Music Release Reviews

10 Reviews (5 New)
A Dark and Scary Place

Halloween - The Sound of Evil

Music From The Halloween Film Scores

Composers: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth, John Ottman, Danny Lux, and Tyler Bates

Label: BuySoundtrax Records

October 2013

To coincide with the 35th anniversary of John Carpenter’s classic grandfather of all slasher films, Halloween, comes this single CD release of 22 tracks incorporating music from the Halloween movies franchise. Included are examples from Halloween by Carpenter, Halloween II by Carpenter & Alan Howarth, Halloween III: Season of the Witch by Carpenter & Howarth, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers by Howarth, Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers by Howarth, Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers by Howarth, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later by John Ottman, Halloween Resurrection by Danny Lux, Halloween (2007) by Tyler Bates, and Halloween II (2009) by Bates. It is available by download or on limited edition CD from BSX Records. The collection is produced and arranged by Dominik Hauser, and the colour booklet houses an article by Randall D. Larson called 'Designed to Chill – The Cinematic Musical Heritage of Halloween'.

Let me just say from the outset, I don’t like it at all. Phew! That’s got that one out of the way. However, rather suspecting the great editor may require more of an explanation, I’ll just add that this release is a missed opportunity of monumental proportions.

Now, you might just have garnered from some of my previous reviews that I’m a huge John Carpenter fan. I’ve followed the man’s progress practically from the start, reading the novelisation of
Dark Star by my favourite science fiction writer, Alan Dean Foster, before I saw the actual film. Halloween, the original 1978 classic, is still probably my favourite movie of all time – it’s certainly in my top three, alongside The Italian Job and Westworld.

I could bore everyone into a coma with just a few of the countless snippets of interesting information I’ve accumulated about the film. However, this is about the music, and
Halloween is one of only three famous horror scores I can think of which are instantly recognisable. Carpenter, who has composed the majority of his own films music, has a knack of finding just the right sounds to complement and enhance the action. There’s a certain atmosphere at play, and that’s something you simply don’t tamper with. And that brings me to my main gripe regarding this new collection...

The John Carpenter tracks from the first three
Halloween movies I know very well, having collected them on the original soundtrack CDs and on Carpenter collections over the years. It’s the same music but it’s different. A fan can tell. These tracks have been re-recorded - or at the very least, rearranged - and have therefore lost much of their impact. By extending the tracks and adding elements in an attempt to make them more appealing to a younger generation, the opposite effect has been achieved. On some it’s simply little nuances, but to the old school fan who knows where these pieces of music fit into the pace and atmosphere of what is (in the case of the first film) a master-class of lighting and directing, it is simply sacrilege.

There are only three tracks from Carpenter’s
Halloween: 'Main Title (presented with and without the top and tail children’s song), 'Laurie’s Theme', and 'The Shape Stalks'; just one from the Carpenter scripted Halloween II: 'Theme' (where is the Murder Montage?); and three from the Myers-free Halloween III: 'Silver Shamrock Commercial', 'Drive to Santa Mira', and the excellent 'Chariots of Pumpkins'. Practically every other track included on this release is a variation on these pieces – including the 2007 and 2009 remakes. There are just a couple of exceptions: 'Thorn', from Halloween VI and 'The Ceremony', from Halloween Resurrection successfully offer us original and captivating pieces.

Film score enthusiasts who haven’t come across this music before will undoubtedly hear much to appreciate. However, Carpenter fans of all generations will do better to seek out copies of the original CD soundtracks to the first three films, or pick up a collection of Carpenter’s film music, such as the Varese Sarabande releases of a few years back.

Verdict: 5 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2013)

Christine - 2017 Remastered Vinyl, by John Carpenter

Label: Varese Sarabande

September 2017

Varese Sarabande Records releases John Carpenter’s classic soundtrack to Christine on LP. It is presented, remastered from the original tapes, on blue vinyl, and features new cover and label artwork by award-winning artist Gary Pullin. There are eighteen tracks, nine on each side. With the current Region B release of the film on Blu-ray and its 35th anniversary due next year, this is the ideal time to remind everyone in a new way about this often forgotten score...

