Thursday, May 21, 2020

WILD SOULS "Queen Of My Heart"

(c) 2020 Lions Pride Music

  1. Nothing But Loving You
  2. Night Groove
  3. Love Ain't No Lie
  4. Ready To Rock
  5. Queen Of My Heart
  6. Sexcellent
  7. I Remember You
  8. Set Me Free
  9. Snakebite
  10. Hold Me Tight
  11. Beyond The Stars
  12. Street Eagles
George Nikolaou--Vocals
Kostas Tsiligiris--Guitars
Thanos Kalantzopoulos--Guitars
Leyteris Nasos--Bass
Michael Saroglou--Drums

Additional Musicians
Dimitris Kyriakidis--Guitars on "I Remember You"
Tasos Kalafatis--Keyboards on "Set Me Free" and "Hold Me Tight"

It has been three years since Wild Souls surprised me with their excellent sophomore album, Game Of Love, which found its way into the Glitter2Gutter Top10 of 2016, pretty much out of nowhere.  I had heard bits and pieces of the band's debut album, and while there was some obvious talent, I was in no way prepared for how good Game Of Love was (and still is)!  So, with their latest effort for Lions Pride Music, the Greeks really have their work cut out for them.

Retaining 3/4 of their previous line-up, changing drummers, and adding a second full-time guitarist, Wild Souls retains their melodic, hard rocking sound, with possibly even a bit more guitar flash and a somewhat fuller sound. Lead vocalist, George Nikolaou (man...I can't get enough of typing all these Greek names!!!) has a vocal approach and sound that at times sounds like Dave Meniketti of Y&T, while much of the time he takes on a bit of a David Coverdale sound, especially when he drops lower in his strong tenor range and adds a bit of smoke to the voice, such as on "Set Me Free".  Very smooth and very powerful, Nikolaou is every bit as impressive here as he was on Game Of Love, and his delivery has actually improved, I believe.  The man can definitely sing!

Likewise, the guitar tandem of Kostas Tsiligiris and Thanos Kalantzopoulos are an impressive pair, with strong rhythm playing and some soulful, expressive solos.  While I don't have a breakdown on who plays the solos in each song, suffice it to say there is plenty of melodic string-bending going on in numerous places here, and the harmonic pairing, such as on the mid-tempo rocker, "Queen Of My Heart", is top notch.  Nasos' bass gets plenty of breathing room in several songs here, and newcomer, Saroglou is a really solid, straight-forward drummer, showing flashes of speed here and there, but otherwise not overly flashy or distracting from the rest of the band.  

The album kicks off on a high note right away, with "Nothing But Loving You".  The guitars come roaring to life and vocalist George Nikolaou howls at the moon in a way that is very reminiscent of David Coverdale and Whitesnake's opening of "Bad Boys" from the 1987 self-titled record.  I can't help but feel this is done as an homage to that band, because there is going to be a lot of comparison between Wild Souls and Whitesnake, especially vocally, on this record.  That being said, Nikolaou is impressive in his own right here, as is the entire band on this catchy opener.  The twin guitars are a great touch here, and Saroglou's drums are impressive from the start, with a couple of high-speed bursts, and plenty of bottom end in the mix.  This is precisely the type of song that Wild Souls did so well on Game Of Love, and I am happy to hear that the band has retained much of what I really liked about that album.

"Night Groove" is up next, and anyone familiar with the band will notice right away the extra dimension that is added with the second guitar.  The sound is a bit fuller, and the tone on the rhythm guitars is a bit different...but in a good way.  The solo work here is still of a very high caliber, and the bass work from Nasos is very evident here.  A catchy, sing-along chorus adds to the fun here, and we are immediately two-for-two to kick off the new record.

"Love Ain't No Lie" starts off with some very 80s-sounding keyboards (think Bon Jovi's "Runaway"), but a thick rhythm section soon pushes those keys into the background a bit, and the guitars sweep in, escorting Nikolaou's deeper-range tenor into the mix.  This is a really good melodic rocker, and I am especially impressed by the execution of the guitar solo here, with both guitars actually getting into the action as they join forces to create a six-string tandem as the solo ends and the last vocal section kicks off.  Not really a full-force rocker, but a great song, nonetheless.  

"Ready To Rock" is the star of the show for the first half of the record, in my opinion, and features a definite Y&T feel to the music, and this is where Nikolaou's vocals take on that definite Meniketti sound, which I really dig as a fan of that band.  Even the big, gang-shouted vocals on the vocal bridge coming out of the solo fit the Y&T style perfectly.  If the production wasn't so crisp and the mix featured a bit less bottom end, this song could easily find its way onto Contagious or Ten in Y&T's catalog, which says a lot.  While I like pretty much everything this band has done on the last two records, I can't deny that I would LOVE to hear an album of exactly this style of hard rock, maybe even with a Y&T cover or two thrown in.  Wild Souls has this sound down pat!  Fun stuff here!

"Queen Of My Heart" slips into Whitesnake mode in a big way, as this song has everything that made that 1987 self-titled album so great.  A smokey intro that hints at this being a ballad is dismissed in favor of big, punchy guitars and a heavy rhythm section but still never really escalate past mid-tempo hard rock, in much the way "Cryin' In The Rain" worked for the 'Snake.  Not one, but two solos are featured in this track, the first being a fairly short interlude between verses, with the second one being a protracted venture with both guitarists getting a chance to shine, along with some harmonic interplay between the two.  Definitely one of the top 3 or 4 songs on this album, I usually hit repeat at least once when this song hits.

