Wednesday, 22 September 2010
PHENOMENA - Blind Faith
The melodic rock fans among you who are over a certain age will no doubt remember Tom Galley’s Phenomena project. Phenomena featured a host of stars, creating impressive line-ups across three releases between 1984 and 1993. If I’m honest, I found the musicians involved more interesting than the songs actually featured on those albums, but even so, it’s hard not to be impressed by the idea behind it all.
While many of the Phenomena cast featured no introduction (Glenn Hughes, Cozy Powell and Mel Galley being heavily featured; even Queen’s Brian May found time to contribute), the project also gave increased exposure to a few lesser known performers, including Max Bacon (mostly associated with his appearance as vocalist on the Steve Hackett/Steve Howe vehicle GTR) and Keith Murrell of Airrace (a band still best known for featuring Jason Bonham on drums).
In 2006, some thirteen years after that third instalment, Tom Galley revived the Phenomena project. The resulting album, ‘Psychofantasy’, featured contributions from Glenn Hughes and Keith Murrell once again, alongside Tony Martin, best known for his stint as Black Sabbath’s frontman between 1987-1995. As with the first three Phenomena releases, Tom’s brother Mel Galley was one of the featured guitarists on all tracks, providing the Phenomena project with continuity, despite the long gap between releases.
Four years on and with a lyrical theme of good against evil, ‘Blind Faith’ is the fifth instalment in the Phenomena story. It is the first Phenomena release not to feature Tom Galley’s brother Mel, who sadly died in 2008, although his presence is still here in the form of two co-written numbers.
‘The Sky Is Falling’ begins the musical journey with a heavy yet melodic offering, pairing Riot/Masterplan vocalist Mike DeMeo with Vindictiv/Firecracker guitarist Stefan Lindholm. To many, being the second man to fill the position of Masterplan vocalist, DeMeo is “that guy who isn’t Jorn Lande”, but to his credit, he has a great voice. A quiet intro leads into a classic rock arrangement with slow pounding drums. DeMeo’s slightly raspy delivery sits well against the backing vocals on the chorus, while his big vocal style is well suited to the piece as a whole. Interestingly, for all of its huge rock leanings, there isn’t a featured guitar solo, leaving Stefan Lindstrom with a rather lesser role.
You’d think since the title track features the vocalist and guitarist from Saga, the performance would have ended up with a bit of a proggy slant, but Tom Galley’s song-writing style is so deeply rooted in an old classic rock vein, there’s nothing really prog happening here. However, a Celtic jig creeping in between vocal sections adds an element of surprise. Rob Moratti’s vocal is effortless while Ian Crichton’s guitar work adopts a slighty dirty tone, heavy on the bottom-end, occasionally reminiscent of some of his work on ‘Ghettos By Design’ (Crichton’s largely ignored solo release from 1997). His featured guitar solo, although short, features his typical flashiness. Moratti makes a second vocal appearance on the huge ballad ‘House of Love’. Here, his delivery is horribly squealy and, if I’m completely honest, slightly painful, as he over-sings most of his lines to the extreme. Luckily, FM guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick and Salute guitarist Martin Kronlund are on hand with a decent set of guitar chops – the solo in particular is more than commendable, although never resorts to showiness.
‘Fighting’ is also noticeably weak. Its hammering riff at first gives the impression it might be exciting. With a strong old-influence somewhere between Saxon’s debut, very early 80s Gillan and a dash of Scorpions (albeit heavier than all of those), it has more than enough presence, but it’s repetitive nature makes the track feel overlong and the chorus is far too simplistic. In the hands of a classic vocalist it might just scrape by as decent filler, but sadly the heavily accented vocal of Primal Fear’s Ralf Scheepers just weighs the track down further.
‘Liar’ opens with a slab of keyboards which set the tone for a track featuring Stefan Lindstrom’s bombastic guitar stylings (marking his second performance here). Ex-Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin’s vocals are equally bombastic in places, though it’s likely his performance will be overshadowed by some of the other vocalists here. He deserved a chorus better than “Liar!” (repeat as often as necessary), but despite this, Tony makes the best of his number with a strong performance during the verses.
Contender for best track, ‘It’s Over (I Was Gonna Tell You Tonight)’ is a fantastic fist-in-the-air piece of AOR with Robin Beck (still best known in the UK for her number one hit ‘First Time’) at the helm. This is an equal match for most of the material from her classic ‘Trouble Or Nothin’ album from ’89 and her slightly husky vocal is a perfect match for Jim Kilparick and Martin Kronlund’s guitar work – in places clean and ringing in tone, in others hard and choppy (although the sleeve notes don’t give any specific details regarding the two differing styles, I’m almost certain that Kronlund is responsible for the edgier stuff, leaving Kilpatric to the clean, more refined playing). This gem is a four minute reminder of why you still like melodic rock and probably have done since the eighties...and in some cases, long before.
‘Angels Don’t Cry’ is much heavier. After a brief atmospheric intro, a chunky riff provides the base for Mikael Erlandsson (Salute/Last Autumn’s Dream) to deliver some horrible lyrics about child abuse. After a couple of minutes of the sledgehammer riffing and Erlandsson’s Euro-styled metal vocal, you’ll wish Robin Beck had been allowed more time in the spotlight! It’s not all bad, though, since a well-arranged backing vocal provides a lighter touch on the chorus – such a pity that chorus is another of Tom Galley and Tom Brown’s (almost) one-liners.
‘If You Love Her’ begins with a slow and brooding riff manages to be both heavy and melodic. Guitarist Tommy Denander’s work here is simple and direct and Chris Ousey (of Heartland and Virginia Wolf fame) is in fine voice. His strong lead provides this number with a key feature as his powerful lead vocals act as call-and-response with a simple harmony vocal. Tommy Denander gives Ousey a far heavier base to work from compared with the vocalist’s previous work, but Ousey more than steps up to the challenge here.
Aside from a few tracks from early albums ‘Indiscreet’ and ‘Tough It Out’, I’ve never been a great lover of Brit-AOR band FM. However, their vocalist Steve Overland takes lead on ‘Don’t Ever Give Your Heart Away’ – and it’s a track which is good enough to stand alongside Robin Beck’s performance. This is largely because I’m fond of very traditional sounding melodic rock and – like the Robin Beck number – this features none of the Euro-bombast which has a great presence on this disc. Also more traditional, Terry Brock’s performance is another winner. It may not have Mike Slamer’s golden touch, but ‘One More Chance’ could sit alongside some of the material on his ‘Diamond Blue’ solo album. With a musical arrangement which is faster than mid-pace, though never reaches the heights of pure rocker, Terry turns in a great vocal on a number which boasts one of this album’s strongest choruses. Steve Newman is this tracks featured guitarist and here, he offers great support in a classic, clean-toned style.
Given my indifference to Phenomena’s original three releases, I didn’t approach ‘Blind Faith’ with too much excitement. You know how it is with supergroups and all-star projects, they rarely live up to expectations. As for ‘Blind Faith’ – it could have been better, for sure, but the good bits far outweigh the bad. it’s worth checking out for Robin Beck alone. ...But factor in the other decent vocal performances from Terry Brock, Chris Ousey and Steve Overland and it definitely becomes worth forty minutes of your listening time, despite two or three really bad moments. It’s just a great shame that Mel Galley isn’t around to hear the completed picture.