Jens Johansson

REVIEW: Yngwie Malmsteen – Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad (1989)

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – Trial By Fire:  Live in Leningrad (1989 Polydor)

Walk up to the well-schooled rock fan in your group of friends and ask, “What do you think of Yngwie J. Malmsteen?”

Even the ones who don’t like the Swedish Speed Demon’s albums will admit, “except for that one with Joe Lynn Turner; that was pretty good.”

The short-lived Turner lineup did release a live album in 1989.  Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad was accompanied by home video of the same name with more tracks.  By 1990, Malmsteen already had a new album and singer named Göran Edman, but only Joe Lynn Turner had the marquee value to bring Yngwie a Billboard top 40 charting record (#40 with Odyssey).

Although Turner can act as a gateway to hear Yngwie for the first time, his stuff can still be pretty off-putting.  Just look at the pompous “thank you’s” on the inside sleeve.  Sprinkled in with the regular names are da Vinci, Bach, Beethoven, Paganini, HP Lovecraft and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Come on, Yngwie!

Joe is a versatile singer, which is one reason he’s always been sought after.  He effortlessly imbibes the old Yngwie tracks with his own attitude:  “Liar”, “Queen in Love”, and “You Don’t Remember” are better with Joe singing.  Unfortunately this is marred by a too-loud audience and Yngwie’s always excessive shredding.  More often than not, he overplays.

When it works, it works.  “Heaven Tonight”, “Queen in Love” and “Deja Vu”, the most melodic songs, click.  The instrumentals are good too, like demonstrations of immaculate neo-classical rock.  “Far Beyond the Sun” is tightly composed and arranged, though live Yngwie lets the strings fly even more.  Listen for some Deep Purple right in the middle of “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”, and some Rainbow on “Crystal Ball” too.

Yngwie produced Live in Leningrad himself, and it’s a rather shrill affair with obvious backing tapes on some of the choruses like “Heaven Tonight”.  The problem with many Yngwie albums is that you can only listen to so much before ear fatigue sets in.  Live in Leningrad is one such album.  By the end your brain is exhausted and you have to listen to something from a different end of the spectrum.  Even Joe Lynn Turner can’t blunt the aural razorblade effect.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Memories In Rock II (2018 Japanese edition)

RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW – Memories In Rock II (2018 Minstrel Hall Music Japanese edition)

Blackmore’s new Rainbow lineup has already released three live albums!  So which one should you buy?  The one with the new song, of course.  And if you prefer the whole enchilada, then the only option is to score the Japanese version of 2018’s Memories In Rock II, which has not only that new song, but two other new recordings that were only available on iTunes.  Any serious Rainbow fan should consider buying the album from Japan in order to score these tunes, on CD for the first time ever.  It’s only money!

This album is a sequel to 2016’s Memories In Rock.  Blackmore and Company listened to the fans, who complained that they were playing too many Deep Purple hits, and so the setlist was revamped.  “Highway Star” was dropped and “Spotlight Kid” was moved to the opening slot.  “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” was worked in.  The tweaks are minor, but Memories In Rock II is fresher for it.

Singer Ronnie Romero is fabulous, juggling the songs of multiple lead singers himself.  Whether he’s singing Gillan, Coverdale, Dio, Bonnet or Turner, Ronnie sounds comfortable.  The truth is that Ritchie Blackmore struck gold when he found this guy.  As for the man in black himself, age may have mellowed him a little bit.  The riffs don’t bite as hard, and sometimes the solos are thriftier than they used to be.  Sometimes Ritchie’s noodling around rather than riffing. That’s fine because Rainbow is his band and he should play exactly how he wants to play.

There are a couple treats dropped into the set.  First is “I Surrender”, which Ronnie Romero re-recorded for the iTunes single.  It and “Since You’ve Been Gone” are the most pop of set, offering short but necessary reprieves from the more advanced jamming tunes.  The other surprise is “Carry On Jon” from the 2013 Blackmore’s Night album Dancer and the Moon.  Of course it’s a tribute to Jon Lord, Ritchie’s old Deep Purple bandmate who died in 2012.  It’s a lovely tune and the crowd settles right down to listen.

