Frontiers are a record label well known in the melodic rock community for assembling supergroups and one-off special projects. Demons Down exist sort of in that realm whilst also feeling like something a little different too. New album ‘I Stand’ traffics in a hard rock sound that references the late ’80s/early ’90s movement where massive hooks, huge melodies, and lush keyboards were the order of the day. But this is no simple exercise in paying tribute to yesteryear as the music rocks hard to compliment the vocal talents of James Robledo (who has, sonically, been compared to the likes of Jorn Lande and Russell Allen).
Fans of early House Of Lords and their sonic peers from that time period as well will delight in seeing Ken Mary (Alice Cooper, Bonfire, House of Lords) behind the drum kit here as well as Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot, Giuffria, House of Lords) on bass. Current House of Lords guitarist and all round hero, Jimi Bell is doing his thing on guitars too. The band is completed by two ‘new-comers’. Chilean vocalist James Robledo and Italian guitarist Francesco Savino (False Memories) complete the line up meaning there is an intriguing mix of experiences and styles at play across this album at large.
The House of Lords comparisons are obvious all over this album but not overwhelming. This project is more than just a simple homage or plagiaristic attempt to garner interest: despite the group being named after James Christian’s 1992 third album with the band. Sure, Alessandro Del Vecheccio’s keyboards are very Gregg Giuffria in places and there are times when Robledo does sound like a young James Christian but there is also lots more at play here than just simple replication. Some of it good, some of it a little more generic.
Where ‘I Stand’ excels is when Del Vecchio (in his guise as producer of the album) lets the music breathe a little and allows a more traditional melodic rock or AOR sound to come in over and above the sometimes relentless Euro-metal and double-bass drum attack that has crept into melodic rock and it’s harder edged siblings in the last twenty years as the heart of the genre has moved from America to European territories like Sweden, Italy and Germany.
‘Down in a Hole’ has a very House of Lords-esque intro before Bell and Savino go all ACDC on our asses with some superb riffing that builds to one of the most melodic choruses on the album. ‘We’re walking on the edge of life, we’re down in a hole’, Robledo warns on this classy track that also contains a searing guitar solo. Similarly, ‘On My Way to You’, which is a keyboard driven ballad, gives Robledo’s vocals a chance to shine on this track that invokes the spirit of bands like Giant and Talisman.
‘To the Edge of the World’ is another track that will bring a lot of joy to melodic rock fans. These House of Lords guys really do like being near the edge of things, don’t they? But unlike James Christian’s debut album classic, this is a mid-tempo anthem with chugging guitars and some Jimi Bell histrionics that climaxes in a massively traditional American sounding AOR chorus built on a bed of European muscle. It would have slayed on MTV back in the day. The biggest, most AOR-esque moment on the album is reserved for final track, ‘Only the Brave’. This monster builds to a chorus that could have been lifted right from a Journey ‘Greatest Hits’ package and is a sheer joy to listen to. The cadence of the lyrics and the delightful melodies make ‘Only the Brave’ a classic-in-waiting and something that Del Vecchio and the band should be very proud of.
Not everything on ‘I Stand’ is House of Lords-tinged, though. The six minute epic ‘Follow Me’ comes across as something that Geoff Tate would have excelled on if it was included on Queensryche’s classic ‘Operation Mindcrime’ album. An atmospheric, anthemic song, ‘Follow Me’ has some terrific keys and riffing action as it builds to its stirring final third. There are also some Deep Purple influences at play on tracks like ‘Book of Love’ and ‘Where Will Our Tears Fall?’ in terms of that organ – keyboard – guitar riff combo that Purple and various incarnations of Whitesnake did so well. The former sees a kind of The Poodles-esque Euro Rock/Metal sound begin to creep into proceedings whilst ‘Where Will Our Tears Fall?’ is more modern sounding and gives a nod to bands like H.E.A.T. in terms of the melody and muscle that propels the track. This song would have made a great splash on MTV in the late 80s with its commercial yet powerful chorus and it would be the song I would choose to be the poster boy for this release.
Where things get a little too much, or even a little generic at times is when Demons Down slip into that Eurovision-esque, drum overload , in-your-face sound that has been an over used hallmark of hard rock and metal in the last 20 years. Tracks like ‘Search Over the Horizon’ contain bland lyrics about ‘challenging your destiny’ that the likes of Bell & co could knock out in their sleep. ‘Disappear’, meanwhile, is an insanely catchy song but feels like something written for The Poodles or Wig Wam in terms of being Eurovision-leaning Rock-Metal that lacks a little of the originality or nuance that many other tracks on this album have. Biggest culprit here is the title track, ‘I Stand’. It’s epic, it’s portentous and it builds to a grandiose chorus and I can see that the band might have been going for some ‘Pleasure Palace’ style homage with the eastern and Egyptian style overtones but it feels more like a typical Frontiers / Del Vecchio song than it does anything really suited to the same band that let the music breathe on tracks like ‘To the Edge of the World’ or ‘Only the Brave’
Demons Down have created an incredibly interesting album that will delight many fans of the keyboard driven muscle and pomp bands of the late 80s. There are some cracking songs on this album that will get the pulses racing and hearts stirring of people with stacks of albums from the likes of House of Lords and Giuffria: fans of Euro-metal bands like The Poodles and Wig Wam will also find a decent amount of joy too. I do, however, miss the clean, pure AOR and rock sound of bands like Giant, Bad English and Icon that we don’t hear anymore after the genre moved continents and the American’s fell out of love with the sound. Consequently, melodic rock is a much heavier beast these days and the drum overload gets a little too repetitive and relentless at times.
Demons Down are a harder edged proposition than a band like House of Lords ever were. Even James Christian, himself, turned to the experience of Mark Mangold on the band’s last album in an attempt to re-capture some of the nuance and sound that made the band so great after a couple of lacklustre House of Lords albums, and it worked because ‘Saints and Sinners’ was a phenomenal release! Where that nuance and class is in evidence on this album, it simply soars with brilliance and is as good as anything around right now. Where it is lacking, the album feels a little more generic and typical of many of the other bands that have emerged out of Europe in the last twenty years.
Track list: 1. I Stand 2. Disappear 3. Down In A Hole 4. On My Way To You 5. Where Will Our Tears Fall? 6. Book Of Love 7. Stranded In The Middle Of Nowhere 8. Follow Me 9. To The Edge Of The World 10. Search Over The Horizon 11. Only The Brave Record Label: Frontiers Release Date: March 10th Buy ‘I Stand’ now