Rob Marcello

REVIEW: The Defiants – Zokusho (2019)

THE DEFIANTS – Zokusho (2019 Frontiers)

The Defiants:  Paul Laine, Bruno Ravel and Rob Marcello.  Call ’em what you like.  A side project of Danger Danger, a power-pop trio, whatever you want.  There’s nothing wrong with any of that.  Just be sure to listen, because in 2019’s Zokusho, the Defiants created one of the best albums of the year.  It is an intensely catchy, varied, well-executed album that sticks to the brain like peanut butter.  The production is slick and pounding.

“Love is the Killer” opens the album in grand fashion.  It’s a big dramatic pop rock song with modern production, but hooks rooted in 80s classic rock.  Huge chorus, which Paul Laine gets to wrap his able pipes around with ease.  A ripping solo takes a little extra time, proving this isn’t simply a pop band, but one of talented players doing what they want.  And even though “Love is the Killer” is a fine opener, it’s not even close to best track on the album.

Heavy mid-tempo “Standing on the Edge” cranks up the tension.  The chorus absolutely kills — unforgettable.  Until this point though, the album’s edges were dark-tinged.  “Hollywood in Headlights” is the first celebratory rock song, perfect for the summer cruising season.  There’s a nice crunchy guitar riff that goes with it.  A catchy, perfectly written rock classic.  But like a sequel, “Fallin’ For You” continues the good time vibes where they left off.  Unlike a sequel, it’s just as good if not better.  It’s faster and even more upbeat, with irresistible singalong vocals, and a stunning solo.

A Def Leppard vibe inhabits “Hold On Tonight”, with that kind of picked Phil Collen guitar hook.  A power ballad with plenty of power indeed.  Leppard’s “Stand Up” but cranked up?  Something like that at least.  But that’s it for sentimentality for the moment.  “Allnighter” is a party rock pounder.  Definitely something of a rallying cry for those about to hit the town.  Still with the hooks though.  I don’t think Paul Laine knows how to write a song without hooks.

“U X’d My Heart” is not the finest song title ever composed (it means “You Crossed My Heart”), but the classy ballad defies its title.  Delicate picking followed by crunching guitars create a vital sounding rock ballad.  It’s quickly followed by “It Goes Fast”, with progressive vibes & keys guiding the way to outer space.  Another killer song.

Track nine, “Stay”, goes upbeat again, fast and overflowing with catchy components.  There’s a sudden key change towards the end that’s a little jarring but that’s the worst thing I can say about it.  Following that is a spacey, Journey-like tune intro to a tune called “Alive”.  Once more the hooks are front and center, as the guitar goes Holidays in Eden-era Marillion.  That’s before it explodes in a massive chorus.

The final track is “Drink Up!” and it’s obviously the party rock closer, with just a hint of country twang via Laine.  Pure fun and nothing more.  Nothing wrong with that.

If you like melodic hard rock with punch and plenty of production, the Defiants deliver.  Get some Sokusho.

5/5 stars


REVIEW: Laney’s Legion – Laney’s Legion (2014)

Scan_20160430LANEY’S LEGION – Laney’s Legion (2014 Ferris Records)

Sweden’s Chris Laney has some serious vocal and guitar chops, lemme tell ya.  This debut CD by his band Laney’s Legion boasts heavy, world-class tunage marked with powerful lungs and guitar thrills!  You want high octane?  “On and On” will hit the spot.  With slick production, “On and On” is a relentless intro, full speed ahead, sails to the wind, crack open a beer and let’s fucking do this.

“Taste of Your Tongue” goes a bit Nickelback on the verses, but they’re forgotten when you hit the vintage 80’s rock chorus, which rescues the song from residing in Chad Kroeger’s backyard for too long.  Similarly, “Poptastic”, a tribute to rockin’ out with your Kiss albums, is all about the chorus hooks.  It has an 80’s snarl like good Poison-Crue-Jovi.  “We’re still good friends of metal, Priest and Helloween”, sings Laney.  “I’m talkin’ bout Van Halen – 1984!”  Hey man, I get that.  His heart is in the right place, although I don’t refer to Van Halen as “poptastic” myself, I get what he means.  The opening guitars are reminiscent of Van Hagar.

It’s all good though, because “Beneath the Surface” has a heavier groove and takes you to a more bangin’ headspace.  The guitar solo, presumably by Rob Marcello, is pure nirvana.  Since this album is a celebration of an era when an album was a collection of hard rockers and power ballads, “Bleed Within” is the expected softie.  Like a perfect post-Hysteria Def Leppard ballad, “Bleed Within” combines the layers of backing vocals with the acoustic strumming to meld into sweet candy perfection.

Now, speaking of backing vocals, we should really take a closer look at the credits.  “Let’s Get it On”, a heavy Ratt-like number, boasts some interesting names.  Tomas Åkvik, Mathias Blom, and…Jompa Wilmenius?  “Let’s Get it On” is a stellar track, loads of guitars and groove…but those backing vocals!  That’s the key!  Jompa is the secret weapon of hard rock gang vocals.  Now, I will say that “Let’s Get it On” reminds me of a couple songs…can’t place them…but some of these hooks are familiar from the days of old.  “Hollow” continues with the hard rock shred, with hint of Foo Fighters (think choppy, like “Everlong” in the guitars).

“Lady Luck” is the only song I didn’t connect with.  Too modern, perhaps?  It’s not a bad song, but similar to things that in Canada are quite overplayed on the radio.  (That’s not Laney’s fault; that’s more Cancon‘s fault!)  “Assassin of Our Love” returns to more comfortable territory, a solid power ballady track with hints of early Bon Jovi circa “Runaway”.  Laney then proclaims “No One Can Stop Us”, rocking out Dokken style and advising “You’ve gotta get your shit together”!  Again, special attention must be played to the classy and impressive solo work.  “Legion” finishes the album by going a bit more metal.  Savatage could have performed Legion, although the production clearly differentiates it from Savatage.  We know where their heads are at by the credits though: “Thanks to Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange for the inspiration.”

Laney’s Legion is an impressive CD.  It is impeccably produced, and arranged to a “T”.  It occupies a curious place in the space-time continuum.  If hard rock never fell to grunge in 1991-1992, perhaps albums like this would be commonplace today.  It’s rare to hear such focus on the hard rock-isms that were popular long ago, but with today’s recording tech.  It’s a cool mesh, but the bottom line is, this is a better album than most of the Bon Jovi or Def Leppards in the last couple decades.

4.5/5 stars

But 10/5 stars on the backing vocals*

* Much gratitude to Jompa for sending me this CD.  He’s a great internet friend, and he though I’d like it.  He was right!