Another fine Rainbow double live album.  The cover is a redux of Rainbow Rising and that’s a little confusing, but the performance is more important.  This is a dandy of a show for the current version of the band.

The lucky Japanese fans got a triple CD, with a bonus disc featuring three studio songs.  “Waiting for a Sign” is brand new.  Richie wrote it with Candice Night, his wife and singer in Blackmore’s Night.  It sounds a bit like Bad Company, being a laid back bluesy rock tune.  They can still come up with the goods.  “Waiting for a Sign” is the kind of song that would have fit on any Rainbow album fronted by Joe Lynn Turner.  This track can be found on all versions of Memories in Rock II.

In 2017 Blackmore said, “Rather than make an album, we may release singles.”  And so that year they put out “Land of Hope and Glory” (an instrumental) backed by “I Surrender”.  Some in a certain age bracket might know “Land of Hope and Glory” as the theme song for late wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage.  Rainbow’s version features a lead violin and acoustic guitars.  The other track was “I Surrender”, a re-recording of the old Rainbow pop classic.  It was Ronnie Romero’s first studio recording with Rainbow, and a good one it is.  No question:  he is the right guy for Blackmore.    Together, these two songs frustrated fans who really would have liked to get something original from Rainbow, but they got their wish now with “Waiting for a Sign”.

Don’t miss this one.  It’s OK if you skipped the previous two live Rainbow albums, but Memories In Rock II is the one to get, particularly the Japanese import.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Live in Birmingham 2016

RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW – Live in Birmingham 2016 (2017 Universal)

Ronnie Romero has one of the toughest jobs in rock.  As the singer in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, he must fill the shoes of many past vocal champions:  Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner, as well as Ian Gillan and David Coverdale from Deep Purple.  The really difficult thing about it is the main guy he’s compared to:  Dio.  Fortunately, this Ronnie is no Dio clone.

Blackmore’s newest incarnation of Rainbow has been doing light touring and recording new material.  From their 2016 show in Birmingham comes this live album, a welcome addition to the Rainbow catalogue.  20 years since their last tour with White, Rainbow has an all-new lineup including Jens Johansson, the top rated keyboard player who made his fame with Yngwie Malmsteen and Dio himself.  Also on board are members of Ritchie’s acoustic Renaissance project Blackmore’s Night:  David Keith and Bob Nouveau on drums and bass.  Backing them are singers Lady Lynn and Candice Night from the same project.

What everything really has to come down to is the lead vocalist.  Ronnie Romero cut his teeth with Chilean band Lords of Black, a power metal group with some minor Blackmore influences.  Ritchie obviously has a good ear.  One wouldn’t immediately think of Romero has the next singer for Rainbow, but the fit is good and snug.  Ronnie can sing the old Dio material and is an instantly likeable frontman.  He has the power and range available to do Dio material, but his rasp is actually reminiscent of another Rainbow singer, Graham Bonnet.  On this album, Romero does the hit single “Since You Been Gone”, originally performed with Graham.  It’s the most authentic version of the song since the original.

As online forums have discussed and debated, Rainbow have a very Purple-heavy set.  Nine songs are Purple classics, making up the majority, including an odd choice in “Child in Time”.  Have Rainbow ever performed that song before?  Perhaps it was put back in the set simply because Purple haven’t played it in 20 years either. “Burn” is no problem for Ronnie Romero though.  He’s very comfortable in David Coverdale’s range.

Could more Rainbow songs have been squeezed in at the expense of a Purple oldie like “Woman From Tokyo” or “Highway Star”?  Sure.  But it’s Ritchie’s ball game.  He wrote those songs, and if he wants to open his set with “Highway Star”, he sure can.  “Soldier of Fortune” originally from Stormbringer is a surprise and all the more successful for it.  Whitesnake will sometimes play it live, but Purple do not, and Rainbow may never have before.  That leaves seven Rainbow songs, mostly Dio era.  “Stargazer”, “Catch the Rainbow” and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” are indispensable.

