Who We Are Reviews
April was an interesting month for me as a Sleaze Roxx contributor. I was tasked with reviewing albums by bands that took me out of my comfort zone. Specifically, melodic hard rock bands from Europe — Drive She Said, Dynazty, Treat, etc. I’m getting used to the inclusion of keyboards in the music mix. Still not a fan of keys, but Vega is another step in the right direction.
Anyway, I digress. Vega are five guys from the UK that have been together since 2009, having released three albums over that time. Who We Are is their latest effort. Listing Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Europe, and Winger as influences, singer Nick Workman says “We wear our love of ’80s rock music on our sleeve, but we also have injected our love of modern rock music to it. We aren’t trying to rehash anything: the sound we have achieved is 100% VEGA.” I’d buy that. Who We Are is a sing-along gem that would have been a radio hit in the ’80s. Today, at least in North America, the album is a little too pop-rock to fit into any on-air format. But, it doesn’t try to be anything except what it is, a good melodic/AOR record.
Starting off with a killer guitar, the first song “Explode” blasts off and lets you know immediately what direction this adventure will take. Tom Martin and Marcus Thurston can write some solid riffs. I suppose the keyboard softens the sound from “bang your head” to “bob along to the melody.” “Generation Now”, “Every Little Monster”, and “We Got It All” follow in that same vein. Some would call it the Goldilocks paradigm — not too hard, and not too soft. Whether it is just right is a question for the individual listener.
“Nothing Is Forever” is your requisite ballad. Pretty pianos and decent composition.“For Our Sins” is similar to the old Firehouse or the new such as The Darkness, with Nick Workman’s vocals drifting between falsetto choruses and catchy verses. However, no matter how many times I run these tracks, my ears prick up whenever “Saving Grace” comes on. It is an anthemic, total sing-along tune. One of those songs that hooks you in even as it soars. Every instrument has its place, and the harmonies sound great.
I was not surprised to learn that Who We Are was produced and mixed by Harry Hess from Canadian rock legends (in Canada at least) Harem Scarem. There is a clear similarity between Vega and Harem Scarem, in the songwriting and the way the instruments interact. If Who We Are is really a reflection of who these guys are, then based on the album cover art alone, the band is enjoying the exploring themselves.
In any other World (1985), or any other time (also 1985), or any other dimension (also also 1985) Vega would be huge, HUUUUGE I tell ya! So, in a world like this today, its good to know that some people such as the Vegaboys (TM pending) are still striving to be the best they can possibly be, and in the process giving enjoyment to many a punter – old, young and all ages in-between
May 13th sees the release of Vega’s fourth album entitled “Who We Are’’, and, looking at the cover they really couldn’t give a toss about what people think about them – with booze, fags, and not exactly flattering caricatures adorning the cover. And that’s Vega for you! They’ve courted discussion, last years Memorex-gate dig at HEAT for using tapes’ and also been (and still are) at the forefront of European and World AOR, with the Martin’s writing not only for Vega but also a lot of other bands, and they will always give you a great opinion on their own music and direction.
I think Vega have a formulae, which is ‘every song an anthem’, and this mantra has certainly seen them through the last three albums, and has woven its way into ‘WWA’. ‘Explode’ is Vega’s Ronseal opener. Its part ‘Waiting For The Big One’ 80s MTV for the masses with a modern Vega ‘twist’, and Workman has never sounded better. ‘We Got It All’ is certainly an autobiographical mission statement for Vega, and is certainly powerful. ‘Every Little Monster’ is going for the ‘every song exceeds the last’ approach and is as catchy as Joe Pasquale’s ‘I know a song that’ll get on your nerves’, its an instant implant. So far it’s melody, melody, melody, all the way. With ‘Nothing Is Forever’ we hit a ballad that could be a contender for Eurovision. White Flag’ is Vega’s first single from WWA, and have a video to accompany it. It’s the no brainer choice – power, melody, groove, andAORsomeness.
‘Generation Now’ has a more menacing opening, and huge chorus. You could get bored typing ‘huge chorus’ constantly but that’s what we continuously have here. Where bands may put fillers towards the back end, not Vega, If anything two of their strongest come back to back in ‘Ignite’, and ‘Saving Grace’, with the latter sounding a bit Diving For Pearls-like and for me is the best song on the album.
Vega have done themselves proud here. As ‘Who We Are’ will be on many a fan’s Top 10 lists of 2016, for certain.
Vega should be huge, but whether or not their upcoming tour will change fans perceptions remain to be seen. I don’t think a tour with Magnum will bring a lot of new attention, whereas a support on the ‘Heart’ tour would have done. If I were Vega, and Frontiers, I’d try to get them some airtime and gig time in the States. The double denim and layered hair brigade should go nuts over one of our finest rock exports
So, is ‘Who We Are’ better than their debut? I think so. The only thing stopping Vega is themselves. For me, FM have always been the pinnacle of British melodic rock, but now the younger generation are hard on their tails…..and about to overtake!
VEGA is made up of five members. Nick Workman is lead vocals. Tom Martin and Marcus Thurston share guitar duty. Daniel Chantrey is on drums and James Martin is on keyboards. Now, usually I cringe away from any band who has a keyboardist, but VEGA offers them in such a way that they are incorporated in their sound and it doesn’t grate on me like they can with some tracks from the 1980’s.
Their sound is best described by Nick Workman. “We wear our love of 80’s rock music on our sleeve, but we also have injected our love of modern rock music to it. We aren’t trying to rehash anything; the sound we have achieved is 100% VEGA.” Their label categorizes their music as melodic metal but I feel there is an edge to it that many melodic metal artists miss.
