One of my favorite labels since before the turn of the millennium has been Italy's Frontiers Records, which is doing a lot to keep melodic hard rock alive throughout the world. In addition to signing tons of big-name acts like Def Leppard, Stryper, Sammy Hagar, Winger, Asia and Yes, the label also caters to lesser-known bands. Here are mini-reviews of four recent roster additions that might have gotten overlooked:
De La Cruz: Street Level — The ripped-jeans cover and the photos of the five sleazy New Zealanders and Australians who comprise De La Cruz (dressed in white with black Manowar T-shirts and turquoise caps, wielding guitars in bright yellow and purple) may be a turnoff for some listeners. But the music on this fun CD hearkens back to Ratt and Lillian Axe. In fact, three dudes here used to perform in Eighties tribute bands. Close your eyes, and you'll think you're listening to the unreleased debut from some long-forgotten hair band recorded in 1988.
Diamond Dawn: Overdrive — If Toto rocked your world in the Eighties (and you still listen to "Pamela" from The Seventh One), then this Swedish sextet should fit quite nicely in your collection. Highlights include the bouncy "Standing As One," the dark rocker "Powergames" and the fists-in-the-air anthem "Turn It Up." For AOR freaks, this sounds like a vintage Frontiers Records release!
Jorn: Traveller — Is it me, or is Jorn Lande sounding more like Dio with every album he releases? And can Traveller really be Jorn's eighth solo album? This is his first outing to include songwriting collaboration with new guitarist Trond Holter (from Wig Wam), but these 10 songs still sound like Jorn. In fact, Traveller only builds on past work, not take it in new directions. So if you dig previous Jorn albums — full of heaviness, melody and those raw and muscular vocals that conjure Sabbath, Rainbow and Whitesnake — you'll want to travel this journey, too.
Magnus Karlsson's Free Fall: Magnus Karlsson's Free Fall — This is bombastic, melodic hard rock, and I love it. The Swedish guitarist-songerwiter-producer gathered some huge voices for his solo debut, including Symphony X's Russell Allen, former TNT singer Tony Harnell and Pink Cream 69's David Readman. Karlsson even shows off his voice on three tracks. Somehow, he manages to make these dozen songs sound cohesive, as if this whole collective is one fully formed band. A must-hear for longtime Frontiers followers.