The only real issue with the recording lies with Ritchie.  The guitar should be louder.  It’s far too quiet.  You cannot hear enough of what he is doing.  Comparing to another live album, Black Masquerade recorded in 1995, the guitar was in your face and seemed more aggressive.  It seems strange that a guitar-dominated band like Rainbow would have the instrument toned down on the live album, but many listeners have said the same thing:  “Needs more guitar”.

All the new musicians are more than capable, and after hearing these songs done a million times, it’s nice to hear some new twists on solos and fills.  Romero’s native tongue is Spanish, and there are times he slips up on some old Deep Purple lyrics (particularly “Perfect Strangers”).  This never matters, because nobody screws up Deep Purple lyrics more than Ian Gillan himself!  The main thing is Romero has the right voice.  It’s unbelievable that he can sing a long set like this with such power throughout, seemingly with ease.

Long live rock ‘n’ roll, long live Rainbow, and long live Ronnie Romero.  It’s easy to be skeptical, but most doubters will be silenced by the newest incarnation of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  This is a pleasant surprise and one of Rainbow’s most enjoyable live albums due to the charismatic Romero.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Inspiration (2 CD reissue)

FLAMING TURDS

“Flaming Turds” artwork courtesy of SARCA at CAUGHT ME GAMING.  Thanks Sarca!

What better way to end the WEEK OF FLAMING TURDS than with a covers album?!  Thanks for joining us this week for some very questionable music!

Scan_20160317YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – Inspiration (1998, 2000 Spitfire 2 CD reissue)

“Woah!” said I upon spying this album for the first time, back in 1998 at the big HMV on Yonge St.  “Yngwie did a covers album!  Scorpions, Rainbow, Rush, lots of Purple…I’m in!”  For some reason, I thought that updated versions of some of my favourite songs redone by Yngwie Malmsteen would be something I’d want to hear all the time.  Eagle Rock did a reissue of Inspiration a couple years later with some bonus tracks out of the Yngwie archives, so when that one came in used at the Record Store, I swapped up for it.

Now, you might think that with such vocal luminaries as Jeff Scott Soto, Joe Lynn Turner, and Mark Boals, it would be hard to miss.  You would be wrong.  It’s impressive that all three guys served as lead vocalist for Yngwie in the early years, and returned for the covers album.  Beyond that, this album is still a turd.  Right from the orange-skinned Yngwie turd cover art, to the ghastly version of “Manic Depression” that Yngwie sings himself, this album is dreadful.  Just a real haul to try and listen to in one sitting.

Yngwie insists on producing all his music, and he has managed to make Jeff Scott Soto sound dull, sterile and boring.  No mean feat.  “Carry On Wayward Son” (Kansas) is an excuse for Malmsteen to over-shred, but Soto is not given a chance to do anything.  Even though Yngwie’s version of the song is actually shorter, it sounds way longer.  A simply atrocious “Pictures of Home” is given to Joe Lynn Turner to sing; kind of obvious since he was actually in Deep Purple for a few minutes.  How did they get drums to sound this bad?  The Blackmore obsession continues with “Gates of Babylon” (Rainbow) and even more Purple:  “Mistreated”, “Demon’s Eye”, and “Child in Time”.  Yes, that makes half of this covers album a Ritchie Blackmore covers album.  “Gates of Babylon” is pretty good, Soto finally unleashed, but then Yngwie shits all over it with a guitar solo that is way louder than the lead vocals!

Gates of Babylon

Gates of Babylon

The best things about these remakes could be the keyboard of Jens Johansson: not trying to copy Jon Lord in any way, but certainly a fun player to listen to if you’re into the neo-classical.  Unfortunately even he can’t save some of these tracks.  “Child in Time” is truly awful, simply not worth listening to.  Why waste eight minutes on this when you can play the original?  On the brighter side, a heavy version of “In the Dead of Night” by the progressive rock supergroup, U.K. is pretty good.  It’s a song you may recognize (I knew it from somewhere), but perhaps the reason I dig Yngwie’s version is that the original isn’t ingrained in my mind.    Mark Boals sings it, and his voice is strong and ripping!

