Adrian Vandenberg and Jake E. Lee have seemingly the same career path. Both were great in super huge bands (Vandenberg in Whitesnake, Lee in Ozzy), recorded even better material when they broke away (Lee with Badlands, Vandenberg with Manic Eden), and then both walked away and just left music behind for awhile. Now, both are back. Lee's Red Dragon Cartel is pretty solid, but it doesn't hold a candle to the new release from Vandenberg's MoonKings. Sort of a hybrid between 80s metal and 70s blues rock (think Zeppelin or even some Rolling Stones), this release comes as quite a surprise to people that are thinking they would find another big Whitesnake sounding album has been brewing with Vandenberg as he sat in seclusion for almost 20 years. In short, this release is probably not for the younger generation at all, but that takes nothing away from it. For those of us with a more classic rock slant to our musical taste, this is about as good as it gets.
Surprisingly, Vandenberg has moved away from working with established players for his "comeback", building a new band from scratch comprised of guys that are basically unknown to the rock world. While Adrian Vandenberg may be the big "name" of the band, the star is vocalist Jan Hoving. Hoving is a natural crooner vocally, with a lot of emotion in his vocals. In a lot of ways, he's a dead ringer for Thunder's awesome vocalist Danny Bowes. Listening to him spit attitude on songs like "Steal Away", you can't help but get sucked in. He's a solid singer, and one who literally has that "swagger" that separates good singers from great ones. There are times, such as on the brilliant "Out Of Touch", where Hoving sounds like a dead ringer for classic David Coverdale. In short, Hoving is a damn fine singer.
The name at the front of the band though is "Vandenberg", so it's no surprise that Adrian Vandenberg will step up front and center on this release. What's impressive is that Vandenberg seems content to be just "one of the guys" in this band, and not the leader whose guitar has to fill every nook and cranny of each song with noodler's bravado. He shines both with his solo and his intricate rhythms on songs like the disc's best track, "Line Of Fire". There's no big, overindulgent guitar work anywhere on MOONKINGS; just performances that fit each and every song. It's impressive.
While Vandenberg and Hoving are clearly the leaders of this sound, they are backed capably by the rhythm team of bassist Sem Christoffel and drummer Mart Nijen Es. Both are extremely solid, and yet neither do anything to take away from their bandmates' leading of each song.
PITRIFF RATING - 96/100 - The name may suck, and the sound may be a bit too classic for a lot of people, but early on here in 2014, Vandenberg's MoonKings is one of the strongest releases of the year. You classic metal people are sure to love this, and I'd bet most of those that love your classic rock station would thoroughly enjoy this as well. Without question, one of the more enjoyable releases to come through in awhile.