German band PLACE VENDOME first appeared back in 2005, arguably best known for being a project that involves former Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske. They released an initial self-titled album back in 2005, and have since released two more albums, with four years between both of these. “Thunder in the Distance” is the most recent of these, and was released through Italian label Frontiers Music in 2013.

Unless one know about this project from one of their earlier releases or from news items, many will be taken by surprise by the contents of this production, as it places renowned metal singer Kiske in a somewhat unusual role: As the lead singer of an AOR band. This is fair and proper AOR as well, arguably one with more of a British tinged sound to it, but still material of the kind you’d expect to stumble upon on FM radio in general and classic rock oriented radio shows in particular. Smooth, clean and highly melodic material, of the kind where any metal edges that may have been present have been toned down and smoothed out into a silky smooth sound.

This is a mostly upbeat album though, with tight and vibrant guitar details sharing the spotlight with clever, frail keyboard textures. Some of the guitar details may take on a darker tone, some actual relatively powerful riffs do appear from time to time alongside the tighter, smooth and toned down subordinate guitar motifs, and the keyboards may come as almost ethereal floating textures, wandering piano or a richer presumably digital orchestration. But the instrumentation mainly serves as the foundation for Kiske’s voice to soar upon, but also as appropriate backing for the instrument soloing, where the guitar is given room to shine on most occasions.

Powerful melodic lead vocals dominate, backed by backing vocals in the mostly anthem style singalong chorus sections, and we get fairly equal shares between more vibrant, hard rock oriented excursions, gentler affair with more of a melodic rock foundation and various instances of ballad and power ballad tinged creations. As far as AOR goes this is a project that explores a subtly harder edged style, most of the compositions has a bit more bite and a bit more of an edge to them, many actually merits a description as both tight and vibrant. Pleasantly engaging music, and while not providing all that much in terms of originality and creativity, the high level of musicianship and the well planned and well composed tracks makes this an album more enjoyable and more engaging than many others, despite the presence of a fair degree of cliched, predictable songs.

If subtly harder edged AOR with perhaps some slight tendencies towards hair metal just as much as melodic rock sounds like music you’d like, Place Vendome is a band project that specialize in the creation of that very specific style on their 2013 album “Thunder in the Distance”, and as such an album you might want to investigate.

My rating: 78/100