Then we have the bonus CD.  (The Japanese version of the CD has a bonus track, Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic”, but I don’t care.)  The best track on this disc is the song “Voodoo” from Yngwie’s album Magnum Opus.  Mike Vescera was the singer, and I always liked his era in Malmsteen.  It’s a heavy original tune with buckets of drama.

The balance of the bonus CD is a mixture of early Yngwie rarities and interviews…mixed together.  Meaning you don’t get actual full songs.  You get bits of songs and then Yngwie talking about the album and the music that inspired him, including Paganini.  I really hate when songs are chopped up like this.  The interview is not riveting but is good.  Childhood musical memories, early bands, and influences are notable topics.  Yngwie’s preoccupation with his own playing is fascinating.  He calls it an “obsession” and it’s clear from his work that he plays only to please himself.  And that’s just dandy.

Inspiration as a whole is overplayed, sonically sterile, and comes across as completely uninspired.  When Yngwie overplays on his own originals, that’s OK.  That’s the way the songs were written.  When you go nuts soloing all over “Sails of Charon” (Scorpions), all the listener really wants is to hear the sultry, original tones of Uli Jon Roth.  Inspiration is still a chore to finish, and it’s now going back on the shelf for a very long time.

1/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Trilogy (1986)

YNGWIE_0001YNGWIE J. MALMSTEEN – Trilogy (1986 Polygram)

Trilogy: not only my first Yngwie Malmsteen album (cassette), but also the first Yngwie Malmsteen review here at mikeladano.com.

Trilogy was, appropriately, Yngwie’s third album.  It was also his first with new singer Mark Boals after the departure of the uber-talented Jeff Scott Soto.  I received this album (cassette) for Christmas of ’86 and it was all but instant dislike.  I knew a couple Yngwie songs, but none of the new ones, and I didn’t care for the new singer.  I saw this listed in an A&A Records and Tapes flier so I asked for it for Christmas.  All I really knew was that Yngwie was heavy metal and that he was a blazing fast player.  That did not prepare me for the distinctly European flavour and neo-classical leanings of Trilogy.

As it was, Polygram used to put out the shittiest quality cassettes.  My copy of Trilogy was unlistenable in a matter of months, so until I got it again a decade later on CD, I didn’t have a chance to let it grow on me.  In 1996 a used CD came into the store, and I was mocked for buying it by staff member the Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd.  Here’s a weird thing about our old store receipts.  They would imprint, permanently, whatever was on them onto the jewel case of a CD.  My jewel case for Trilogy still has a faint accidental imprint of the receipt, so I know that I bought it October 11 1996, at precisely 4:29 pm!  Apparently I paid by debit card.

Trilogy has grown on me over the years and now it’s a favourite Yngwie album.  I still get what I didn’t like about it as a kid.  The drums don’t sound very good (the album is self produced) and Mark Boals can be a bit over the top at times.  There’s no denying the guy has range and power, but it was all flat-out back then.  And of course Yngwie’s songs aren’t always the catchiest.  You need to give them time, and I have.

The one song that I did like as a kid was the mid-tempo opener “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”.  I’ve always thought the melody and hooks were strong, and I still think it’s the strongest track on the album.  “Liar” is also excellent, from the fast part of the spectrum.  It sounds at times like Yngwie really wanted to be Ritchie Blackmore, but that’s OK.  There are very few that can come even close to Ritchie Blackmore.  “Queen in Love” is another mid-tempo track, similar to “You Don’t Remember” and almost as strong.  As a kid, I found this one too slow.  As an adult, I’m playing air bass along to it.  (Yngwie played all bass on the album.)

YNGWIE_0002One of things that I was most excited about hearing on an Yngwie album were instrumentals.  “Crying” is the first, which features both classical and electric guitars.  I’m noticing Yngwie has a nice vibrato when playing classical.  This fine instrumental track is only hampered by the production values.  Too much bass and poor drum and cymbal sounds distract the attention.  The album side is redeemed by “Fury” which is another blazingly fast Yngwie electric medieval dance, and good enough for me.

