a fitting album closer, so I'm going to round this up to an 8/10.
Average: 7.1/10
Weighted: 7.1/10

This is an album with a lot of promise, but some missed potential as well. I love pretty much everything about the guitar work here (including the bass), but the weak link is in the vocal melodies and the overall vocal delivery. The singer actually sounds really good most of the time when he stays under control, but for some reason he keeps lapsing into histrionic wailing, which may or may not be a dealbreaker depending on the listener. Personally, I was able to tolerate the vocal excesses to enjoy the rest of the album -- but this could have been something truly great if the singing had been handled better.

Still a good album overall that's commanded a lot of my listening time in 2022. I'll definitely be paying attention for their next record.

(And thanks to @Edington for bringing this album to the forum's attention!)

(Master review index >)

Black Swan - Generation Mind (2022)

After a strong debut, this Frontiers supergroup comprising Robin McAuley, Jeff Pilson, Reb Beach, and Matt Starr returns with an even stronger sophomore effort, a heaping helping of driving melodic hard rock.
  • Before The Light - A dreamy, ominous instrumental with plaintive guitar leads builds its way up, then descends into the next track with a drone reminiscent of Van Halen's "Running With The Devil". Simple, but very effective. 8/10.
  • She Hides Behind - A guitar breakdown kicks into a driving groove that recalls Joe Satriani's "Summer Song", with some Lynchesque ringing tones. Melodic leads flow into a great punchy verse, then a strong pre-chorus and a great chorus. The lyrics are stacked with trucker-related sexual innuendos ("when she's got the load she hits the road", etc.), but isn't that exactly what you want from this kind of music? Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a crescendoing bridge with hints of Maiden's "Total Eclipse" before slowing down a bit to start a solo that soon steps on the gas and ascends to unexpected heights. A drum fill kicks back into the chorus, adding lots of guitar accents and some vocal riffing building to a big finish. Really great, probably does enough to round it up to a 9/10.
  • Generation Mind - A kickstart into a sweet melodic guitar lead gives way to a more laid back verse groove with a nice vocal melody. This breaks into a great uplifting pre-chorus and a catchy chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a pensive vocal bridge with another great melody, breaking into a really strong multi-part solo. This falls back into a subdued variant pre-chorus with piano accompaniment before blasting back into the chorus, which morphs into an extended outro with callback vocal riffing and great guitar soloing that eventually fades out. Great stuff, 8/10.
  • Eagles Fly - A drum fill breaks into a stomping midtempo groove with lots of guitar accents. This kicks into a more involved riff, then a pleasant verse. A more upbeat pre-chorus breaks into a similarly upbeat and memorable chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a somewhat odd bridge of "laser beams, killing machines" before rolling into a playful multi-part solo. We return to the pre-chorus, then get a stripped down chorus that kicks back into the full chorus, then an extended outro with vocal riffing before a final breakdown to wrap things up. Very good, probably good enough to round it up to an 8/10.
  • See You Cry - A clean guitar intro reminiscent of The Byrds breaks into a midtempo distorted groove that recalls Dokken's "Bullets To Spare". A dreamy descending lead gives way to a verse that's reminiscent of Lynch Mob's "No Good". This breaks into an uplifting pre-chorus that brings back the Byrds feel, followed by a great chorus that leans on the "Bullets To Spare" groove again. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a cool, somewhat funky vocal bridge followed by a strong solo. We return to the pre-chorus, then get a deconstructed variant chorus that kicks back into the full chorus, leading to a quick outro. Another very good song that deserves a round-up to 8/10.
  • Killer On The Loose - A riff recalling Ratt's "Round And Round" is joined by drum accents before a very Dokkenesque transition into a sweet melodic guitar lead. This gives way to a strong verse and pre-chorus, then a catchy chorus and a great solo. A riffy interlude features background comments from a news reporter (probably Jeff Pilson) before busting back into the chorus and a final breakdown. Some clanking chain sounds appear at the end as if they're going to transition into the next track, but there's actually an awkward abrupt cut into the next song instead. Weird ending aside, this is a very good track, a robust 7/10.