In all but format this is a re-release of the Varese Sarabande soundtrack of
Christine I still possess on CD from 1991. I am a huge John Carpenter film, script and music fan. I have all the soundtracks, I originally bought all the videos and now have DVD versions and several Blu-rays. Carpenter’s music, composed in association with Alan Howarth, has always been a big part of his films. I once saw him do a Masterclass at the National Film Institute on the Southbank. At one point he was asked why he composes his own soundtracks. His answer: "Because I’m quick and I’m cheap". Although funny, he did himself a major injustice. But that’s how he is… unassuming. He’s happy in commentaries or interviews to point out mistakes in his films – even though the vast majority of us wouldn’t have noticed.

Carpenter has made many hugely popular and sustaining feature films and, similarly, his soundtracks have easily managed to stand the test of time. Not many film scores are entertaining in their own right as isolated music. Carpenter has made the vast majority of his the case. Having said all this I wouldn’t recommend
Christine as a stepping-on point for his music.

Setting aside a collection to demonstrate his capabilities, my favourite Carpenter soundtracks are
The Fog, Escape From New York, and Halloween. That’s not to say Christine doesn’t have its enjoyable moments. 'Moochie’s Death' is a great track, managing to build, fade and build again without losing any of its initial pace. It would even go down well at a Halloween party. 'The Rape', 'Christine Attacks (Plymouth Fury)', and 'Moochie Mix Four' are all very similar. There is some good incidental music on offer here, but the soundtrack isn’t as varied as many of the other films he has worked on. Purely for its variety I would have selected Escape From New York – even though I favour his horror content.

Even if this is targeted purely at Carpenter completists (of which there are many), we are still left with a track-for-track copy of the existing CD. Of course, vinyl sometimes sounds much more raw and alive; however, I was only sent an mp3 version. How am I supposed to review a special vinyl release with new artwork when I haven’t even received any of the actual product? The points awarded here are for the music therefore, and not the retail release.

If you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen any John Carpenter films, your enlightenment starts here. Check out
The Thing (1982), Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1979) to set you on your way.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017)

John carpenter's The Thing (Remastered Soundtrack)

Composed by Ennio Morricone

Produced/Arranged by Alan Howarth/Larry Hopkins

Label: BuySountrax Records

October 2011

To replace the original deleted soundtrack, comes The Thing: Music From The Motion Picture, available as a limited edition CD or as a digital download from BuySoundtrax Records. To avoid confusion it should be pointed out that this is the classic John Carpenter version from the early eighties, and not the recent very average prequel. Carpenter composed very powerful enhancing music for his films, but in this case he wanted to bring in Ennio Morricone who had impressed him greatly with several memorable spaghetti western tunes.

Morricone produced an orchestral soundtrack, but Carpenter wanted something more in the vein of his own music from
Escape From New York, released only the year before. So, Morricone offered up a more electronic synthesizer score. Even then Carpenter utilised only a part of the music given to him, because he needed a recurring theme - something a little sinister to reflect the isolation of the characters and the siege feel so favoured by the director.

Alan Howath, who collaborated with John Carpenter on many of his soundtracks, as well as providing sound effects for a handful of blockbuster movies in the eighties, before composing some of his own - has painstakingly reconstructed Morricone’s original full soundtrack using new technology to create the sounds of the old recording. The tracks have also been rearranged to match the order they would have been in the film.

Listening carefully to the content it’s difficult to imagine where the music would have fit in to the very different mood of the film.
The Thing has a very claustrophobic feel, and this would have been destroyed by some of the more orchestral pieces. To be frank, there is only one powerful track on this collection and that is the building electronic throb which was actually used as the main piece in the movie. The rest is not exactly entertaining. The composer himself described his electronic theme as Morricone doing John Carpenter. This begs the question, why didn’t Carpenter do it himself in the first place?

Verdict: 4 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2011)

Dark Star & Assault on Precinct 13, by John Carpenter

Label: BuySoundtrax Records

July 2012

Hot on the heels of Music From John Carpenter’s The Thing, comes Music From Assault on Precinct 13 and Dark Star. It is available from BuySoundtrax Records as a download or as a limited 1500 hard copies. Unlike The Thing, film maestro John Carpenter composed and played the music for these two movies. This mp3 format release is handled by Carpenter’s long-time collaborator, Alan Howarth.

