Quick plays: DIO, HEAVEN RAIN, OLIVA, VANDROYA, EVILYN STRANGE

Nick van der Meulen gives us a run through new releases from Heaven Rain, Giunitini Project, Oliva, Vandroya, Evelyn Strange and another Dio reissue…

HEAVEN RAIN – Second Sun
Music Buy Mail

Another slipped through my fingers: this album was released over a year ago and deserves a review.  Heaven Rain is a Bosnian outfit playing progressive power metal founded by keyboardist Goran Baštinac.  Various works have been released, including two E.P.’s and one full-length release in 2008.  “Second Sun” is the band’s sophomore effort.

The band cites Kamelot, Sonata Arctica, Nightwish and Ayreon as their major influences and, while that may be apparent, it’s not overpowering and they have managed to produce their own sound and identity.  The songs are diverse with an impressive sound, from orchestral movements, touching piano interludes to progressive rock, power metal or hard rock with crunching riffs, with Miona Graorac’s vocals sounding remarkably like Stevie Nicks at the helm!  While this may sound strange, the mix works and with good song writing, is a pleasure to listen to.

If you’re into European power metal with a touch of progression, keep a watch out for Heaven Rain.  They’re not slipping past my radar again…

****1/4

VANDROYA – One
Inner Wound Recordings

Vandroya is a female-fronted power metal outfit hailing from Brazil.  They’ve been on the go for over ten years, releasing an E.P. in 2005, but “One” is the band’s debut full-length effort.

Listening to their work, one can hear influences which include Within Temptation, Blind Guardian, Edguy, Sonata Arctica, Kamelot and some Bay Area thrash nuances.

The songs on display in this work are all strong, with some jumping out and grabbing you by the throat (“Anthem for the sun” will have you nodding your head to the rhythm).  There is a singular power ballad in “Why should we say goodbye”, which is more upbeat than heart-wrenching.  Vocalist Daisa Munhoz is in fine form on this release which, along with the band’s excellent rhythm section, keeps the listener interested.

Yes, it’s another female-fronted power metal outfit and we are exposed to many of them nowadays, but Vandroya is worth your time and money.  Check them out.

****1/4

DIO – Magica
Universal

Another Dio reissue in 2013, following the excellent “Dream Evil” earlier in the year.  It was thought that “Lock Up The Wolves” would be next on the reissue list, but Universal jumped 13 years forward to “Magica”.

It is generally thought that “Magica” was Dio’s return to form after what was regarded as lacklustre releases in “Strange highways” and “Angry Machines”.  “Magica” is a wonderfully constructed concept album and say Dio at his story-telling best.  Brilliant songs with great virtuoso performances underlined the work, with Dio himself featuring a narration at the end of the album.  As ever, you get a digipak with two CD’s: the first with the album, remastered, while the second has the Japanese bonus track “Annica” (an instrumental) and the unreleased track “Electra”, which was due for “Magica 2” but found its way onto “The Beast of Volume 2” instead following Dio’s passing.  As a result, this is an essential purchase for those who don’t have the two extra singles.  The live tracks are an added bonus and are enjoyable too.

A well-packaged reissue and essential for Dio fans.

*****

GIUNITINI PROJECT – IV
Escape Music

Thank God for the Italians.  Many will say they don’t produce much in the world of rock, but I disagree: between Dario Mollo, Aldo Giuntini and, more recently, Silver Horses, they’ve kept Tony Martin recording for the last fifteen years.  This time it is Giuntini’s turn to have Mr. Martin’s voice on his album (for the third time), his first release in seven years, with Mollo turning the knobs as producer.

Giuntini’s guitar riffing has not changed over the years and is instantly recognizable.  As ever, his solos are ripping and intense, while Tony Martin is in fine fettle, with his voice coming over as strongly as at the height of his Sabbath years.  There some classic Martin lyrics too… “you was born in the underworld…”

Interesting to hear Tony’s voice on a Megadeth cover “How the story ends”, but you don’t have to worry.  It’s well done and I think even Dave Mustaine will be impressed with this rendition.  There are two instrumentals, as well as a “guest” vocalist in Liz Vandall, who performs a duet with Martin on “Bring on the night”.

