The army soldiers on with a new helmsman.
Merging old school AOR nostalgia with a modern sense of style has been the stock and trade for Frontiers Records since the label’s inception. The various projects that have emerged from its ranks all flow from the same basic principle of hard-hitting yet highly accessible songwriting and a return to the principles that defined the glory days of 80s mainline rock and metal. However, sometimes the original intention of a project can leave the picture and what is left behind will take on a life of its own. Originally billed as a continuation of the sound that characterized the early career of former Rainbow and Malmsteen front man Joe Lynn Turner, Sunstorm came raging out of the mid-2000s heavy/power metal meets arena rock craze like a bulldozer and roped in a lot of younger fans that had never heard his signature voice, all the while still keeping the old guard in tow. One might suspect that with his exodus from the fold in 2020 that this train had run its course, but the buzz that had been created through 5 solid studio albums had other ideas.
Though a very different voice when compared to that of Turner, Lords Of Black and The Ferrymen helmsman Ronnie Romero was the logical choice to front this outfit’s 2021 follow up “Afterlife,” in no small way due to his involvement with the current incarnation of Rainbow. His gravely, lion-like roar bears a strong resemblance to the original voice of the aforementioned 70s rock/metal icons Ronnie James Dio, providing a direct link to the same era that inspired this project in the first place. Combined with the masterful songwriting skills and virtuoso keyboard work of Frontiers veteran and Edge Of Forever leader Alessandro Del Vecchio and DGM guitar shred extraordinaire Simone Mularoni, to speak nothing for the tight rhythm section rounded out by Labyrinth bassist Nik Mazzucconi and veteran drummer Edoardo Sala, this is clearly a band to be reckoned with, and the musical results that they have yielded are as eclectic as they are polished and stylistically accessible.
To the uninitiated, the Sunstorm sound can be best described as what early 80s Rainbow or mid-80s Deep Purple would sound like with a current day heavy metal production. It’s difficult to miss the syrupy melodic hooks that parallel the sound displayed on “Straight Between The Eyes” and “Bent Out Of Shape,” while the punchy rocking riffs and interplay between the guitars and keyboards bears a fairly strong resemblance to the classic back and forth approach pioneered by Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord. Afterlife delivers this same brand of metallic rocking goodness with a stronger impact factor, bolstered by Romero’s rougher vocal work and a collective sound that can be best described as bigger and more bombastic. The animated stomp and bluster of high octane anthems like the title song “Afterlife” and “Born Again” leaves little doubt of the metal credentials behind the powerhouse fold, though the rocking organ work that’s along for the ride likens them to a homage to “Highway Star” with a heavier sound, while the slightly slower “I Found A Way” puts a Vivian Campbell era Dio-like twist on the same concept.
As noted previously, though this album goes pretty hard on the impact factor for an AOR-infused undertaking, it also showcases a healthy variety of variations within this fairly formulaic template. The mid-paced pomp of “Swan Song” takes on a somewhat more nuanced tone, placing a greater degree of emphasis on dynamic contrast between sections, atmospheric buildup and giving the keyboards a more dominant presence, all the while still delivering the infectious hooks. The piano-dominated softness of “Lost Forever” colors things in more of a melancholy tone that is almost reminiscent of Axel Rudi Pell’s brand of balladry, though even this concise respite from the raging rockers surrounding it finds itself turning bombastic during the chorus section. But the coup de grace that stands above the rest is the groovy, almost progressive power metal-like goodness of “Far From Over”, which reminisces quite heavily upon the spacey denseness of Cloudscape combined with the heavy edge of Masterplan and features one of Mularoni’s most intricate guitar solos.
Those that are well versed in the output of Frontiers Records since the mid-2000s will find a very familiar sound here, and even those who are first time consumers of their brand will likely become acclimated to it fairly quickly. It hearkens back to a time when writing simple, accessible songs didn’t involve dumbing down the musicianship involved or putting the average listener to sleep with a hypnotic array of similar sounding songs. It channels the spirit of the 80s arena era all but to a fault, reminiscing upon the days when big hair, guitar heroes and wide-ranged vocal impresarios ruled the roost and it wasn’t a crime to mix the smooth production with the roughness of a metallic riff assault. It gets a bit difficult to tell whether Romero, Mularoni or Vecchio ends up stealing most of the show on this album, but between the three of them is a measured showcase of virtuosity and poise that ties the whole thing together. To anyone who likes the brand of heavy and power metal frequently displayed by the likes of Jorn Lande and Magnus Karlsson, or anyone who likes their AOR bigger and heavier, this is made to order.
Released by: Frontiers Music srl
Released Date: March 12th, 2021
Genre: Hard Rock
Originally a vehicle for former Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, this Frontiers Records masterminded AOR powerhouse soldiers on with another familiar voice to recapture that classic 80s melodic swagger within a modernized bottle yet again.