For anyone who hasn’t read my reviews and doesn’t know, I am a huge John Carpenter fan. The man was (is) a genius, and his soundtracks - of which I have them all - fit the mood and feel of the content perfectly. As you might expect, he knows what he wants.
Dark Star and Assault are early film releases of Carpenter’s; in fact he started making Dark Star when he was still at film school. Consequentially, Dark Star’s score is more composed of sound effects and dialogue. There is music present, just not very much of it.

Full CD soundtracks from Varese Sarabande Records have been released previously for both of these films, back in the 1990s.
Assault has its memorable tracks, such as the simple but effective 'Main Title', 'Street Thunder', and the contemplative 'Julia'. However, it’s far from being the most varied or entertaining music - which probably falls to Escape From New York (although Halloween is more famous and instantly recognisable).

For someone such as myself this download release is nothing new or different. Why not simply re-release the original CDs? The re-recorded track listings are almost the same, only with subtle changes, such as the odd word here or there added or removed, as if Alan Howarth were stating to those that will listen that this is his version. Carpenter himself has a very philosophical view to remakes of his output: he simply takes the money and sits back and allows them to fail.

I’m all for keeping this material in the public domain, but a limited release such as this is hardly likely to make much of an impact. How about releasing a new remastered Best of John Carpenter Music CD for wider distribution?

Verdict: 5 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2012)

The Fog (Expanded Soundtrack), by John Carpenter

Label: Silva Screen Records

October 2012

Arriving hot on the heels of the Dark Star / Assault on Precinct 13 release, comes the reissue of the year 2000 soundtrack of John Carpenter’s 1979 horror classic The Fog. It is issued by Silva Screen as a limited CD release or download, and this time significantly expands on the running time content of the original. The arrangement is by long-time Carpenter collaborator, Alan Howarth.

My copy was downloaded as MP3 files and, although they play just as well, giving you the option of dragging on to an MP3 player or burning to disc - I do miss the finished package which comes as part of a collection. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like walking into a shop (or even shopping online) to possess the official product complete with booklet, etc. and having it sitting on a shelf with others of its kind.

Anyway, on to the music itself. I am a big John Carpenter fan. He was/is a master craftsman, and much of his music composed for his own films has become iconic. The compositions greatly enhance the already fantastic content, but never more so than on
The Fog, which slowly builds tension by having slow piano pieces, eerie electronic wave moods, and the ultra effective slamming of the brilliant 'Reel 9' track, during which the fog moves menacingly through the town towards the survivors in the church.

Included with the music we get a couple of dialogue pieces, the most significant of which is the opening scene of the film wherein the old-timer tells the camp fire ghost story of what happened here on a foggy night many years before. In addition, there is radio interview with Jamie Lee Curtis about her part in the film. The 14-track 2000 release of this soundtrack his been remastered and further expanded by Howarth to include ten new tracks. Truth be told, most of these are, again, variations on familiar themes. But there are some welcome differences, with stand-out new tracks being 'Stevie’s Lighthouse', 'Knock at the Door' and 'Fog Reflection'. 'The Fog Enters Town' is a shorter version of 'Reel 9'.

This is the most comprehensive collection of John Carpenter’s music for
The Fog. It will certainly appeal to Carpenter fans, and almost certainly to many film music collectors. I can say one thing with conviction: “There’s something in The Fog.”

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2012)

Cult Drugs, by Blood Command

Label: Fysisk Format

April 2017

Blood Command describes itself as a Punk Rock band from Bergen, Norway (a location well-known for its Black Metal). It incorporates Karina Ljone on vocals, Yngve Anderson on guitar, bass, keyboard and backing vocals, Sigurd Haakaas on drums, and Simon Oliver Okland on bass and backing vocals. Since their beginnings in 2008 there has been three E.P.s and two full albums. After a minor line-up change their third album Cult Drugs is released via Fysisk Format. The tracks are: CTRL+ART+DELETE, Cult Drugs, Quitters Don’t Smoke, Nervous Laughter, Gang Signs, You Can’t Sit With Us, The Secret Impresses No One, White Skin/Tanned Teeth, Initiation Tape #1, (The World Covered in) Purple Shrouds...

