Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Back in 1989 the AOR/Melodic Rock world was blown wide open by an absolute monster album release entitled Last of the Runaways.
It was by US band Giant, a band composed of the cream of the session scene and led by Dann Huff, one of the finest guitarists ever to peel out a mighty riff or a wailing solo. He also did all the lead vocals, proving himself to be a man of incredible vocal talent as well! The album had song writing help from genius songwriter Mark Spiro and is a stone cold classic.
Apart from the musical genius of the band members, the album was noteworthy for standing out from the crowd a little at a time when the market was flooded with the same style of music.
In 1992, the band released their follow-up, Time To Burn, regarded by many as being even better than the debut. The jury is out on this, but like its predecessor, Time To Burn is a monster album full of incredible AOR/melodic Rock with songwriting support from Van Stephenson and Jim Vallance (Bryan Adams) amongst others.
Of course, that same year, the Seattle scene hit the big time and overnight Giant, and most of their contemporaries disappeared without trace.
The band released III in 2001, an album of outtakes and live tracks. By this time Dann Huff was a hugely in-demand session player and producer in Nashville, a role he maintains to this day, and it looked like Giant were done.
Then in 2010, Frontiers Records released Promise Land, a new Giant album recorded with ex-Strangways vocalist Terry Brock on vocals and with Starship/Winger guitarist John Roth on guitars alongside original rhythm section David Huff (drums) and Mike Brignadello (bass). It was a very good album, with some Mark Spiro co-writes among the material, but for many people it wasn’t really Giant without Dann Huff at the helm.
And now, in 2022, we get the follow-up, Shifting Time. As with Promise Land, John Roth returns on guitars and this time the vocalist role is taken by one Kent Hilli, singer with Sweden’s Perfect Plan, a band who did a superb cover of Giant’s 1992 hit ‘Stay’ a couple of years back.
So, how does Shifting Time stand up against the Giant back catalogue? Well, it’s kinda unfair to compare it to the monumental debut or Time to Burn, as those were recorded in AOR’s heyday with massive budgets and had some really top songwriting support, but in comparison to Promise Land, and in comparison to most other AOR/Melodic Rock being released at the moment, it stands up pretty well.
Where it falls down a little (and this is to be expected) is that, like Promise Land, it doesn’t quite have that air of something that sets it apart from the opposition in the way that Giant did in the early days.
However, to be fair to the band, the sound they have found on this album is a little different from a lot of the AOR you’ll find on Frontiers Records’ roster as it doesn’t sound quite as ‘European’. This potentially gives it a little more of an identity in a crowded marketplace.
So, “what of the songs?” I hear you cry! Well, if you know your AOR/Melodic Rock, and you now the band’s pedigree, you’ll know what sort of ballpark this aims to operate in. First off, it’s clear that Kent Hili is THE man for the job of fronting the new Giant.
He has a KILLER AOR voice! He has a warm, powerful and melodious tone and gives these tracks the personality that they need.
The rhythm section of David Huff and Mike Brignadello is as tight and focused as on any of Giant’s previous recordings and they anchor everything down very firmly indeed. Finally, John Roth does a very commendable job on lead guitars. He’s an excellent player, with a lot of melodic sense and a lot of fiery speed in his playing, which you need if you’re going to be standing in Dann Huff’s shoes.
The album opens with a cool little instrumental piece (always a Giant feature) before main opener ‘Let Our Love Win’ kicks in. It sounds a little like some of the harder stuff from Time To Burn. The riff is chunky and very much in the classic Giant mould, and the chorus has the requisite huge harmonies.
Plenty of fast guitar flurries add to the authenticity and yes, it does have a Giant kinda feel. The problem with it is not with the quality of the song writing or performances, but rather with the overall sound and mix. The production is actually pretty decent – there’s a bit of space in it (it’s not too heavily layered as much modern AOR tends to be) with good guitar and keyboard interplay.
However, the final mix is compressed to Hell and back, which stifles it and muddies it a little. The drums don’t have quite enough ‘snap’ and power and there’s a lack of natural dynamics as nothing can really breathe. It’s a shame, as it slightly spoils what could otherwise be a good production.
Having said all that, there is still much to enjoy on the album. ‘Don’t Say A Word’ is a great piece of AOR with a lovely production and arrangement. Kent Hilli sounds absolutely awesome on this one and the guitar/keyboard interplay is on the money.
‘My Breath Away’ follows in a similar vein. It’s another cool piece of classic sounding AOR with lovely clean guitar arpeggios and keyboards in the verses before the power chords kick in to take the chorus into the stratosphere. However, good though it is, this could be any decently good AOR band; it just lacks the identity that should make it ‘Giant’.
‘Highway Of Love’ has that bluesy acoustic riff intro that Giant used to great effect back in the day on tracks on both of the classic albums and it does have a bit more of the sort of sound we’d associate with the band’s classic era, although the chorus perhaps lacks the final bit of sparkle that would make it a real classic.
‘The Price of Love’ and ‘Standing Tall’ both have moments where you think ‘Oh, this sounds a bit like…(insert a track from Last Of The Runaways or Time to Burn here) but both then go on to become generic AOR/melodic Rock – very decent AOR/Melodic Rock, but once again, nothing particularly out of the ordinary and sadly, ‘out of the ordinary’ is what you expect when a band has past pedigree like Giant does.
‘Anna Lee’ is a standout track. It’s a ballad, but is a cracker! All the pieces come together for a beautiful piece of AOR. Kent Hilli is the star of the show once again here, as he puts in a stunning and highly emotive performance.
The remaining tracks are all very similar in that they are very decent AOR/Melodic Rock; well-written and very well performed, but just lacking that final spark that you’d expect with a pedigree such as Giant have.
Overall, this is a tricky album to review. If it was by any other band, I’d probably be telling you to go out and buy it immediately, as there are some very cool songs on here with a very ‘classic’ sound that isn’t always the norm in modern AOR circles.
Certainly, if you’re a fan of classic sounding AOR vocalists, then you should check it out as Kent Hilli is a bona-fide AOR vocal god! His performance on all the tracks is completely outstanding and he is clearly relishing his role in fronting what apparently is one of his favourite bands from AOR’s classic era.
He’s given this album his all and it shows! Where the album falls down slightly is that it lacks that something extra special to give it that standout edge and the mix feels a little muddy and feels very compressed throughout.
Fans of classic AOR/melodic Rock may well still find a lot to enjoy here; it’s a good album, but it’s just not quite as ‘Giant’ as perhaps die-hard fans of the band would like it to be. It’s an unfortunate case of ‘it’s very good but not as good as they used to be.’ So if you can take it on its own terms, you’ll find that it’s a very good classic sounding AOR/Melodic Rock album.
Let Our Love Win
Never Die Young
Don’t Say A Word
My Breath Away
Highway Of Love
It’s Not Over
The Price Of Love
Don’t Wanna Lose You
I Walk Alone
RELEASE DATE: January 21, 2022
Kent Hilli – Vocals
John Roth – Guitars
Mike Brignardello – Bass
David Huff – Drums
From the album SHIFTING TIME. Buy or Stream: https://orcd.co/shiftingtime
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