“Fire” commences with some incendiary guitar, but the song itself is a plain old hard rocker with Jens Johansson providing keyboard hooks for the verses.  Then from some sorcerer’s bag of tricks is “Magic Mirror”, but it is indeed just smoke and mirrors.  Killer chorus aside, the song doesn’t catch, except when Yngwie is unleashing his own electric magic.  “Dark Ages” sets the scene; some dark cloudly and cold landscape about a thousand years ago.  This is a slow Dio-esque prowl, with Boals screaming his balls off.  It’s a bit much with the screaming, but the song does not suck.

I was expecting more instrumentals than this, but Yngwie saved a seven minute epic instrumental for last.  “Trilogy Suite Op:5” is as bombastic as you’d guess it is.  Running the gamut in tempos and tones, Yngwie composed a track here that is highly enjoyable.  Jens and Yngwie get to duel with each other, but it’s definitely a guitar showcase.  Electric and classical, Malmsteen pulls out all the stops on his opus.  I mean, hey: it’s Yngwie J. fucking Malmsteen!

I am glad to say that I enjoy Trilogy a lot more today than I did in 1986.  Bonus points are added for the cover art.  Dio, after all, only had a single-headed dragon!

3.5/5 stars
YNGWIE_0003

REVIEW: Dio – Lock Up the Wolves (1990)

DIO – Lock Up the Wolves (1990)

July 1990: A M.E.A.T. Magazine interview (issue #14) with Ronnie James Dio states that he was unhappy with Dream Evil, one of my favourite Dio albums. He felt the songwriting was unfinished, that the songs needed tightening up. Supposedly some of the changes he made were a response to that. If that’s indeed the case, then Lock of the Wolves came as a total shock. These songs feel even less finished than any Dio album before.

Dio had completely revamped his band. Craig Goldy (guitar) was the first one to leave. Apparently Vinnie Appice, Jimmy Bain and Claude Schnell didn’t care for Goldie, but they all ended up departing too. Ronnie was no longer happy with the writing process nor the dischord that had set into the making of Dream Evil.  Because of these circumstances he was able to revamp the entire Dio lineup but not by choice.

Ronnie took on a young and international crew: Swedish Jens Johansson on keyboards (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), new York kid Teddy Cook on bass, ex-AC/DC skin-pounder Simon Wright, and the young 17 year old Scot, Rowan Robertson as his new guitar wizard. Robertson won the role after a cattle-call resulted in 5000 tapes sent to Dio for his consideration.  The end combination was a band of skilled players, but lacking in road-tested chemistry. Plus the pressure was certainly on Robertson, having guitarists like Vivian Campbell and Richie Blackmore writing the solos you were going to be playing.

About half the album was written when Bain and Appice were still in the band, and they appear on several writing credits. Robertson has a co-write on every song, and Jens Johansson has two, while new bassist Cook has one. Regardless of the numerous writers, the album is very singular in its direction. That is to say Lock Up the Wolves is a painfully sloooowww Dio album.

I was very disappointed that there are only a couple fast rockers to keep the blood pumping. The first track, “Wild One”, fools you into thinking this album will be a rocking good time full of tasty guitar hooks and wicked Dio lyrics. However, “Born On The Sun”, while boasting a great chorus melody, sags and droops. “Hey Angel” and “Between Two Hearts” are more of the same. I kept waiting for another fast song, or just something different to keep me awake. I had realized that Lock Up the Wolves is loaded with boring pseudo-bluesy riffs, slow to the point of coma-inducing.

The only slow tunes that really have spark of any kind are the monstrous title track (over 8 minutes of drama) and the ballady “My Eyes”. “My Eyes” is my personal favourite track on the album, and perhaps worth the price of purchase if you can find the album cheap. It’s also fun to play the game “How many of Dio’s other song titles are in the lyrics?” with this one.  The CD-only bonus track “Why Are They Watching Me” is the only other serious fast rocker on the album, and I have no idea why it was the CD-only bonus track, because the album desperately needed a kick in the pants.

And that is Lock Up the Wolves in a nutshell. Approximately 50 minutes of slow, pseudo-bluesy guitar and dull rhythms. About 10 minutes of heavy metal. That’s it.

I do love the cover art.

2/5 stars

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