  • Miracle - A synth pad introduces a nice melodic riff that rolls into a moderately driving percussive groove. An ominous verse moves into a brighter pre-chorus and a big, catchy chorus. The lyrics are pretty dark, about the protagonist getting shot and fighting for his life. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a great, bright vocal bridge and an impressive, slightly funky solo that builds to a sweet climax that returns to the chorus. A final chorus breakdown rolls into an extended atmospheric outro with vocal riffing echoing the protagonist's life slipping away, ending in a long fade-out. Great song, 8/10.
  • How Do You Feel - The closest the album gets to a ballad. A bluesy lone guitar plays atop some synth tones, rolling into a slow, bluesy verse. A slightly perkier pre-chorus flows into a big Beatle-esque chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then a strong vocal bridge breaks into a great epic guitar solo. A brief interlude and drum fill returns to the chorus, followed by some call-and-response vocal riffing that echoes the bridge lyrics. A final melodic guitar solo fades away to end the song. Another great track, 8/10.
  • Long Way Down - A drum fill kicks into a driving riff with soaring melodic leads on top. A catchy verse breaks into a peppier pre-chorus and big, memorable chorus with riffage that recalls Dokken's "Voice Of The Soul". I love how the drums switch to double-time feel halfway through the chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a great multi-part guitar solo followed by a variant pre-chorus with heavy Satriani vibes before returning to the chorus. This eventually leads into some vocal and guitar riffing on the chorus with a quickly escalating tempo (like what Pilson and Beach did on Dokken's "Maddest Hatter" over 20 years prior), climaxing with a great scream and a quick finish. Really great, deserves a round-up to 9/10.
  • Crown - An opening riff reminiscent of Van Halen's "Unchained" is joined by drums and soaring guitar leads, flowing into a slower, stomping verse. A somewhat brighter pre-chorus leads into a big, catchy chorus that cuts directly back into the verse. Another run through the chorus, then we get a soaring vocal bridge and a call-and-response solo that flows into a more traditional solo section and melodic lead. A rhythmic interlude breaks back into the chorus, then a variant chorus with big backing vocals and vocal riffing as the song fades away. Another great song, 8/10.
  • Wicked The Day - A drum fill kicks into a riff reminiscent of Dokken's "Kiss Of Death" with sweet melodic lead accompaniment. This rolls into a driving verse, a more urgent pre-chorus, and another big, catchy chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a great contrasting vocal bridge, followed by a fiery solo on top of some funky riffage, eventually leading back to the chorus. Then we get a pretty explicit callback to an interlude from "Kiss Of Death", leading into more sweet melodic lead work with vocal riffing and guitar soloing, eventually fading out. Excellent stuff, and it feels more like a winking homage to the Dokken song rather than a ripoff of it. 9/10.
  • I Will Follow - Ringing clean guitar and synth tones with some vocal punctuation builds up into a driving midtempo groove. This breaks into a more open, syncopated verse that flows into a more melodic pre-chorus and a big, soaring chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get another great contrasting vocal bridge and an epic extended guitar solo. This leads into a more atmospheric take on the chorus that breaks back into the full chorus, then some sweet melodic lead work with vocal riffing that slowly fades away. Awkwardly, the song then fades back in to return to the opening clean guitar and a nice drum flourish to finish the album. Despite the weird fading business toward the end, this one's a corker that earns a round-up to 9/10. (I'd love to get my hands on a version someday that maintains the groove through the end of the song without the fading.)
Average: 8.3/10
Weighted: 8.3/10

These guys are on fire the second time around, delivering a stronger and much more consistent record that regularly swings for the fences and usually gets there. McAuley sounds great, shattering expectations about what a 69-year-old singer should be able to do. Beach wears his Lynch, Satriani, and Van Halen influences on his sleeve and cuts loose left and right. Pilson's songwriting chops are on full display, along with a few sweet bass fills and some strong backing vocals. Starr doesn't shine quite as brightly as the others, but he has some nice moments and never drags things down, so he gets the job done.