Strangely, my musical tastes have become progressively heavier through the years. I have two stipulations regarding new material: It must have energy and melody. This release has both in spades. My first thought upon playing this through is ‘Oh, my word! How have I managed to let this band’s material pass me by?’ It’s always refreshing to discover a new sound; something that wakes-up your senses, has plenty of raw power, and doesn’t always go in the direction you might expect. Blood Command is easily the best combo I’ve come across for a while… and they’ve been active for nearly ten years!

I think they are doing themselves an injustice by simply describing themselves as Punk Rock. It’s much more a blend of Rock/Metal sub-genres. Imagine Green Day, but heavier and less predictable – and even that doesn’t do their originality sufficient justice. The tone of the vocals is comfortably conducive to the overall sound but, in turn, they rise to a melodic scream and lower to a chorus-like hook which you can grab onto and be pulled along for the ride.

I have checked-out a couple of YouTube clips of the band playing live and there doesn’t seem to be quite the amount of relentless energy (aside from the brilliantly manic drummer) that is present on this studio recording. Whether that is down to pacing themselves for an entire set or something else entirely, I have no idea. It’s a curious thing. However, as this review should be strictly about the Cult Drugs album I’ll put anything else to one side.

Preferring to make up my own mind first, I gave it a few days before researching other critiques, but was pleased to find Blood Command has garnered almost universally rave reviews. Let me tell you it is entirely deserved. The band has created something very special. Tracks 2 to 8 are nigh-on perfect compositions realised with spot-on impact. The remaining songs are not far behind; I can even forgive the experimental final track, featuring trumpet with a Spanish-like introduction and ending.

The bottom line is I have this album virtually playing on a loop in my car. It’s fresh, it’s vibrant, it has attitude… and I can’t recommend it enough. I’m off now to order the previous two albums, Ghostclocks, and Funeral Beach!

Verdict: 10 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017)

Deep Purple Vinyl Collection ('72 - '87)

Universal Music Catalogue

January 2016

Universal Music releases Deep Purple: The Vinyl Collection ’72-’87 on to an unsuspecting public in early 2016. It is a luxury box set of classic albums remastered from the original tapes. They are also available separately. Seven classic Deep Purple albums on vinyl? What’s not to like?

Anybody into Rock or Metal will know Deep Purple well. They were/are one of the early greats which evolved the sixties Psychedelia and Blues into seventies Classic Rock and Metal. The albums on parade here are Machine Head, Who Do We Think We Are?, Burn, Stormbringer, Come Taste the Band, Perfect Strangers, and The House of the Blue Light.

The first thing which comes to mind is the curiously illogical choice of titles in this collection. The fact that four of the seven albums feature the Mark II line-up of Blackmore, Lord, Gillan, Glover and Paice, I would have thought it preferable to stick with that by substituting Burn, Stormbringer and Come Taste the Band, with In Rock, Fireball and Made in Japan – the two releases which immediately preceded Machine Head, and the brilliant live album which followed it. As In Rock is my favourite Purple studio album and Fireball is pretty fine, too, I was somewhat disappointed that these two weren’t included. And as for Made in Japan… it’s a timeless classic.

However, it’s no use dwelling on what might have been, so let’s study what we do have. Machine Head is first, and it’s no surprise that it’s usually first on every fan’s lips. It’s hard-edged, has plenty of originality, and showcases the level of individual talent in the band. We all rattle 'Highway Star', 'Space Truckin’', and 'Lazy' off the tops of our heads (oh, and a little ditty called 'Smoke on the Water') but, personally, I think the stand-out track is 'Pictures of Home' – which has never really been given the recognition it deserves.

