Whether you are a fan of alternative rock, hard rock or heavy metal, or classic-rock based music — or like me, all three — the past several months have seen some exciting new releases from old favorites and newly established acts alike. Here are five cream of the crop albums that deserve your immediate attention.
Oliver James, What Have We Learned
If you haven’t yet heard of American musician Oliver James, there’s no time like right this very moment to acquaint yourself with him and his stunning approach to fresh-sounding rock that shows love and appreciation for classic arrangements and his musical influences. James’ soaring vocals and brilliant guitar work are at the forefront of What Have We Learned, his sophomore follow-up to 2013’s Chasing the Sun, complimented by tight accompaniment from his fellow musicians and sonorous production. James’ lyrics are philosophical yet accessible, with an optimism that rings sincere. For more information, check out https://oliverjames.hearnow.com/ and Oliver James’ Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/oliver.james.online/.
Oliver James, “The More You Love the More You Live”
Black Star Riders, Heavy Fire
This group came to life in late 2012 when Thin Lizzy lead guitarist Scott Gorham decided to record new material using a new band name rather than under the classic hard-rock group’s legendary moniker. Black Star Riders is steeped in the traditional Lizzy sound, with Ricky Warwick boasting Phil Lynott-like vocals, and the group also has its share of heavier tunes, as well. The quintet sounds like anything but a tribute band, or worse, a group resting on the laurels of former glories. Black Star Riders absolutely rocks mightily with its eyes on the present, and its third album, Heavy Fire, may be its best effort yet. With excellent dual-lead guitar work, a solid rhythm section, and thoughtful lyrics, this longplayer is as good a place as any to be introduced to this fantastic band.
Black Star Riders, “Testify or Say Goodbye”
The Veils, Total Depravity
From the moment I heard the opening stanza to kick-off–track “The Wild Son” on The Veils’ 2004 debut album The Runaway Found, I was mesmerized by leader Finn Andrews’ bleak yet sanguine songscapes and his from-the-heart-and-gut vocals. Total Depravity, the band’s fifth album, may be The Veils’ darkest effort yet, but that sense of a glimmer of hope still shines through in certain tracks. Andrews and company experiment with electronics here and there on the longplayer but the classic Veils arrangements are as strong as ever. There’s also a female backing vocal track on “Do Your Bones Glow at Night?” that would be right at home on a mid-career Leonard Cohen album. By the way, look for Andrews to appear in David Lynch’s new season of Twin Peaks later this year.
The Veils, “Low Lays the Devil”
HammerFall, Built to Last
This Swedish power metal outfit has been at it since 1993, and though they have experimented a bit here and there with updating their approach, they stick with their tried-and-true trademark sound here, complete with lyrics about being a fist-raising metal fan, twilight princesses, and medieval armies clashing. HammerFall’s lyrics tread the fine line between cool and corny and can fall on either side of the line depending on your mood that day. Sometimes all you need is a melodic metal anthem with a head-banging chorus and plenty of high-level musicianship including screaming twin-lead guitars, and thankfully bands like HammerFall are here to keep that style alive.
HammerFall, “Hammer High”
British Sea Power: Let the Dancers Inherit the Party
Okay, I’m cheating things a bit here; as of press time, British Sea Power’s seventh studio album (not counting some soundtrack work and other projects) has not yet been released, but judging from the two songs that have already been released from Let the Dancers Inherit the Party (“Keep on Trying [Sechs Freunde]”, featured below, and “Bad Bohemian”) the new longplayer should be as brilliant and breathtaking as the group’s back catalog.
If you aren’t yet familiar with British Sea Power, I suggest diving into the sweeping, guitar-driven, modern-rock majesty that is the group’s sophomore album, Open Season, and then the rest of their oeuvre before their new album hits the streets on March 31.
British Sea Power, “Keep on Trying (Sechs Freunde)”