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by David Clayton and Todd K Smith
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“Thank God Free got the book about them they deserve: heavyweight (288 pages), with lots of illustrations, and well written by the dream team of Free expert David Clayton and US journalist Todd Smith. Including everything from hand-written lyrics to an illustrated discography all in classic black and white this great book evokes not only a band but also an era.” ~ Classic Rock
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Carved in Rock
GMR Music (Sweden)
With Carved in Rock, we finally see the return of Neil Merryweather. It seems the Canadian singer, bassist and songwriter has been pulled out of retirement by famed Swedish guitarist Janne Stark (Overdrive, Locomotive Breath, Mountain of Power). Just to catch you up, Merryweather was a phenom from the sixties through the eighties. His impressive and eclectic career had him working with the who’s-who of 70s rock while recording with his own outfit Merryweather. Mama Lion proved to be his foray into hard rock, which became sharper and crisper in Heavy Cruiser then truly focused on solo albums, Space Rangers (1974), Kryptonite (1975) and Differences (1978). We last saw him working with Lita Ford on her debut Out for Blood (1983). Disillusioned with the music biz, Neil took a break from it until 2009. In 2015 he appeared on Janne Stark’s Mountain of Power III released by Grooveyard records. The two have continued their collaboration efforts on Carved in Rock which showcases the duos ability to craft some incredible ‘70s-inspired heavy rock.
To say the disc packs a punch is an understatement. We’re talking heaps upon MF heaps of Stark’s heavy riffiage with Merryweather’s signature growl. ‘Irma La Douce” breathes fire from the speakers with cosmic swirls of green haze. A sonic lick drives the song straight into the bass and vocals where Neil’s voice is a welcome ghost from the past. The singer’s clever lyrical rhymes meet somewhere between Kiss and Motörhead with “Hey liar, liar, your pants are on fire / you’re bubbling over with molten desire.” Then there’s the thrashing speed of ‘Rocker’s Lament’ where Starks rips away, his six strings on fire, while Neil growls “I am what I am / and I don’t give a damn / I’m just playing my fucking guitar.” There’s no hiding, you can hear the pain of a tortured soul having been dragged through 50 years in the music business. The nastiest guitar snarl on the disc must be ‘Give ‘Em Hell, Boy’ with its Aerosmith swagger and bump-n-grind bass riff followed by the stripper pole workout of 'Lay Your Body Down.’
Merryweather sings like a chanpion on ‘It Ain’t Pretty’, with the bass rattling the walls in a four-minute homage to classic James Gang/ZZ Top. His voice even sounds, at times, like Joe Walsh or Billy Gibbons matching the weight of the guitar, drum and bass in a power trio cyclone of pure bliss. Though the guts of the record are heavy, heavy, heavy there is still plenty of air to breathe. ‘I Believe’ has a nice ‘70s structure moving from verse to verse while ‘We Got to Own This Thing’ uses a cascading riff in a blues fame for bite and muscle. Stark find’s his own strut in the beefy ‘Love and War’ that borrows some lyrical grooves from Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’. The guitarist soars this each solo while still keeping it lean, mean and chunky. Our favorite songs change with each listen but ‘Babylon Sin City’ keeps rising to the top with its thumping guitar and frantic chorus. One can’t help think the song is dedicated to Neil’s adopted home, Las Vegas. Carved in Rock is honest, dedicated and blue-collar. It’s Sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll without fading… and these guys really mean it!
Website: Neil Merryweather, Janne Stark, Grooveyard Records
Kicking the year off right is the arrival of the anxiously awaiting Blackout. Norwegian quintet Audrey Horne (named after the fictional character from the ABC television series Twin Peaks) have released their sixth album since their formation in 2005. Promising to deliver the prototypical classic heavy rock album ala Van Halen, Kiss, Thin Lizzy they locked themselves away in a frosty studio until the snow melted from the shear polish and radiant heat of ten-glorious songs. Each track is melodically crafted with a hook chorus, juicy solo and thundering rhythm. The group also has the added advantage of singer Torkjell Rød/Toschie, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Steve Perry / Tommy Shaw / Kevin Cronin vocal delivery. An odd shift considering some of the members have previously played in black metal bands Enslaved and Gorgoroth which is part of the charm for these guys. Beginning with the six-minute advanced single ‘This Is War’ the band do everything right from the galloping bassline to the sophisticated guitar runs.
On the eve of the record’s January 2018 release a second single, ‘Audrevolution’ taunted a dedicated fan-base with its hypnotic dance beat and pulsating riffs. The track was instantly addictive and put the record on a rocket trajectory claiming high marks in the charts across Scandinavia and Germany. The sugar didn’t stop there. The album’s title track ‘Blackout’ is an arena anthem complete with a fist-in-the-air salute. ‘California’, ‘This One’ and ‘Rose Alley’ are stunning tributes to essential Thin Lizzy capturing not only the twin guitarmonies but a uniquely European bass/drum rhythm section. Vocalist Toschie makes his mark with the drinking song ‘Midnight Man’ singing solo over a minimal drum beat but once the guitars kick in its three minutes of shear ear candy. ‘Light Your Way’ is the band’s tribute to Deep Purple while ‘Naysayer’ is more Motörhead with a slick chorus. Get the bonus tracks ‘Juggernaut’ and ‘The End’ as they are a nice nod to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. Testosterone-fueled heavy rock that’s absolutely gorgeous!
Website: Audrey Horne, Napalm Records
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