The oddball here is undoubtedly 'Maybe I’m a Leo', the style of which would fit more comfortably with Who Do We Think We Are? This album is treated like a mistake by a lot of people, but that’s more than a little unfair as there is much to enjoy here. Nearly every Rock fan will know 'Woman From Tokyo', which is probably the track that should have been on Machine Head instead of 'Maybe I’m a Leo'. The musical content (or the feel, if you like) noticeably changed for this album, becoming lighter, with more Blues, and certainly injecting more fun into the formula. This was when the allegedly mega-egos of Blackmore and Gillan clashed big-time, culminating in Gillan leaving the fold. It was said that Gillan’s song 'Smooth Dancer' (or at least some of the lyrics) was a dig at Blackmore. I still love the tracks 'Place in Line', and 'Rat Bat Blue' from this release. One more thing worth mentioning is the more prominent keyboard levels. Jon Lord was, in my opinion, the greatest Rock and Metal keyboard player ever, so I would never complain about some deservedly longer solos.

Enter David Coverdale and the Mark III line-up of Purple. Coverdale’s voice is quite different to Gillan’s. Whereas Gillan’s fits a harsher Hard Rock sound, the young Coverdale’s is deeper and smoother, connecting with Rhythm and Blues infused with a little soul. Nevertheless, the album Burn kicks-off with the title track, a powerful song which motors along giving 'Highway Star' a run for its money. The other stand-out track is 'Mistreated', which is a great, moderate-paced Blues that brings Blackmore to life again. What I don’t like about this album is Glen Hughes, who replaced Roger Glover on bass. I know he has a lot of fans and has stood the test of time, but I just can’t get on with his grating voice. On the songs which he shares vocals with the frontman, his voice clashes horribly against Coverdale’s deep and refined voice. If you get the chance, look up Jon Lord at the 1973 California Jam concert they did, and gape at his monumental Hammond organ solo.

If I’m honest (and this will also be controversial with a lot of old-school fans), I prefer Stormbringer to Burn. It’s the first true glimpse of what would evolve into Whitesnake… and I loved Whitesnake up to 1984. Standout tracks here are 'Stormbringer', 'Hold On' (Blackmore having fun…if that’s possible), 'Highball Shooter' (what a great Jon Lord keyboard solo), and the excellent ballad 'Soldier of Fortune', which showcases Coverdale’s husky sighed vocals.

Blackmore finally leaves after this album to form the harder-edged Rainbow with the legend that was Ronnie James Dio. Thus MK II Purple seemed to become Rainbow and MK III Whitesnake. Come Taste the Band introduces Tommy Bolin on guitar. This album is easily the weakest of the bunch on offer here. It’s far too funky, almost totally severing ties with what Purple is all about. Aside from maybe the first couple of tracks, it’s pretty awful. Even Lord is persuaded to play weird Moog synthesiser stuff. Enough said.

Jump forward to 1984 and we are presented with the awesome return to form that is Perfect Strangers. Why is it so good? Because it is the reformed MK II line-up, and all of them are on the top of their game. The production on the album is spot on, with Roger Glover’s bass driving a harder sound, aided by Ian Paice’s solid Animal drumming. Jon Lord’s Hammond keyboards are in the forefront of the mix, along with Blackmore’s enthusiastic and inventive guitar. Ian Gillan’s sometimes harsh vocals totally complement the overall sound, slicing through a reassuringly Hard Rock sound. You feel he is being pushed to extend himself and is enjoying every minute of it. A handful of the songs on this album were released on 12” singles at the time. There isn’t really a duff track (the monumental 'Perfect Strangers', 'Nobody’s Home', 'Knocking at Your Back Door', 'A Gypsy’s Kiss', and the melancholy ballad 'Wasted Sunsets' being my favourites), and this album was universally considered to be the true follow-up to Machine Head.

Purple followed Perfect Strangers with The House of Blue Light. It was viewed by some as more of a Gillan album than a Deep Purple one. I think that’s more than a little unfair. It’s simply that this is a little lighter and up-tempo than its predecessor’s moderate and heavier pace. It’s still very much Purple, perhaps emulating Who Do We Think We Are? in its weight. Overall, though, this one maintains more meat on the bones. Blackmore still sounds like he’s interested (listen to 'The Spanish Archer'), and it’s great to hear Jon Lord’s piano ('Strangeways', which has great lyrics, too) and traditional Hammond organ still very much in evidence. There are no real stand-out tracks on this album, but similarly no bad ones either. The songs are quite diverse, but I particularly like 'Bad Attitude' (which sounds like it could have been on Perfect Strangers), 'Dead or Alive' (good Blackmore/Lord solos), and 'Spanish Archer'.