Remarkably, I think this album delivers the goods even better than Pilson's other recent project, The End Machine's Phase2, which featured Pilson, Lynch, and Mick Brown's younger brother Steve. I'd even go so far as to say that this is probably the best non-instrumental Dokken family tree album since the classic era. It hits me right in the hard rock G-spot!

An easy recommendation for Dokken fans, or any fan of great melodic hard rock. More, please!

(Master review index >)
Richard Marx
Manhattan Records (1987)
My local library got rid of their entire CD collection, unfortunately I heard it a few weeks after they started the sale so there wasn´t much good stuff left. The songs on the debut of Richard Marx didn´t ring a bell but I quite liked his hits Angelia and the super ballad Right Here Waiting so I thought I might give this a try for only 50 eurocent...

Should've Known Better is a soft poprock song with a little touch of AOR, not a bad song to start this record. Nice catchy chorus too!
Don't Mean Nothing isn´t really my cup of tea, so I´d rather skip this one the next time I listen to this album.
Endless Summer Nights sounds alot like a Toto ballad. The typical production of the 80´s makes it maybe a little dated but it doesn´t really bother me. Very nice sax solo too.
Lonely Heart starts with a juicy riff that's right up my alley. Richard Marx has a great voice for this kind of music. The chorus is very poppy and reminds me again of Toto. The guitar solo is nothing special but not that bad.
Hold On to the Nights starts with very atmospheric synths...and then follows a gorgeously sang verse! The chorus is even better! Perfect AOR ballad by numbers. This is my favourite song!
Have Mercy is a bit more rock orientated with a cool bassline. Sounds abit like Europe in their best days. Very good chorus too! Juicy but much too short guitarsolo.
Remember Manhattan starts with bass and sax but the chorus is very cringey! Nope, this one falls unfortunately in the filler/skip category.
The Flame of Love is another one of my favourites! Great vocals, especially during the chorus.
Rhythm of Life is quite funky! It has a certain Level 42 vibe. Short bluesy solo and Prince kinda synths. Not really my cup of tea mainly because of the weak chorus.
Heaven Only Knows is another ballad and it closes the album on a high! AOR the way I like it!

As a whole this isn´t an album I will listen to many times in the future because it has too many forgettable tracks. However it has some really great songs on it so it’s very likely I will play it again someday.


MindRuler´s star rating:
- Meh: ☆
- Mediocre: ☆☆
- Medium: ☆☆☆
- Magnificent: ☆☆☆☆
- Masterpiece: ☆☆☆☆☆
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Depeche Mode - Memento Mori
Sony Music (2023)

I didn´t have high hopes for the new Depeche Mode because their last 3 albums were very mediocre. With the tragic death of Andrew Fletcher it was also a big question if and when Dave and Martin would return with a follow up to their (pun intended) spiritless last album. And there it is: Memento Mori. Packed in one of their best artworks ever, it´s a dark album that fans of the band will embrace. The symbolism of the cover couldn´t be better: two pairs of angel wings (a hint at the Playing The Angel album(?) and the loss of Fletch)

The album kicks of with the throbbing My Cosmos Is Mine, a good but not great start of the record. Wagging Tongue has a certain Kraftwerk sound in the synths and is the first highlight of the album. Very catchy!
First single Ghosts Again might be one of their best songs ever! Dave Gahan croons his way through the ballad Don´t Say You Love Me. Not a bad song but it doesn´t grab me as much as the previous two.
My Favourite Stranger sounds like it could´ve been on Violator or Ultra. Perfect dark synthpop!
I never was a big fan of Martins voice so Soul With Me isn´t really my cup of Depeche Tea. It´s certainly better than the cringey efforts on the last few Mode albums but still it´s far from great.
In Caroline´s Monkey the atmosphere of the Violator album isn´t that far away. After a few spins, it gets better and better.
Before We Drown is even better with a nice haunting verse and Daves great vocal lines. In the chorus Martin joins him, good song.
People Are Good and Always You are not bad but don't grab me yet.
The surprise is at the very end! My favourite song from the album is Never Let Me Go! This is the kind of Depeche Mode I love the most! Dave sings that the angels will praise them. Well, I praise them for making a song like this in the winter of their career. And then there´s... Speak To Me...Just wow! What a way to end the album with these 2 absolute fantastic songs.

