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Friday, March 27, 2020 Steel City - Mach II (Album Review)
They say rock is dead. I would argue that it's on life support. And bands like Steel City are the medics that have been called in to help save the patient. Their new album Mach II is a glorious and bombastic throwback to the glory days of mainstream rock radio. The band's DNA contains strands of Warrant, Winger, Deep Purple, Van Halen, Skid Row and Extreme to name just a few.
The big choruses and fat original guitar riffs are like being led to an uncharted dessert island of bikini clad women. This is a joyful rediscovery of what makes rock great. Vocalist Roy Cathey is a cross between Sebastian Back and the late Jani Lane. He's got incredible range and can do stuff that the auto-tune crowd can't even do with the auto-tune. Guitarist Mike Floros is a gifted player and stretches out on almost every track. BJ Zamba is an absolute beast on the drums. Bass player Jason Cornwell holds down the bottom end with fast and furious playing. And keyboardist Tony Stahl is a master of the synth and the organ. Now before you drop the needle, or close the lid on your CD player, grab an ice cold beer and hunker down for some glam-infused melodic rock.
"Hearts On Fire" is perfect 80's formula with Kiss like choruses and Rainbow like guitar and keyboard excursions. It's an instant hit song and technically the lead single from Mach II. Zamba's drum intro on "Dead Men" levels into a rocker with some melodic-pop mojo. Cathey's vocals have a touch of Dio swagger. The choruses again echo around as if custom made for a large stadium. "Steel Your Heart" opens with high tech synth that gives way to some tasty guitar work from Floros and the cranium occupying chorus of "Steel Your". There is a bit of dramatic tension in these chord progressions. Cathey and the band compliment these rock radio rhythms with sugary vocal offsets. The blend is a fusion of pop and harder melodic rock at it's finest.
Bass player Jason Cornwell is front and center for the punchy intro to "Wasted Time". A slower but very powerful hook that rises and falls. This sounds like a Bon Jovi track recorded by Deep Purple. A super high point on this record for me. This is what mainstream rock used to sound like. Floros unleashes a guitar solo that rivals many of the brand name players you grew up listening to. The keyboard break at the end could have gone on for another 2 minutes or so and I would have cheered. "I Cry" sounds like something Vixen would have recorded if they were guys. There is a street smart authenticity to these tracks. Even though melody is not in vogue these days, to do this song after song is not easy. "A Little Love" opens with another hit single sounding monster hook. The chorus is a lush sleet storm of voices and Floros grinds his guitar into a frenzy on the solo.
"Still Close To My Heart" recalls White Lion at their best. An acoustic guitar intro that segues into full speaker vocal textures. The vocal arrangements on this record deserve an award. Cornwell's bass is again front and center on "Give It Back". Floros does his best Eddie Van Halen at the outset as Cathey channels David Lee Roth, except Cathey can actually sing. There is a nice bluesy bent to "Give It Back". This is the kind of writing DLR would approve of. Floros unloads a solo that you can feel in the cheap seats. "Spotlight" is a tight, more concise rocker. Cathey's vocal goes into a gnarly Axl Rose Mr. Brownstone voice for select verses. It's as if an 80's rock buffet is being served up. "Prayer For Love" is a brief piano-synth instrumental showcasing Tony Stahl and would make a great rock radio warm up for the album's last stand - the amazing "Down To One". Cathey injects some tangible emotion into his vocal part and Floros switches up his guitar tone to be more sharp and searing. The mix really makes the song soar. The guitar work and drumming at the end is a stellar way to close.
The summary here is that very few new melodic rock albums make me listen repeatedly. When I finished this record, I put it on again and again. This band throws everything they have at the 1980's and that includes the kitchen sink. They make it work because they know how to properly dress these songs in the right musical garb. They also write very good songs.
For the fan who wants to go back while still moving forward, Steel City's Mach II is the Delorean you've been waiting for.
Album Rating 9.7