After another clash of personalities with Blackmore Gillan left again, but two albums later would return once more.  I suppose that The Battle Rages On could have been included, too, as it was a last attempt at the classic MK II line-up. Anyway, a good set here which could have been perfect, but as this is close to that we won’t quibble too much about the choices. Another thing worth pointing out is that these are remastered copies of the first releases, but are not vinyl representations of the CD anniversary re-issues of recent years which incorporated outtakes and alternative versions. In other words, there is one version of each track. The production is good, with a nice raw energy evident on the majority of these records. Enjoy.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2016)

Hurricane, by The Jokers

Label: Steamhammer

September 2015

The Jokers are a four-piece rock band from Liverpool, incorporating Wane Parry on vocals and Paul Hurst on guitar, with relatively new members Dan Evans on drums and Phil Hartley on bass. Hurricane is their third album, and follows on from 2013’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Alive.

Although I was aware of the name The Jokers, I had never heard their music. So, once I knew their CD
Hurricane was winging its way through the post to me for review, I decided to obtain a foreknowledge of what they are all about. I really wish I hadn’t. I selected a clip or two of them from YouTube playing live, and most of the time was taken up with, frankly, needless tomfoolery which I didn’t find even remotely amusing. Consequently, I had already partly made up my mind this was going to be pretentious ‘Listen to us, aren’t we funny’ claptrap. I was to be pleasantly surprised.

There are twelve tracks on the album, and an additional four (albeit rather short) bonus songs. So, plenty of material to get your teeth into. The overall sound – at least to my ears – places The Jokers in the 1980s to early 1990s. It’s traditional rock with an occasional harder edge. It is the vocal style and lyric content which dates the music... or at least grounds it in a certain era. I heard many influences, including AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Whitesnake, Bad Company, Peter Frampton, and even The Sweet. As my tastes are rather heavy for the most part these days it took me half the album before I started to get into it. During a second listen I did warm to it; it’s definitely a ‘good time’ sound to play in the car on a warm Summer’s day. Paradoxically, having said my tastes are heavier, my favourite track is the excellent rock ballad, 'Dream'.

I couldn’t sign off without mentioning the quirky and quite brilliant cover artwork. It shows the band in an open-top deep red Aston Martin, caught in a hurricane over London. In the air around them is a red telephone box, the London Eye, the Tower of Westminster (Big Ben is the bell!) a guitar, two rock chicks, a cow and a grannie in a chair. I don’t think they could have fitted much else into the picture.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2015)

Polaris, by Stratovarius

Label: earMUSIC

May 2009

Stratovarius, hailing from Finland, has been around since 1985, and was among the first bands to be labelled under the sub-genre Symphonic Power Metal - due to their classical, baroque influences. Of course, they didn’t always have this sound. Their first release was Fright Night in 1989, but it wasn’t until Episode (1996), four releases later, that they found their distinctive niche.

Guitarist Timo Tolkki became the main driving force behind the band, and their popularity steadily increased. Arguably their best two CD releases were
Visions and Destiny, in 1997 and 1998 respectively, the latter of which offered us fusions of styles we hadn’t really heard together before. The two studio follow-ups, Infinite and Intermission, whilst not as innovative, maintained a strong cohesion. Elements - Parts 1 & 2 (both 2003) were, for me at least, much too pretentiously proggy and experimental, losing them some of their die-hard fans. To make matters worse the band suffered severe financial problems culminating in (controlling) helmsman Tolkki leaving the fold. New CD Polaris is their fourteenth release, and the first since the self-titled Stratovarius four years ago. So the big question is: Is there life after Timo Tolkki?

The answer is a resounding yes. After replacing Tolkki with young guitarist Matias Kupiainen, the band disappeared into the Finnish forest and (a contradiction in terms) concentrated on relaxing and having fun. The plan seems to have worked, as Stratovarius have regained much of their zest and vitality along with a return to their strongest sound.

