Blackthorne: Afterlife (expanded edition)
It's not often that you read the liner notes for a reissued CD and get the impression that one of the main players involved would rather have been anywhere else but in the band he's being asked about. However that's exactly the feel you're left with when one-time Rainbow, Alcatrazz, and MSG singer Graham Bonnet talks about his 1993 return to heavy rock with Blackthorne. The band at the time was viewed as something of a 'b list' supergroup, Bonnet joined by Balance and Skull guitarist Bob Kulick, who is probably better known for stints backing Michael Bolton, Meat Loaf and ghosting for Ace Frehley of Kiss in the studio. Alongside the pair came Bonnet's ex-Alcatrazz keyboard player Jimmy Waldo (also of New England) and the Quiet Riot rhythm section of bassist Chuck Wright (also House of Lords, Giuffria and alongside Bonnet, Impellitteri) and Frankie Banali (who also saw time in W.A.S.P.). The band hit local club stages before and during the writing process for this album in the belief it would cement their sound. However, in truth, the writing sessions were laboured and outside contributors such as Bob's brother Bruce (of Kiss at the time), Winger guitarist/keyboard man Paul Taylor, Autograph's Steve Plunkett and Keel man Marc Ferrari were asked for help. And with Bonnet struggling, or simply not keen, to provide the dark lyrics the band wanted for their straight up hard rock, he was asked to collaborate with Steven Rosen, which he did, with some reservations.
If all that doesn't sound like the most harmonious working environment, then factor in that Bonnet says in Malcolm Dome's liner notes of working with Kulick, "To be frank, it was very difficult. Bob wanted me to sing in a certain way – for want of a better description, he was pushing me to sound like AC/DC! But that's not how I sing… we did not get on very well" and he goes on to say that he actually collapsed in the studio due to the stress of the whole situation, and that's he's never listened to the album since. In contrast both Kulick and Waldo are very complimentary of Bonnet's attitude and performance throughout…
Therefore it might not be too much of a surprise to find that the grunge obsessed press at the time were, at best, lukewarm towards Afterlife (and its awful cover art, which suggests an extreme metal band); something borne out by the press clippings from the likes of Kerrang! reproduced in the booklet. However the band did begin to pick up a small cult following and it's actually easy to hear why, "We Won't Be Forgotten" a prime slice of commercial heavy rock, Kulick spinning out a guitar line that suggests someone just booted an Alan Parsons Project piece up the jacksy, while Wright and Banali lay down the law in glorious style. "Breaking The Chains" lightens the mood, Waldo making his presence felt on a number that nods its hat to Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher", while he positively thrives on the excellent "Baby You're The Blood", sounding like House of Lords crossed with Autograph in the process, Steve Plunkett's guiding hand easy to hear. Add in the surging riff of "Love From The Ashes" and strutting bombast of "Cradle To The Grave" and the title track, and there's much to be impressed by.
In truth Bonnet does sound like a completely different singer from the one who fronted Rainbow, an almost Udo Dirkschneider meets Brian Johnson like rasp cutting through his usual melody based delivery. He certainly gives it everything he's got but it's still strange to hear him in this style. Personally while Afterlife may be a Bonnet led album I've always enjoyed, I can't pretend it comes close to being one of his best performances. Something his aforementioned comments in the booklet would suggest he agrees with.
Three bonus tracks are added, the album's title track and "We Won't Be Forgotten" reimagined in acoustic setting for Sony Music TV in Japan. Neither of which are in great shape sound wise, but with Bonnet sounding more natural in this setting, especially on the latter, they are interesting to hear. The final bonus is a "Rehearsal Reel", where snippets of tracks are prepared and run through and again, while they aren't exactly cutting edge in their sound quality, I'd suggest they are hugely enlightening, revealing an organic force the album often lacks and finding some (although not all) more expected and comfortable contributions from Bonnet.
They may have received a hard time in the press back then, but here and especially in this remastered setting, Blackthorne actually prove to be much more engaging than most people thought. It's a real shame that they never got to make a second album… or did they…?
1. CRADLE TO THE GRAVE
3. WE WON'T BE FORGOTTEN
4. BREAKING THE CHAINS
5. OVER AND OVER
6. HARD FEELINGS
7. BABY YOU'RE THE BLOOD
8. SEX CRIME
9. LOVE FROM THE ASHES
10. ALL NIGHT LONG
11. AFTERLIFE (UNPLUGGED - SONY MUSIC TV JAPAN 1993)
12. WE WON'T BE FORGOTTEN (UNPLUGGED - SONY MUSIC TV JAPAN 1993)
13. REHEARSAL REEL ("MATES" STUDIO LA DEC 16TH 1993)
Added: September 17th 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Afterlife at Cherry Red
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