There are few guitarists who have had more impact on the Euro metal scene in recent years than six-string Spaniard Tony Hernando, most notably for his trailblazing act Lords of Black. Last year we were thoroughly impressed with their album Icons of the New Days. Although Lords of Black are well on their way to being Lords of Classic Metal, we can relate to the fact that Tony Hernando has a deep-seated soft spot for melodic AOR stylings of the golden age of rock. To this end, he is scratching this itch with a fearless new project known as Restless Spirits.
Tony is fortunate to be recording with label Frontiers Music, and as such, is networked with some of the best vocalists and instrumentalists in the game today. As such, he has enlisted their support in recording an album covering a spectrum of very listenable rock and metal sub-genres. Says Hernando of the project, “Restless Spirits is a melodic hard rock record featuring several singers that showcases some different sides of my playing and songwriting. We have rockers, ballads, and everything in between. I had the opportunity to work and co-write with some of the best guys in the business. I hope everyone can enjoy this album as much as I did recording it!”
One of the most notable highlights of this new album is the strong presence of Deen Castronovo, providing vocals on three tracks and drums for the entire record. It is heartening to witness the persistent personal and professional renaissance of Deen Castronovo as he reboots his career and steps up his game. The man has a definite monopoly on an ability to drum for Marty Friedman and Steve Vai and then grab a mic stand and deliver Steve Perry-like vocals. Whereas other multi-vocal acts like Ayreon and Avantasia tend to feature vocal interplay within individual tracks, Tony keeps all our peas and carrots separate, and there is a good argument to be made for this. While there is an operatic appeal to be had in situations where singers share the same track, it can also be said that each singer brings a unique flavor and atmosphere, and it can be good to keep them separate to do their own thing.
So aside from the venerable Deen Castronovo, who else brings their talents to the table? Let’s look at some songs from the album, and we shall see. Well, the album wastes no time with lightweights: the very first track shines the spotlight on Hardline vocalist Johnny Gioeli, a one-time musical classmate to both Neal Schon and Mister Castronovo. At first, the listener can only guess at the overall “sound” of the band, since it starts with a serene piano melody care of the multi-faceted Tony Hernando; however, the melody is suddenly carried forward by pumping guitars, bass, and drums. When Johnny steps forward to deliver textured midrange big-chest vocals, it is clear he has lost none of his power over the years. The tempo, heaviness and guitar gain are dialed back from Lords of Black territory, but not by much. The heavy rating of the album is closer to something like the 2018 offerings from WET and Airrace, and there is no harm in that. It’s a real sweet spot for crowd-pleasers and long summer drives. Most importantly, from the first track, as well as the rest of the album, it becomes clear that the writing and producing core of the band has a fantastic ear for melody.
On that subject, the second song is the first to feature the vocals of Deen, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of a Journey Departure, pun intended. Frankly, to be entirely honest, this song, “Unbreakable” is the song that should have been the opener on the new Steve Perry comeback record. All of the melodies are tight and ear pleasing, from the verses, to the choruses, to the Stevia-sweet guitar leads of Tony Hernando. The next track picks up the tempo, and gets into a darker melodic key, with guitar alternating between rapid picking and slow sorrowful leads. The vocals provided by Kent Hilli from Perfect Plan carry the song impeccably. He does not have the range of some metal heroes, but it’s really not necessary for this song. His power and technique provide more than adequate torque to get this one home.
From the first gently strummed chord on the fourth song, “Cause I Know You’re the One,” and the deep-down diaphragm of Animal Drive’s Dino Jelusic, there is an inescapable 2010’s Whitesnake vibe to be enjoyed, except as a bonus, Dino can actually sing. And boy can he sing. Speaking of Whitesnake and boys, the seventh track, “Live to Win” bears more than a little resemblance to Bad Boys and 1987 Snake as a whole. There is no harm and no foul, however, because Tony channels his best John Sykes and then some, while Deen is bringing his best, well, Deen. It’s a great rocker, and while not exactly original, a highlight of the album.
Lest anyone think Hardline was done contributing to the album, veteran producer and keyboardist Alessandro del Vecchio steps up to deliver outstanding vocals to the next two songs, “You and I,” and “When It Comes to You.” While the former is a straight up rocker, the latter sets the mood beautifully with nylon strings and some gentle electric blues leads. By the time the bass guitar (also played by Hernando) and drums kick in, the listener is already knee-deep in a Bic-lighting ballad extraordinaire, gentle and poignant to the end.
The album ends well with a fairly long and ambitious rocker. This track is definitely a treat for Lords of Black fans. The impressive Ronnie Romero has parted ways with Tony‘s act, arguably to focus on providing vocals for the reactivated Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, yet this last track of Restless Spirits serves as a highlight for Lords of Black new vocalist Diego Valdez in what will possibly give us a taste of what to expect in the near future. The song is precisely constructed, relying heavily upon well-thought-out layers of guitar leads and melodies. The tempo and attitude are a bit restrained without being neither saccharine nor a melodramatic ballad. Diego’s vocals are probably most similar to Gioeli, if compared to anyone else on the album, although unveiling a bit more of the Dio grit one may associate with Lords of Black.
It is refreshing to see artists in the metal world exploring classic melodic phraseology of old, with a modern-day angle. Last year we saw similar efforts by Devil’s Hand, Groundbreaker, Treat, WET, and Airrace. Unlike certain empty Led Zeppelin knockoff acts which should remain nameless, these aforementioned bands, as well as Restless Spirits, are truly the standard-bearers of melodic and AOR rock and metal, and are the rightful heirs to the throne. We are very excited to see what Hernando and the Spirits have in store for the future. For right now, Hail to the Kings.
Released By: Frontiers Music SLR
Release Date: February 22nd, 2019
Genre: Melodic Hard Rock
- Tony Hernando / All guitars, bass, keyboards except where noted.
- Deen Castronovo/ Drums, lead vocals on 2,6,7
- Johnny Gioeli / lead vocals on 1, 5
- Alessandro Del Vecchio / lead vocals on 8, 9, Background Vocals on 2,6,7
- Diego Valdez / Lead vocals on 11, background vocals on 2,3,6,7
- Kent Hilli / Lead Vocals on 3
- Dino Jelusic / Lead Vocals on 4,10
- Victor Diez / Piano and keyboards on 2,5,6,11
- Leif Elhin / Keyboards on 3
“Restless Spirits” Track-Listing:
1. Stop Livin’ To Live Online (Johnny Gioeli on Vocals)
2. Unbreakable (Deen Castronovo on Vocals)
3. I Remember Your Name (Kent Hilli on Vocals)
4. ‘Cause I Know You’re The One (Dino Jelusic on Vocals)
5. Nothing I Could Give To You (Johnny Gioeli on Vocals)
6. Calling You (Deen Castronovo on Vocals)
7. Live To Win (Deen Castronovo on Vocals)
8. You And I (Alessandro Del Vecchio on Vocals)
9. When It Comes To You (Alessandro Del Vecchio on Vocals)
10. Lost Time (Not To Be Found Again) (Dino Jelusic on Vocals)
11. In The Realm Of The Black Rose (Diego Valdez on Vocals)
Do the Restless Spirits conjured by Tony Hernando redefine music as we know it? Perhaps not. Nonetheless, this album is undoubtedly tremendously satisfying to the listener. Arena rockers, high energy, low energy, ballads, and tons of great singers and killer melodies. Did we mention Deen Castronovo? This may be the most interesting contemporary super-group without Mike Portnoy anywhere in the liner notes. Definitely worth your time and hard earned money