Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
I don’t know what it is about Sweden and AOR/Melodic Rock. Maybe there’s something in the water, but it seems that wherever you look there is another Swedish band belting out highly infectious AOR/Melodic Rock and most of them appear to be on Frontiers’ Records roster!
Cruzh are another one from that seemingly inexhaustible pool of Swedish talent and Tropical Thunder is their second album, following on from their 2016 debut, albeit with a new vocalist, Alex Waghorn.
It’s clear from the get go that this is a band well-versed in how to craft a Melodic Rock album! The title track roars out of the speakers with considerable intent. Built on a massive guitar riff, this uptempo beast rocks along like its life depended on it, with stacks of shredding guitar and high octane vocals.
It’s immediately apparent that there’s nothing new under the sun here, but what we do have is extremely high quality. This is just begging to be played at ear-splitting volume on the stereo in your open top car while cruising the boulevard in sunny LA (even though it’s Swedish!)
The quality doesn’t let up on ‘We Go Together’ and ‘Turn Back Time’, both of which are quite frankly ridiculously infectious on the melody front, with layers of immense harmony vocals creating choruses that could quite easily move mountains. Production-wise, the guitars are always at centre-stage, with the plentiful keyboards adding enough colours to overload even the most garish of artist’s palette.
There’s quite a bit of Def Leppard influence in some of these tracks. This is especially evident within ‘Are You Ready’ where the layered ‘Hey’ backing vocals somehow manage to reach 7.5 on the Richter Scale, ably supported by the monstrous guitar power chords. The production and arrangement on this track is particularly strong.
The pace drops for the piano-led ballad ‘Cady’. This is structurally and lyrically pretty much a ‘by numbers’ AOR ballad, but somehow Cruzh pull it off with considerable aplomb. This is helped by the fact that the track is just piano/keyboards and vocals with a rather lovely and achingly melodic twin guitar solo – the band resisting the obvious temptation to kick everything bar the kitchen sink in, which is what most bands would probably have done with this kind of track. Mightily impressive!
True to form, this is followed up by a huge piece of AOR in the form of ‘New York Nights’. Kicking in with a huge keyboard and guitar intro, it develops into another of those crazily melodic tracks with yet another monster chorus. Honestly, Cruzh seem to have located the ‘bottomless well of massive choruses’ on this album and they milk it for all it’s worth. This sounds like the sort of thing that filled movie soundtracks in the 80s, even down to the narrative spoken word nonsense over the middle-8. That really shouldn’t work in 2021, but it really does!
The pace and quality doesn’t let up either! ‘All You Need’ is yet another from the ‘How to Write Kick-Ass AOR’ textbook, with (yup…you guessed it) another colossal chorus and beautiful guitar solo.
‘Line In The Sand’ follows at a similar pace. This one has a rather more mean and moody intro, with almost spoken word vocals in the verses. It almost sounds sinister – well, as sinister as a bright and breezy Melodic Rock band ever sound, and the chorus kicks in with one of those well-known and over-used classic AOR chord sequences.
It shouldn’t really work, but somehow Cruzh pull this off too. They achieve this by rather cleverly upping the tempo mid-song for the guitar solo, dropping it back again for the closing choruses: A nice piece of production/arrangement work!
‘Moonshine Bayou’ has a much heavier feel thanks to an almost sleazy guitar riff, which is dripping with distortion and squealing harmonics before another crazily infectious chorus kicks in.
It’s not the strongest track on the album but fits in well enough. The sleazy riff and Hammond organs providing a break from the saccharine-sweet AOR sounds they’ve regaled us with thus far. Again, praise must be given for the production and arrangement as the song has a cool change of dynamic midway through.
‘Paralysed’ takes us back to the big AOR sound with an intro chord sequence not a million miles away from the one on Journey’s ‘Faithfully’. Unlike that classic ballad, this track roars along at pace with the time-honoured huge chorus made even bigger by the lush keyboards.
The album ends with ‘N.R.J.C’ which is completely different: it’s entirely acoustic which serves only to highlight the quality of the lead and backing vocals. New vocalist Alex Waghorn really does have a voice custom-made to sing this kinda stuff and it’s great to hear him with such a subdued backing track. It’s an unusual way to end an album, but is absolutely brilliant!
Ultimately, it has to be said that there’s a lot of this kinda stuff out there at the moment but with Tropical Thunder, Cruzh have hit the jackpot big time and they stand out among the very best bands currently plying their trade with similar material.
If you are a fan of AOR, (especially the Scandi variety) and if you’ve enjoyed recent releases by Creye, One Desire and H.E.A.T. etc, then you should buy this immediately and with no hesitation as it’ll be right up your AOR boulevard and no mistake! Absolutely essential AOR/Melodic Rock!
- Tropical Thunder
- We Go Together
- Turn Back Time
- Are You Ready?
- New York Nights
- All You Need
- Line In The Sand
- Moonshine Bayou
Alex Waghorn: lead & backing vocals
Anton Joensson: lead & rhythm guitars, acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Dennis Butabi Borg: bass, backing vocals
Matt Silver: drums & percussion, backing vocals
+Erik Wiss: keyboards & piano
Buy or Stream: https://orcd.co/tropicalthunder