As ever, Giuntini has produced some fine Italian hard rock.  Along with Dario Mollo, he is one of Italy’s guitar wizards and collaborating with Tony Martin enhances a reputation that would probably have been confined to Italy alone.  If you are familiar with (and enjoy) his work, you should purchase it if you don’t have it.  If you are not and you wish to get to know some Italian melodic hard rock, this is a very good place to start.

****1/2

EVILYN STRANGE – Mourning Phoebe
www.evilynstrange.co.uk

Evilyn Strange is a trio that has experience in the music world, having released three albums previously under a different guise.  “Mourning Phoebe”, for all intents and purposes, is Evilyn Strange’s debut release, but it also could be their last!

This is good, straight up melodic rock and a number of rock radio stations have actually classified them as classic rock.  The album begins with “The Ballad of Evilyn Strange”, where vocalist Phillip Strange mimics the voice of Ozzy, while guitarist Mikael Johanesson throws in a Zakk Wylde lick or two to indicate the influence of the song.  Strange is a better vocalist than that, though, and it is apparent in the rest of the songs of this release.  Johanesson shows his virtuosity with good rhythm and wailing solos, while drummer Alan Strange is almost overlooked but still performs his vital role ably.  The final song “Will you be there” has been a favourite of mine for over 15 years and I’m happy to finally see it released on CD – a classic acoustic ballad.

The band has done this on their own (without help from a music label) for a number of years and, under this guise, has produced a rock album they can be extremely proud of.  Should they call it quits and concentrate solely on their day jobs, they have done what many of us dream of: record and release a fine rock album.  Give it a listen.

****1/2

OLIVA – Raise the Curtain
AFM Records

Jon Oliva has been in the music business for 30 years and has been recognized by pundits as being one of the most under-rated songwriters in rock history.  Having been a key player of Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and, most recently, Jon Oliva’s Pain, this work is released under the “Oliva” moniker, making this his first “official” solo outing in his long career.

The “Oliva” moniker is apt, as this work strays from any other he has done in the past.  It is a personal journey where he opens his heart to the listener, exposing many of his influences in the process.  My initial reaction to this work was of disappointment but, after subsequent listens, I understand it much better and, as a result, embrace the effort more.  Oliva claims this album is a must for Savatage fans, as the final tapes in his collection featuring guitar maestro, brother Criss (who died in a car accident 20 years ago in October) appear on this work.  Be warned, though: this is anything but a hard rock album.  It begins with the title track, which features prog rock and a repetitive chorus (a cross between Broadway and the intro to “Bat Out of Hell”), which is an attempt at an intro akin to “Welcome to the show” on Savatage’s “Wake of Magellan”, albeit not as effective.  There are flashes of Savatage heaviness here and there, but also acoustic songs and arrangements featuring trumpets, which works well.

This is not a rock album.  It is a journey in the life of Jon Oliva and it is worth absorbing in one sitting.  He plays most of the instruments himself (as he did on “Handful of Rain”), although this time he handles the lead guitar too.  The musicianship is impeccable, the songs superb, but you have to be ready to listen to it, absorb it, understand it.  This won’t be a release for all rock lovers, but I don’t think Oliva intended it to be that way…

****1/4


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Power Plays w/c 2 September (Mon-Fri)

BAD WOLVES Killing Me Slowly (Eleven Seven Music)
THE DEAD DAISIES Righteous Days (SPV)
DEEP DEEP WATER Something In The Water (indie)
MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST Sleeping With The Light On (Nuclear Blast)
GHOSTS OF MEN Crooked Back (Regent Street Records)
ANNIE HASLAM Blood And Water (indie)

Featured Albums w/c 2 September (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 MICK DEVINE Here Now (Escape Music)
12:00-13:00 MOB RULES Beast Over Europe (SPV)
14:00-16:00 THE PORTRAITS For Our Times (indie)

Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)

STACKRIDGE A Victory For Common Sense (2009)



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