Joel Hoekstra's 13 'Dying To Live' / Frontiers SRL // 10/10
It seems that Frontiers Music SRL are on a little bit of a winning streak with recent releases being amongst the greatest offerings the label has put out in some time. October 16th will see another superior release via Frontiers, in the shape of Joel Hoekstra's 13 'Dying To Live'.
Conceived before his Whitesnake venture came to light, 'Dying To Live' is Joel's premier debut album which has been constructed independently by Joel, meticulously managing the writing, production and arrangements of the project. The creative control has allowed Joel to create a record which truly embodies his musical makeup and, ultimately, amounted to a tasteful, fulfilling record.
Featuring a collective of undeniably outstanding musicians including; Jeff Scott Soto, Russell Allen, Tony Franklin, Vinny Apicce and Derek Sherinian, plus a carefully chosen selection of contributing special guests. Accompanied with Joel's evident all-round creative strengths, this album is built upon years of experience and proven success, which acts as a stronghold, maintaining the record’s compelling sounds, sending 'Dying To Live' skywards.
By now, the voice of Russell Allen must be commonplace in the vast majority of record collections, and with good reason. With ease, Russell delivers vocal performances replete with passion and purpose. Said vocals illustrate the lyrics of these songs in an adhering fashion - adapting to best complement the song characteristics, in savage style. Initial album openers 'Say Goodbye To The Sun' and 'Anymore' are stellar examples of this achievement, and accompanied by addictive hooks and tearing solos from Joel himself, there's nothing to not embrace. Both tracks left me wanting more... and more.
Though not digressing in strength, following tracks take a softer and eased pace, showcasing the flip-side of Russell Allen's vocal capabilities, as well as the musician’s abilities to contrast with what is likely to be the more familiar, heavier territory. There's an abundance of mellower tracks on this album, each being as polished as the next. The lyrics within these songs speak volumes and make for an engaging listen, with 'Long For The Days' being quick to shine bright early on in the album with lyrics "There's no denying that I've lost my way, or that I'm crying every single day and I can't seem to fight the fact I've gone astray. I long for the days" which are structured amongst a hypnotic guitar solo and beautiful melody.
As this record progresses, it becomes obvious that Hoekstra's production and writing knowledge is top-quality. He also demonstrates the understanding that in 2015, variation is key, and introduces a slight diversion in sound, to what perhaps may be considered as an ever so slightly more commercially friendly 'Never Say Never' (which with it's uplifting, memorable chorus is an instant favourite) and we're then greeted by the recognisable voice of Jeff Scott Soto, taking helm on a portion of tracks deeper into the album.
Title track 'Dying To Live' is what I'd consider to be a definitive statement track. Aggressive, melodic and, well... pretty tasty. The rhythm is unforgivably dynamic and fluctuates throughout, building a dark, harsh atmosphere around the already hellish lyrics and gritty vocals, perhaps arriving at a pinnacle point in the story of 'Dying To Live' as a whole creation? I'd like to think of it in those terms, because that's exactly the emotions that were drawn from me until this point. Also, on a personal note, I find that following track 'Start Again' is indicative of a 'let up in the storm' or maybe a reconciliation of sorts, signified in lyrics such as; "...and now that it's over I want you to know that I gave my all for what it’s worth... ", the song title could also be suggestive of this. Regardless of intention, the sheer impact of this track (track 9) is enough of a beacon to mark it as a title number.
Last, but most definitely not least, is an enchanting duet by JSS and Joel's Trans Siberian Orchestra counterpart, Chloe Lowery. It's safe to say that I've not heard a more confident, captivating duet in a very long time. In fact, I can't recall any that have moved me as this has. Both vocalists complement each other in an indescribable sense with alluring harmonies that are bound to weaken the toughest at their knees.
If you're going to do a side project, whilst touring with the world renowned Whitesnake, this is most definitely how you should do it. You'd expect Hoekstra's solo project to be dominated by the sounds of a guitar, but that's not at all the case. Joel has created an album that goes further than what might be expected, and as a result, has far surpassed any expectations I had before bleeding this record dry and proved that his vast knowledge goes far beyond the guitar. It doesn't need a flood of lengthy solos or unnecessary fretboard showboating, because, as this album is, it's really something special and one of the most impressive releases of 2015.
01. Say Goodbye To The Sun
03. Until I Left You
04. Long For The Days
06. Never Say Never
08. The Only Way To Go
09. Dying To Live
10. Start Again
11. What We Believe
Reviewer: Christiane Robinson