Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Frontiers Records strikes again in the AOR game with the release of Perfect Storm by Crossing Rubicon, a project made up of Turkish rocker Cenk Eroglu (Winger, Xcarnation) on guitars and vocalist John Bisaha (The Babys) with support from Cenk’s son Efe Eroglu (guitars, keys) and a plethora of guest performances including drummer Pat Mastelotto (Mr Mister, King Crimson), keys player Ray Coburn (Honeymoon Suite) and guitarist extraordinaire Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake).
There is a lot of AOR out there at the moment but on the evidence of a few listens to prepare for this review, I can tell you that Crossing Rubicon have more than enough credibility in the song-writing stakes and in the production/arrangement arena to ensure that this album isn’t lost in the crowd.
The primary reason for this is that they seem to struck a good balance between immediacy and longevity in the hooks department. What do I mean by this? Well, AOR depends very heavily on the hooks; not just vocally, but in the production, arrangements and instrumental parts and it’s very easy for bands to rely on cliched chord sequences, parts/styles, chord sequences and melodic ideas.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this of course, but it can leave albums with a whole lot of immediacy but very little substance to make the listener keep coming back. Crossing Rubicon avoid falling into this trap; the hooks are a little more subtle and thus the album rewards repeated listens to enable those hooks to worm their way in.
The potential drawback of this approach is that, if the hooks are too subtle, then the average AOR fan might lose interest and go searching for greater immediacy. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but I strongly believe that Crossing Rubicon have gotten this pretty much exactly right on Perfect Storm.
There are hints of classic and latter-day Winger, 90s Dakota and Mr Mister (circa the Go On album) lurking within the tracks on this album, but nothing that makes Crossing Rubicon mere clones; they definitely have something of an identity about their sound.
It is a fairly guitar-led sound, with keyboards providing the perfect counterpoint to the muscular yet suitably soft-rock styled guitar riffing and chording. The band also refuse to fall into the ‘everything at a mid-tempo’ trap that some modern AOR occasionally falls into.
Opening with the title track ‘Perfect Storm’, Crossing Rubicon set their stall out from the off with a mighty piece of highly melodic guitar-fuelled AOR that scythes its way out of the speakers like midwestern summer tornado.
What I noticed immediately is the energy in the track. Sometimes, even on the uptempo tracks, AOR bands can sound a little ‘limp’, but not so here. The track rocks along like a train on a downhill run; irresistible and with a ton of momentum. It’s a great opener, but there’s plenty more and even better to come!
‘Reason To Die’ has a definite Dakota feel to the verse melodies and structure (and John Bisaha sounds exactly like Dakota vocalist Jerry Hludzik at times too) in another uptempo slice of AOR gorgeousness with a rather unique but very infectious chorus melody, proving that Crossing Rubicon have more to offer than cliched ‘by numbers’ AOR.
‘Scar’ sounds like a glorious mixture of Winger and Mr Mister with another of those rather unique choruses. This track is rewarded by repeated listens as the hookline gradually nails its way into your brain. A delightfully clear production ensures that every guitar and keyboard layer is clearly audible – no muddy mixing here, no siree!!
‘Too Late’ has a huge driving sound that perfectly blends subtle, yet powerful chugging guitar riffs and arpeggiated keys with an irresistible chorus hook. There are definite hints of the rocker aspects of Mr Mister’s Go On album in this track.
‘On The Run’ ups the ante considerably on the guitar power with a colossal tone, huge riffs and chugging chords ably supported by quite delicious 80s analogue-style keyboard sounds. The verse has a delightful AOR familiarity, but the chorus itself does not fall into that at all, while still hooking the listener in. John Bisaha totally owns this one with some great vocals.
‘100 Thousand Years’ has a very Winger-esque introduction and just when you think it’s gonna be a ballad, it kicks up several notches with a completely monstrous chorus.
The inevitable big ballad ‘Never Again’ has yet more hints of Mr Mister in the chording and melodies, but with bigger guitars than that classic band ever recorded. It’s a very well-written ballad that easily avoids the trap of being too saccharine sweet yet at the same time has enough subtlety within its grooves to ensure that it is just emotive enough, rather in the same way that Winger managed in tracks like ‘Without The Night.’
‘Cry Me A River’ kicks in with more big guitars and those lovely 80s keyboard sounds on a huge uptempo rocker, the guitars providing a buzzsaw of energy driving the track along at a fair old gallop. The instrumental mid-section sees some highly impressive guitar playing over an almost progressive backing, showing once again the Winger influences that unsurprisingly pop up throughout the album.
‘Get Away’ starts off all pink and fluffy with delicate keyboards and clean guitar arpeggios before a lovely mid-paced groove kicks in. It’s a quite superb piece of very melodic hook-laden AOR. Repeated listens to this one draw out multiple layers of guitar and keys in the rather excellent production. Classy stuff and a standout track on what is shaping up into a very, very good modern AOR album.
‘Crash and Burn’ has a slow-mid paced groove with tons of space in the production. This one reeks of Mr Mister in the way the guitars weave in and out of the vocal melodies and keyboard layers and has some excellent supporting vocals from Holly Bisaha. I love the production on this track as it really allows all the parts to breathe, even when everything layers up in the absolutely superb chorus. Another wonderful piece of AOR!
Album closer ‘Time Without You’ ups the tempo again to end the album on a rocking high. Coming on a little like cult AORsters Axe in their latter-day period, with another chorus that doesn’t conform to the cliches, yet is highly memorable, it’s a wonderful way to end a superb album.
Perfect Storm is a fantastic piece of AOR. It’s got a really different feel to the plethora of Scandinavian AOR that Frontiers releases by the bucketload and there’s very little ‘by numbers’ about it, which is a massive strength of the album. It’s also got a different feel to the more classic stylings of bands like Fortune and the modern/classic combo that Treat achieved on their recent and monumentally good The Endgame.
While Perfect Storm doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of Treat’s stunning current opus, it’s not very far behind it! It’s a very well-written, beautifully delivered set of AOR with just the right balance of pink and fluffy softness and crunching power. Everyone involved puts in a fantastic performance and the production and mix is absolutely stunning in its clarity.
Fans of classic 80s AOR, post-Grunge 90s/2000s AOR and in particular bands like Winger and Mr Mister should do everything they can to hear this album. It’s one of the best albums of its ilk to appear on the Frontiers roster this year and it will be on my playlist for a long time to come. Quite superb AOR!
“Perfect Storm” Tracklisting:
- Perfect Storm
- Reason To Die
- Too Late
- On The Run
- 100 Thousand Years
- Never Again
- Cry Me A River
- Get Away
- Crash & Burn (Feat Holly Bisaha)
- Time (Without You)
John Bisaha – Lead Vocals, Bass
Cenk Eroglu – Guitars, Keyboards, Background Vocals
Efe Eroglu – Guitars, Keyboards
Reis Ali Eroglu – Drums
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