I can´t give this album 5 stars because there are quite a few songs not on the same level as the others. But this is definitely recommended if you like Violator, Ultra and Playing The Angel!


MindRuler´s star rating:
- Meh: ☆
- Mediocre: ☆☆
- Medium: ☆☆☆
- Magnificent: ☆☆☆☆
- Masterpiece: ☆☆☆☆☆
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Aegonia - Moonlight Tales (2022)

Years after a strong debut in 2019 with the melancholy folk metal album The Forgotten Song, this Bulgarian band adjusted their sound to be a little less downbeat, and dropped their trademark "husky whisper" extreme co-vocals to focus on the melodic vocals of their female lead for this new EP.
  • The Foreteller - Soft synths and nature noises welcome a gentle vocal intro. Clean guitar and bells support a spoken word verse that flows into a more hopeful chorus. Another verse leads into an instrumental take on the chorus with "ahhs" carrying the melody, slowly fading away. Pleasant enough, but there isn't a lot of meat on the bones here. Let's say 6/10.
  • In The Water Deep - Plaintive acoustic guitar and bass are joined by drums for a spoken word verse. This blooms into a pretty good airy chorus with distorted guitars and flute accompaniment. This rolls into a newly melodic verse and interestingly harmonized pre-chorus before returning to the chorus. A staccato electric guitar interlude leads into a nice harmonized vocal outro. Pretty good, probably does enough to round it up to a 7/10.
  • Of Love And Hate - A gently upbeat acoustic guitar riff with backing synths flows into a calm verse and a slightly more tense pre-chorus, then a flute carries us into a melodious chorus. A nice, almost call-and-response harmonized vocal bridge leads back into the pre-chorus and chorus, then a cool modulation to the chorus, which morphs into a nice guitar and vocal outro. The singer's accent and other quirks stand out a bit more here than on most of the other tracks, but this is otherwise a solidly good track with some cool bits to it. A robust 7/10.
  • An Endless Quest - Acoustic guitar and bass vaguely reminiscent of Bruce Dickinson's "Taking The Queen" soon shift into a series of buoyant choruses with flamenco accents. A nice flute interlude wraps back around to the chorus, then a nice guitar, string, flute, and vocal outro wraps things up. The music here is strong, though the vocals and lyrics have some quirks. Probably good enough to round it up to a 7/10.
  • Scarborough Fair - Melancholy acoustic guitar and flute lead into a pretty faithful cover of Simon & Garfunkel's version of the old English folk song, albeit with more flute and strings, and a bit more oomph. An extended interlude with some distorted guitar rolls back into the vocal section while keeping the punchier guitars underneath, eventually calming down for a final vocal denouement. It doesn't have the piercing purity of Simon & Garfunkel's version, but the more lush accompaniment and eventual subtle crunch of electric guitar adds its own flavor. Good stuff, 7/10.
Average: 6.8/10
Weighted: 6.8/10

While this is a pretty solid EP, it didn't impress me in the same way that the band's debut did. Though the female vocalist has her appeal, the loss of the male vocals (both the melodic and the strangely calm extreme vocals) from the band's earlier work made them lose some of their character, and the slightly more hopeful music doesn't land quite as well for me as their melancholy bread and butter. Also, the Dracula accents seem to play better with darker material.

So, pretty good, but I'm hoping for more of a return to form with their next release.

(Master review index >)
As I start trying to finish up my reviews of 2022 albums, I'm running into some weird edge cases.

There's the Smith/Kotzen re-release with extra live tracks (I already covered the studio tracks for the 2021 release), which I'm tempted to not bother reviewing since I don't even have a good sense of how to rate live tracks. There's also the mega-EP from Ball Noir (apologies to @Cornfed Hick for calling it that again) which is a mish-mash of new studio tracks, covers, remasters, live tracks, and some dance mixes(!). For that one I'm tempted to just rate the new studio tracks (including studio covers, but not the dance mixes) and not try to rate the other material, though I'd probably still comment on it.

Any thoughts on how I should handle those?