Album Title: Strangers In Paradise
Label: Inner Wound Records
Year Of Release: 2014
Neonfly are a band that have not been on the scene for too long and yet have already managed to make quite a few waves within the burgeoning UK hard rock/heavy metal scene. Debut album ‘Outshine The Sun’ drew critical acclaim but it has been their live performances to date that have garnered the most praise. Sharing the stage with an impressive array of high-profile talent including the likes of Alice Cooper, H.E.A.T, Sonata Arctica and Pagan’s Mind, their energy and enthusiasm is seemingly what attracts the plaudits wherever they go.
Happily, this energy and enthusiasm translates onto disc and so sophomore album, ‘Strangers In Paradise’ is, I can report, a very strong and enjoyable record.
Neonfly have clearly put a lot of effort into this album over the past three years and ‘Strangers In Paradise’ ups the ante considerably on previous output. The quintet are one of those bands that, I believe, are still searching for their own personal trademark sound, ‘Strangers In Paradise’ is certainly more honed and altogether more slick and professional than the debut but that being said, there are a whole host of influences and reference points littered throughout the ten compositions. It all means that ‘Strangers In The Dark’ is somewhat hard to define and pigeon-hole in a generic fashion. It is this to some extent that makes the album so interesting as, from one song to another, you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get.
The album opens with ‘Whispered Dreams’ which bursts from the speakers with the panache and pace of pure European power metal, reminiscent of bands like Sonata Arctica and a more retrained Dragonforce whilst managing to blend this with a hard rock swagger that’s really rather infectious. As with the vast majority of the record, the guitar riffs are properly meaty and the chorus is blunt, to the point and downright catchy.
The follow-up, ‘Highways To Nowhere’ is an entirely different beast. Stylistically sitting somewhere between Primal Fear and recent Rob Halford solo material, it is a darker and moody riff-dominated monster that nods its head towards a more classic metal sound, meaning that refraining from a good old head bang is nigh-on impossible. The versatile vocals of Willy Norton, one of the biggest strengths on the album, switch from a higher soaring approach to a gruffer, more edgy bark that suits the mood of the track perfectly.
Lead single ‘Better Angels’ begins in a heavy vein before taking things down a notch and then exploding into my personal favourite chorus on the entire record. Ridiculously catchy, it creates an AOR-meets-melodic rock delight of a song with a demonstrably contemporary sheen.
Elsewhere, ‘Rose In Bloom’ is a big power ballad that toys with the mainstream but despite a faint whiff of cheese, it works, mainly thanks to a genuinely passionate vocal performance from Norton, once again demonstrating a strong set of pipes with an impressive range. ‘Heart Of The Sun’ is pure Nightwish worship, circa ‘Once’, full of grandiose bombast as is the shorter cinematic instrumental ‘Aztec Gold’ which features a great guitar solo trade-off between axemen Frederick Thunder and Patrick Harrington. ‘Fierce Battalions’ is a frenetic-paced track dominated by drummer Boris Le Gal and reintroduces those all-out European power metal influences with very nice results.
The album then ends very nicely indeed thanks to the duo of ‘Chasing The Night’ and ‘Falling Star’. The former is the longest track on the record and, because it ebbs and flows nicely, steering away from a chorus in the conventional sense, it has a more progressive rock feel to it. It’s also dominated by a great lead guitar solo at the mid-point and plenty of welcome excess throughout. The latter meanwhile, is a massive ballad which is catchy as hell and which once again flirts with AOR influences to great effect, thus closing the album in style.
‘Strangers In Paradise’ is then topped off by a fantastic production courtesy of Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Angra) which is full of both power and clarity but which also retains the warmth necessary for music of this type to sparkle and shine.
All in all, I really like this record and can see it doing very well indeed. The song writing is extremely solid, the melodies are memorable and a sense of fun and enjoyment permeates this release to the point where a big grin is never far away from my lips. Personally, I’d like to see Neonfly really nail their colours to the mast on album number three and perhaps make a few of their influences a touch more subtle within the compositions. However, this is me being picky because ‘Strangers In Paradise’ more than ably demonstrates that this quintet have the raw talent, the ability and the hunger to make it to the big time.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0
Check out my other album reviews here:
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld