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Jorn - 'Live In Black' (frontiers records) 4.5/5

Norwegian metal master Jørn Lande is a busy bugger. Not only is he working his nuts off with Masterplan and Allen Lande; guesting on albums by Avantasia, Push king and ex Uriah Heep keys wizard Ken Hensley; performing in rock operas AND organizing Ronnie James Dio tributes, but he can still find time to record and tour with his own solo project Jorn. And it's with Jorn that this his latest release comes. Live In Black, is of course a double live CD set, recorded at last years Sweden Rocks festival and comes with a DVD to accompany the live audio albums (sadly the DVD was not issued in the promo package I received so I'll leave that out of this review).

Now it is my sad duty to report that I'm not 100% up to speed on this guys career, all I've heard is the odd Masterplan track and a few tracks off his Ken Hensley collaboration; and I'm now beginning to wonder what I have been missing, cos I'm liking what I'm hearing here very muchly. Not only does Mr Jørn sound uncannily like the late great Ronnie James Dio in his vocal inflection, range and delivery, whilst his band comes over like a glorious mixture of Dio, Tony Martin era Sabbath and Accept with a hint of the Judas Priests thrown in as well. In short, all the great metal stuff that provided the sound track to my youth. The overall result is a live album that easily stands alongside the likes of Live Evil, Live After Death and the other great metal live albums of years gone by.

Highlights? Well the power wail of Stormcrow is spine tingling, the relentless plod and pound of Spirit Black is truly epic, the riffing on Man Of the Dark is to die for and Soul of The Wind has just gotta be a true metal classic. Hell I'm not normally one who cares too much for cover versions, but there's a version of Thin Lizzy's Are You Ready on here that can only be described as a belter.

I'm now gonna go off and track down the rest of this guys stuff and I'll advise anyone with a taste for good old school metal to buy this album, and do the same.

For fans of.. Dio, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween etc...

Work Of Art - 'In Progress' (frontiers records) 4/5

There is a lot of good stuff coming out of Sweden at the moment, so far this year we have had some killer product from Royal Republic, In Solitude, Sister and now pop-proggers Work Of Art are here with their second studio album to show us that not only does Sweden still rock like a good 'un, but they can do it in all genres.

Coming from the same starting point of the likes of Asia, Magnum and Saga; In Progress is one of the best pop-prog albums I've come across in a good few years. The opener The Rain sets out Work of Arts stall in fine style and the rest of the album keep up the pace, even the odd p*w*r b*ll*d like Once Again is saved from lighter waving naffness by some tasty guitar work and some epic key changes.

Highlights include the synth driven stomp of Never Love Again, the Magnumesque Eye of The Storm, with its off the wall moog solo; the Styx influenced Call On Me and the surprisingly headbangable Emeile. however for me the best track on offer here is Until You Believe, which has a touch of the Cheap Tricks about it.

No doubt about it, you'll have to go along way to find an album in this genre that is this good and this memorable. Highly Recommended.

For fans of... Magnum, Asia, Cheap Trick, Saga, Styx, etc...

Xorigin - 'State Of The Art' (frontiers records) 3/5

There is a place where AOR, prog rock and hard rock meet, and if you look at that point carefully there you will find Norwegian outfit Xorigin. Now as far as I can make out, this lot have been around for a good few years, but have only just got around to issuing their debut album. And I gotta say its not a bad effort.

Sounding like a multi band horror smash between Europe, Loverboy, It Bites, Vow Wow and Glory; State Of the Art is a nicely performed 11 song package with some great cover art work. Over all it reminds me of American melodic rock legends Drive, She Said, especially on tracks like Too Late, Crying For You and The One For Me. And that leads me to my main issue with this album. just like Drive, She Said, you know there is a damn fine hard rock band in here somewhere, but they just don't quite deliver the goods when you want them to. Everything is a little to restrained and too controlled. Where as Europe, Loverboy and especially Vow Wow really knew how to cut loose and rip it up from time to time; Xorigin just tend to play it a little too safe. While this restraint works well on softer more AOR type numbers like Said And Done and In The Blink Of An Eye, when it comes to the rockier tracks like Gina, your just wishing they would live a little more on the RAWK side and really give it more stick.

Still this IS an old metal head speaking, and over all the album is very pleasurable and contains a really nice surprise in the form of What Love is All About, which sounds like Big Generator era Yes, and is a track worth getting the album for in its own right.

In conclusion - Try before you buy, unless your a real AOR head.

For fans of... Yes, Asia, Journey, Glory, Europe, Drive She Said

Toby Hitchcock - 'Mercury's Down' (frontiers records) 3.5/5

With US proggers Pride of Lions taking a couple of years out, it is inevitable at the solo albums would come crawling out of the wood work - and so we have this effort from vocalist Toby Hitchcock to keep the fans deck happy until the Pride reforms.

First impressions are that Mercury's Down is a tad more commercial than POL. This is less Asia / Mystery and more Toto / Journey so to speak. Not that that is a bad thing on the whole, I'm not adverse to a little stadium AOR once in a while, and as stadium AOR albums go this isn't a bad one.

You have some fantastic rock out tunes on this album, Strong Enough features some guitar work to die for, If It's to Be (It's Up To Me) is a belting feel good anthem in the Journey mode; 'I've got what it takes now, I'll make my own breaks now...' - whilst Just Say Goodbye hits home with all the power and verve of a classic Night Ranger track. And there can be no doubting that Mr Hitchcock has the perfect voice for the genre, he comes over like a pumped up Steve Perry meets Lou Gramm on steroids; supreme power, perfect control and pitch perfect.. All good stuff.

OK there a couple of tracks where where this album sinks towards stadium rock cliche, most noticeably on the  inevitable power ballad One Day I'll Stop Loving You (lighters at the ready people) and on the opening sections of the John Farman-esque A Different Drum. But thankfully those moments are more than off set by tracks such as Tear Down the Barricades and the title track closer.

In short a worthy addition to the canon of AOR must haves

For fans of... Journey, Toto, Survivor, Night Ranger, Loverboy