The first track is called “Explode” and it explodes their sound into your ears! I enjoyed their edgy guitar riffs. This song caught me and had me listening to the rest of the album in its entirety.
Their track “Every Little Monster” reminded me a lot of 80’s rock songs and had me dancing along with it by the time they hit the chorus. It’s a little lighter than Explode and best heard when feeling happy and ready to party.
The customary power ballad is the fourth track entitled “Nothing is Forever.” They stay true to their 80’s inspiration with this one and I can picture my teenage self swaying back and forth with a boy to this song as I sing along.
“For Our Sins” is starts out a bit melodically and then the guitars kick in and keeps the song moving forward. Nick Workman works his vocal ability and hits a wider range that showcases his talent.
The song “Generation Now” has a classic Bon Jovi rock feel to it. The chorus gets stuck in your head and you find yourself humming it hours after you hear it. In fact, this song is really the one that made me go back and listen to the entire album again. They have learned the good lessons from the 80’s very well but keep it modern enough to keep me entertained.
I think my favourite song on this album is “White Flag.” It has a more modern sound and is again a bit edgy. Their message of never surrendering is inspirational and I certainly hope they follow their own advice and don’t give up because I want to continue to hear more from this band!
With each album, Vega hits the ball out of the park. Their latest and fourth album, Who We Are is no exception. As with 2014's Stereo Messiah, I can say at the start, without hesitation: Buy this album. You will not be disappointed in the least. It's all good.
Cutting to the chase then, Who We Are is equal parts musical manifesto, resume, and definition. Vega is AOR melodic hard rock in the best and finest tradition, born in the Eighties, then transported to and revitalized for the 21st century. These guys live and breath this stuff. Cut an artery and they bleed this music.
I'm not sure which elements of the Vega sound I like best, because they're all good and vital. Perhaps it's the vocals and vocal harmonies: lush, sweet, melodic. Nick Workman has an amazing voice. Or maybe the twin guitar harmony that also helps to spin the melody. Then there's those big guitar solos that pepper each song like Cajun hot sauce. Or maybe it's simply that, Vega's natural knack for infectious melody in each arrangement. But then there's the abundance of groove which can hook these things together.
Melody + Harmony + Groove = AOR accessibility and good times. Every song seems built to rock and tear down an arena. Every song has the inherent ability to charm your ears and draw you in. Ear candy as it were.
Alright. So I'm a fan. But, honestly, Vega does not disappoint. They are the real AOR melodic rock deal. Probably not just on their A-game, but at the top of their game. Everybody else is either playing catch up or chasing their own tails. Yeah, Vega and Who Were Are is that good. Exceedingly recommended.
Addendum: All the songs here are great, but my top picks are: If Not You, Explode, Every Little Monster, and the amazing twins Ignite and Saving Grace.
Over the last three albums, British act Vega have been carefully carving themselves out a niche in the AOR world by simply keeping their faces out there and providing quality releases. Last album ‘Stereo Messiah’ was hailed by many as their best yet, but it seems that it may not hold that accolade much longer when ‘Who We Are’ comes your way on 13th May.
The album starts with a literal bang, as ‘Explode’ does just that in a flurry of guitars and drums, a track that belts along and lays Vega’s cards on the table with a raised middle finger to anyone who thought they might have emptied the creative well by now. Fast, frantic and with a superb little solo from Marcus Thurston, it’s the start fans will be wanting. They don’t let up with the next two tracks either, with ‘We Got It All’ a fist pumping audience pleaser and ‘Every Little Monster’ a catchy singalong that is the archetypal Vega track (you can find it on YouTube).
The band slow down for the ballad ’Nothing Is Forever’, and whilst I often get a bit bored by ballads they hit the nail well on the head here with a powerful, emotional piece that makes sure to include a great solo in the middle. ’White Flag’, ‘For Your Sins’ and ’;Generation Now’ take us back to the tried and tested Vega formula that sits comfortably between Journey and Def Leppard, tracks that you just enjoy for the quality AOR that they are. ‘Ignite’ is a slower track that feels a little ploddy, for me the weakest track on the album, but it’s followed by the best: ‘Saving Grace’ stands out with a horribly infectious chorus that demands sterling pitch control from vocalist Nick Workman. This Vega’s 2016 ‘summer’ song, and almost certainly the one that’s going to stick around the live set for a good while.
The album closes with the high energy ‘If Not You’ and the anthemic ‘Hurt So Bad’, another track that I feel will slot well into any live set. As an album, ‘Who We Are’ is a rush of adrenaline, a melodic kick in the nuts that will have you coming back for more. It sounds great, and the band are tight as ever. It’s no surprise that Nick Workman sings his heart out as he never gives anything less than his best. The man has a perfect voice for this kind of upbeat melodic rock, with Tom and James Martin helping him to write songs that fit his vocals to a tee. My only complaint is that I’d have liked to hear more guitar heroics from Marcus Thurston, whose contributions are short but incredibly sweet. Come on guys, give the man a 30 second solo at some point!
In conclusion, ‘Who We Are’ is definitely as good as ‘Stereo Messiah’, and to be honest it’s difficult for any album of this type to be better. Vega still sound fresh and hungry and I’m looking forward to seeing them with Magnum and at the Steelhouse Festival. If ‘Stereo Messiah’ pushed Vega to the top of the UK rock scene, ‘Who We Are’ cements that position.