Although his impressive resume boasts stints with JOURNEY, YNGWIE MALMSTEEN'S RISING FORCE and Roger Taylor's QUEEN EXTRAVAGANZA, to say nothing of a discography that numbers into three digits, it wasn't until recent years that the profile of Jeff Scott Soto has grown to match his considerable vocal talents. Perhaps that's because, with the possible exception of his SONS OF APOLLO band mate Mike Portnoy, there isn't a busier musician in hard rock at present. In addition to guest appearances and session work, he's currently juggling five projects–a longstanding career as a solo artist; front man of the band SOTO, in which he shows off a more aggressive side of his musical personality; lead singer of SOA; a featured vocalist in TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, with whom he tours arenas for two months every year; and singer of the melodic rock supergroup W.E.T., whose new album "Earthrage" is a must-listen for anyone who longs for the glory days of anthemic arena rock.
Formed nearly a decade ago to immediate acclaim, W.E.T.–whose clunky name is an anagram of acts featuring its three key members, Robert Säll (WORK OF ART), Erik Mårtensson (ECLIPSE) and Soto (in this case, TALISMAN, a Swedish group with whom he recorded seven albums)–seems to exist for one primary reason: to dare you to resist singing along. With hooks for miles, an Enormodome-worthy production and a repeat listenability that's off the charts, "Earthrage" not only one-ups the group's first two albums, but in a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts sense, might also outshine its participants' primary outlets.
That's no small feat given the remarkable recent hot streak of Swedish guitarist/producer/songwriter Mårtensson, whose last three albums with ECLIPSE and recent side work with NORDIC UNION (featuring PRETTY MAIDS vocalist Ronnie Atkins) and AMMUNITION (featuring WIG WAM singer Åge Sten Nilsen) have cemented his reputation as the reigning king of modern AOR. As an arranger, Mårtennson is incredibly efficient in building to knockout choruses that rarely kick in past the 60-second mark. A perfect example is first single "Watch The Fire", a kiss-off in the vein of ECLIPSE's "Bleed And Scream" where he shares vocal duties with Soto in the verses. After the first chorus ends, it takes less than 30 seconds for another to arrive–and if you're able to resist echoing the "whoa" chants at song's end, you didn't listen to enough Desmond Child pop-metal anthems during your formative years.
Another notable track, "Kings Of Thunder Road", features soaring vocals by Soto and an infectious melodic sensibility that provides a stark contrast from the down-tuned nature of SOA's "Psychotic Symphony". "Urgent", meanwhile, features a monster riff to go along with its monster chorus–and much like the FOREIGNER song its title brings to mind, it's exactly the type of song classic rock radio should be playing twenty years from now.
Also worth mentioning are "Dangerous", which features a chugging, Ellefson-like bass line that drives the well-paced verses; "I Don't Wanna Play That Game", which makes you wonder what a Soto-fronted JOURNEY album would have sounded like; and "Calling Out Your Name", whose sneering riff segues beautifully into yet another irresistible chorus. And since it wouldn't be a true AOR album without a power ballad, "Heart Is On The Line"–a spiritual successor of the band's 2013 single "Love Heals"–fills that quota admirably, with a vibe that recalls an '80s movie soundtrack (and we mean that in the best possible way) and a pitch-perfect solo. On that same note, although he's not one of W.E.T.'s "core three," it's important to acknowledge the contributions of budding guitar hero Magnus Henrikkson, whose performances here, like his recent work with ECLIPSE and NORDIC UNION, often push these songs over the top.
Fair or unfair, Frontiers occasionally takes flak for releasing too many studio projects that rarely make it to the stage, but as "Earthrage" proves, sometimes supergroups don't need to be visited by Pinocchio-like Blue Fairies in order to transform into real bands who leave lasting impacts. Perhaps the highest compliment one can give the record is this: not only is it unquestionably the melodic rock album to beat in 2018, but the same would have also been true in 1978 or 1988.