By Carl Begai
Best known as the voice and attitude of full-on traditional metal bashers Benedictum, Veronica Freeman has traded in the leather, chains and knee-high bitch boots for a romp with presumably tamer melodic rock/metal. Teaming up with a host of accomplished musicians / songwriters including Pete Wells (Benedictum), Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, ex-Dokken), Michael Sweet (Stryper) and Mike Lepond (Symphony X) to name a few, Freeman has put out a genuinely strong first solo effort boasting the ’70s / ’80s vibes and flavours of classic KISS, Dokken, a bit of AC/DC, and even present day Stryper. The 12-track album features Freeman pulling back on her raging Ronnie James Dio-esque voice just enough for a more soulful delivery suited for this type of rawk, but by no means does it soften any of the blows delivered. Think a pissed off Anastacia backed by walls of distortion and guitar shred, which is a very good thing. But, her familiar in-your-face roar is most certainly part of this production, unleashed as needed.
Now Or Never features two songs co-written with Michael Sweet, with ‘Again’ kicking things off and ‘Love Should Be To Blame’ surfacing mid-album; both could have made the cut for Stryper’s recent No More Hell To Pay record. ‘Roller Coaster’ is reminiscent of classic Destroyer-era KISS, ‘Kiss My Lips’ (featuring Chastain singer Leather Leone guesting) has more groove than every track on the new AC/DC record, and the (real) album-closing salvo of ‘Ready To Run’ is reminiscent of early, early Dokken’s classic ‘Live To Rock (Rock To Live)’.
Get beyond these comparisons and Freeman has carved her own identity as something other than just a metal queen. The melodic depth of her voice is a surprise from front to back, shining through in particular on lighter tracks ‘Line In The Sand’, ‘Starshine’ and ‘Spellbound’. The only time things miss a beat is the layered chorus vocals that turn up on ‘Starshine’ (too “sweet” sounding) when Freeman would have been better left naked (!!), as she doesn’t need studio magic. And with all due respect to guest vocalist Tony Martin (ex-Black Sabbath), tacking ‘King For A Day’ onto the end of Now Or Never was unnecessary; the label should have saved it as a B-side, as the party ends with a bang when ‘Ready To Run’ crashes to an awesome screeching halt.
Now Or Never’s big surprise, however, is Freeman’s biggest departure from her metal stomping grounds entitled ‘L.O.V.E.’. Not a ballad by any means, it’s an upbeat track no self-respecting metalhead will ever admit to enjoying unless Freeman poses the question herself, a complete throwback to 1989 and the smash hit for Canadian rocker Lee Aaron, ‘Hands On’. You kinda fall in lust with the song in spite of your rivet-spitting self.
What started out as a mad experiment has turned out to be proof positive that Freeman has the chops to handle anything thrown her way.
Now Or Never tracklisting:
‘Now Or Never’
‘Line In The Sand’
‘Love Should Be To Blame’
‘Kiss My Lips’
‘Ready To Run’
‘King For A Day’
Now Or Never recording lineup:
– Veronica Freeman – vocals
– Leather Leone – duet vocals on ‘Kiss My Lips’
– Tony Martin – duet vocals on ‘King For A Day’
– Meliesa McDonell – additional vocals on “Star Shine” and acoustic guitar
– Derek Kerswill – drums
– Jeff Pilson, Mel Brown, Garry Bordonaro, Aric Avina, John O’Boyle and Mike LePond – bass
– Pete Wells, Michael Sweet, Peter Tentindo, Jim Durkin, Mick Tucker, Jordan Ziff, Michael Harris – guitars
Check out the official audio trailer for the album featuring the songs ‘Again’, ‘Now Or Never’ and ‘King For A Day’ here.