Although not one of my favourite groups I have the utmost respect for them, as they were one of the first foreign metal bands, big in Europe and Scandinavia, to test the water in the UK in the nineties at a time when Brit Pop and Indie bands ruled the roost and the consensus was that England (who after all did invent Heavy Metal in the first place) was no longer interested in Metal. Their first visit over here shocked and delighted them to the core when they saw just how many people turned up. Although not playing the stadium-size places they do in their own part of the world, they have played progressively larger venues over here ever since.

So, what about the
Polaris CD itself? I was initially disappointed to receive only a promotional disc. This shows a distinct lack of respect for the reviewer. However, rather than getting a mere one minute from each song, which offers no hope of absorbing song structures, in this case the whole CD is intact apart from the occasional fading-up and down to prevent pirate copying, so my faith was partially restored. It’s important to note, particularly for any existing fan, that the first listen proved unremarkable. Perhaps it was because I had recently played both True and Black/Folk metal, and had to be put in the right frame of mind again to listen to my favoured Power Metal, but only on the repeat listen did the exuberance and invention of the material assert itself.

Polaris kicks-off at breakneck speed with 'Deep Unknown', and is followed by 'Falling Star', a slightly more moderately paced song with driving guitar and keyboard melodies. 'King of Nothing' is the only track I'm not keen on as it's a return to that pretentious prog-style. 'Forever is Today' is by far the outstanding song, epitomising Stratovarius at their very best. There are two obligatory power ballads, 'Winter Skies' and the excellent 'Somehow Precious'. 'Part 2' of 'Emancipation Suite' sounds a little like David Bowie's 'The Width of a Circle' from his Ziggy Stardust days, which is no bad thing, and we finish with 'When Mountains Fall', an acoustic ballad.

As you might expect after the exit of guitarist Timo Tolkki, the instrumentals are balanced slightly in favour of Jans Johansson’s keyboards, rather than being evenly weighted. However, new guitarist Matias Kupiainen is obviously talented and no shrinking violet. When he does let rip, you begin to wonder who Tolkki was anyway. Timo Kotipelto’s vocals are instantly recognisable and as strong as ever. Here we get a nice mix of light and shade, as eleven tracks of intensive high-pitched warbling would soon grate.

Polaris is by no means Stratovarius’s greatest work, but it is their best release since 2001, and puts them firmly back where they should be.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2009)

Superstars in Concert

Sound of the City - London 1964 - 1973

Featuring: The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and More...

Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises

October 2016

Filmed between 1964 and 1973 and produced/directed by rock documentarist Peter Clifton, Superstars in Concert is an anthology film of the major music artistes of the time, which includes live footage, and behind the scenes material from The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and many others. It is released by Fabulous Films/Fremantle Media Enterprises.

The full line-up is: Eric Burdon and The Animals, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Blind Faith, Cat Stevens, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Mad Dogs and Englishmen Band, Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Pink Floyd, and Rod Stewart & The Faces.

Of course, these are/were top attractions, but the way this film is put together leaves a lot to be desired. For the man responsible for
The Song Remains the Same, one of the best rockumentaries ever, there’s little or no continuity and adhesion. It amounts to just a load of pieces of film stuck together with no flow. In fact, it has quite a jolting effect in some places. For this reason it’s probably a better idea to use the Chapters Menu to dip in and out of the experience (and I don’t just mean the Jimi Hendrix Experience!).

The quality of the footage varies but on the whole is pretty good. The stand-out selection for me is Pink Floyd playing 'Careful With That Axe Eugene'; it’s extremely clear and precise, certainly close to being as fine as the version on their
Live in Pompeii film. I also liked the studio-type footage of Cat Stevens, and what a brilliant, timeless song. It’s good to see Cream perform (particularly Ginger Baker), too. Some bands are given much longer than others, so I began to tire of The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, and even The Faces.

On the whole though, this will please Hippies and Ageing Rockers everywhere. Dads and grandads can show their offspring what real music was like, before the hip-hoppy-acid-bath-in-the-garage days!

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2016)