Spinefarm Records: Vega + Orianthi + Von Hertzen Brothers + Amaranthe

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Elize of Amaranthe (Ed: Brian insisted we use this pic)
Elize of Amaranthe (Ed: Brian insisted we use this pic)

Reviews by Brian McGowan

Spinefarm Records

The home of many a Finnish Metaller, it appears that Spinefarm Records are becoming more cosmopolitan by the day with these four new releases:

  • Vega – What The Hell?
  • Orianthi – Heaven In This Hell
  • Amaranthe – Nexus
  • Von Hertzen Brothers – Nine Lives

 

Vega – What The Hell?

This second album from fast rising melodic rock band, Vega will no doubt be reviewed at length very soon (Ed: “at length” being the operative phrase should Woody get hold of it!). Meantime, some early impressions. Unlike other bands operating in the same genre like, say, WET, who break their neck trying to recreate a certain sound, Vega’s music lives in the here and now. That’s not to say they don’t keep one eye on the rear view mirror… There are plenty of affectionate nods to the FM Radio rock of the eighties, but What The Hell? gives it a new spin. ‘Raise Ya Game’ is a prime example. A sussed aggregate of INXS like funk lite, New Wave pop and AOR, it steps out of well mapped territory to explore new ground. That said, ’Cry’ (on Woody’s March podcast), ’Fade Into The Flames’ and ‘You Can’t Run’ wade deep into the eighties, keeping their head above contemporary waters. They capture the spirit that first drew them and countless others to the flame, and will have you eagerly reaching for your old Van Hagar, Foreigner and Mr Mister albums. If you want a way to stay clear of the banality inherent in so much of today’s melodic rock and AOR, Vega’s What The Hell? is a good place to start.

Vega - What The Hell 20138.5 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Audiat Somniare
  2. White Knuckle Ride
  3. What The Hell
  4. Not There For You
  5. Cry
  6. Raise Ya Game
  7. Fade Into The Flames
  8. You Cant Run
  9. Bless My Soul
  10. She Walks Alone
  11. Turn It On
  12. Saviour
  13. Its Gonna Be Alright
  14. Hand In The Air

 

Orianthi – Heaven In This Hell

Much vilified in the music press, Heaven In This Hell was in danger of sinking below the weight of expectation before it was even released. When you’ve played lead guitar on tour with Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper and Michael Bolton, the public anticipation of musical greatness is overwhelming. Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) was an unusual choice to produce the album, given his strong association with pop music, and Orianthi’s with rock and soul. Maybe as a consequence of that, Heaven In This Hell is something of a mixed bag. An uneasy alliance of blues, rock and pop, it’s an album that never really exceeds the sum of its parts.

That said, taken individually, there are some cracking tracks here.The Delta blues rock of ‘Frozen’ is laced with just enough pop nous to work like a dream, while the country rock sweetening of ’According To You’ and ‘Rock’ aims them squarely at Top Forty ascendancy. Add to that the album’s first 3 tracks. The title track, ’Heaven In This Hell’, ’You Don’t Wanna Know’ and ’Fire’. No one could argue that these don’t measure up to expectation. Filled with swampy, muscular riffs, convincing vocals and sturdy melodies, they move back and forth between rootsy gospel-blues textures to something sleeker and snappier. It’s on these tracks that Orianthi sounds right at home, doing what she wants and doing what she does best.

Orianthi - Heaven 20136 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Heaven in this Hell
  2. You Don’t Wanna Know
  3. Fire
  4. If You Think You Know Me
  5. How Do You Sleep?
  6. Frozen
  7. Rock
  8. Another You
  9. How Does That Feel?
  10. Filthy Blues
  11. If You Were Here With Me

 

Amaranthe – The Nexus

Amaranthe’s second album The Nexus sees the band cementing the sound that they began to construct in the 2011 debut. A dilution of hardcore metal with clean vocals, pop melodies and frequent symphonic rock flourishes clearly isn’t to everyone’s taste and has led to a stream of polarised opinions online – critics don’t like it when they hear something they can’t pigeonhole. But when it works – and it doesn’t work every time – it’s arguably a fresh and diverting change from the norm (whatever that is).

On the more immediate tracks like ‘Invisible’ and ‘The Nexus’ – think Abba meets Lordi in Nightwish’s backyard – you get the impression that the vocal growls are redundant. A marketing tool designed to attract fans from all sections of the metal spectrum. But where soprano Elise Ryd duets with growler Andreas Solvestrom (‘Theory Of Everything’) or with clean vocalist, Jake E (‘Burn With Me’), or in fact where the three of them lock and load seamlessly (‘Razorblade’), the results are really quite spectacular. Only one way for you to find out for yourself…

Amaranthe - The Nexus 20137 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Afterlife
  2. Invincible
  3. The Nexus
  4. Theory Of Everything
  5. Stardust
  6. Burn With Me
  7. Mechanical Illusion
  8. Razorblade
  9. Future On Hold
  10. Electroheart
  11. Transhuman
  12. Infinity

 

The Von Hertzen Brothers – Nine Lives

We’ve already reviewed the VHB release (here), so only a few extra words in this roundup. To echo the comments in that review, Nine Lives confirms that there is no such thing as a typical VHB song. Arguably, opener, ‘Insomniac’ is the nearest you might get to the brothers’ music in microcosm – alternating between bursts of cataclysmic, progrock din and a soaring chorus that‘s full of melody and tight knit harmonies. Almost everything else is a (kind of) variation on that theme.

Best then to focus on the tracks that cut against the grain. First, ‘Lost In Time’. It replaces the cacophony with bleak, whispering soundbites (sounding a little like latter day Klaatu) that climax with a hooky chorus, emerging from the gloom in a blaze of musical colour. And second, ‘Coming Home’, a track that weaves together strands of seventies’ prog and folk metal into an extremely attractive and amazingly cohesive piece of music. Arguably, ‘Separate Forever’, a hymn like dirge that tips its hat to Hans Zimmer, is also in that group, and is just as much a welcome antidote the flat pack, self assembly progrock we hear so much of nowadays. On the downside, the album is so densely packed with ideas and creativity that it’s often hard to penetrate, not an attribute that makes for success in these days of short attention spans. Still, nothing worthwhile ever came easy.

VHB Nine Lives 3508 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Insomniac
  2. Flowers And Rust
  3. Coming Home
  4. Lost In Time
  5. Separate Forevers
  6. One May Never Know
  7. World Without
  8. Black Heart’s Cry
  9. Prospect For Escape
  10. The Climb (Bonus Track)
  11. Do What You Want With Me (Bonus Track)
  12. Between The Lines (Bonus Track)

 

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