The first half of the album ends on a bit of a down not, although it is not a case of the musical or vocal performances being weak in any way, because that is simply not the case.  This band is tight and well-versed in their instruments, no doubt.  But the lyrics get a bit cheesy and overly cliche on the hard-rocking "Sexcellent", bringing the song down a notch from the majority of this album.  I mean, it doesn't take a genius to read past that title and know that the song is a lyrical deathtrap, which is too bad, because the song is very well written and a great hard rocker.  To be fair, this isn't uncommon with foreign bands for whom English is likely a second language, as I feel they sometimes try to get lyrically cute, but miss the nuances and subtleties that an American or British band might not.  (Note, I said "might not", because we all know there are a LOT of cheesy American lyrics out there, especially in this genre!)  I don't skip it, but I have to admit to chuckling when I put too much focus on the words being sung, rather than on the really strong guitar work and some of the most inventive drum work that Saroglou puts forth on this record.

"I Remember You" (not the Skid Row song) kicks off part two of the record, and the minor slip of "Sexcellent" is quickly forgotten.  I'm not a massive fan of the keyboard lead-in, but it is definitely the type of intro we heard a good deal of in the melodic rock 80s.  The guitars have a smooth build to them, and by the time Nikolaou hits the first verse, the keyboards are pretty much relegated to a supporting role.  The chorus here is especially strong, and Nikolaou smoothly works his way up and down the wheelhouse of his range throughout the track, although he never really hits a high-end peak.  A solid mid-tempo rocker with some flash and flair from the guitars on the solo.

"Set Me Free" starts off (and ends) with the hiss and pop of old vinyl, and Nikolaou's vocals have an analog sound to them until the entire band hits.  Once again in the Whitesnake vein, Wild Souls even incorporates some Hammond organ for effect, and I can't help but feel that this song would be easy to sandwich between "Fool For Your Lovin'" and "Love Ain't No Stranger".  The drum patterns have a familiar feel, and the guitar work here is definitely of a caliber that would have grabbed your attention in the 80s every bit as much as now.  It's fun to hear the Hammond get some solo time, as well, and Mr. Kalafatis has a real feel for that particular instrument.  (I think we've all heard when a Hammond is handled incorrectly in a song, and this is definitely NOT like that!)   

"Snakebite" has a nasty bump-and-grind rhythm to it with some gritty guitar work that would have absolutely held its own in the late 80s.  Definitely one of my top 3 songs on an overall excellent record, "Snakebite" has everything that you could want in a dirty rocker.  Once again, Nikolaou drops low into Whitesnake territory, delivering in a slightly raspy, bluesy style that really fits the groove and attitude of the track. ( don't think...nahhh...)  Some punchy drums intro a rapid-fire guitar solo, and the whole song is just a lot of fun to listen to and is very nicely constructed.  Excellent stuff here!

"Hold Me Tight" intros with some nicely harmonized acapella vocals that are quickly betrayed by the guitars which snarl in a bit harder than one might initially expect.  But don't take that as a bad thing, because this is, once again, a very solid song with a strong hook and a very well-written chorus.  Nikolaou continues with his vocal dominance on this record, focusing mostly on the bottom end of his range, but climbing the scales a bit in the verse sections as the chorus approaches.  Likewise, on the second chorus he shows his ability to reach into the upper tenor range and to hold onto a note with little effort.  The guitar work on this track is some of the best on the record, with the finger-twisting solo perfectly complemented by the sharp rhythm guitars that run concurrent with the solo.  The keyboards used here are a perfect fill instrument and are used to support, rather than distract from rest of the song.  Really a good piece of music here. 

"Beyond The Stars" features more of those edgy rhythm guitars that I find myself really drawn to on this record, with plenty of attitude and energy.  Nikolaou runs the full length of his range here, working his way from the bottom to the top, again projecting solid power when a particular passage calls for a bit more.  The guitar solo is fast and furious, but perhaps a bit too short considering this is one of the most "metal" of the tracks here.  Nasos' bass is given a lot of work here, as are Saroglou's legs, as he breaks into a double-bass sprint to run through the last chorus in a head-long charge to the end of the track.

The album closes on a very high note with "Street Eagles", with Nikolaou channeling his lower-range inner-Coverdale on the verse sections, while stretching his range higher on the pre-chorus and chorus parts.  This is another really impressive track, with Nasos' rumbling bass powering the song toward the big, melodic, whammy bar-enriched solo, and once again, the rhythm guitars here are such a big part of this hard rocker.  This was the kind of music I was most drawn to in the 80s/early 90s, hook-filled, but also powerful, with richer, lower-ranged vocals that projected strength and emotion equally.  Think Keel, Baton Rouge, Y&T, of course Whitesnake, and even a band like Pretty Maids, as far as style and approach.  No, no, I'm not saying Wild Souls sounds exactly like any of those bands...and those bands don't really sound like each other, either.  But all possessed strong axe work, typically rocked harder than your average hair band, usually had more bottom end to the sound, and had lower-ranged vocalists with power on songs that leaned more toward the metal side and less toward the pop side of the hard rock genre.        

For my money, this is another great example of the high quality melodic rock that is coming out of Europe, and particularly southern Europe, that too many people are simply not aware of.  The production is very good, with a nice dose of bottom end and nice separation, especially with the guitars.  If you are looking for something new to add to your melodic hard rock collection, Wild Souls is an excellent band with a lot of musical talent and strong songwriting, and they deserve to be on your musical radar.

Rating: Queen Of My Heart is definitely a crankable record, and every bit as good as their previous effort.  Crank this to 9 and seek out Wild Souls now!

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