Gotthard founding member Leo Leoni deciding to re-record material from the band’s formative years was always going to be a touchy subject. The tragic death of Gotthard vocalist Steve Lee was one that fans have never really got over. An extremely talented vocalist and frontman taken from his family and friends way too early in such a freakish and cruel manner. Anything that current Gotthard vocalist Nic Maeder does will always be compared to Steve Lee in one way or another, so perhaps Leoni felt it was better to enlist Lords Of Black and Rainbow vocalist Ronnie Romero for Coreleoni. Gotthard are still going strong, and Leoni felt that the 25th anniversary deserved to be marked by re-visiting the early days, songs that have fallen by the wayside. As Leoni himself says, “Songs that with Gotthard we have kind of left aside. We have re-recorded, refreshed, and “re-brushed” them in a respectful way. These songs are very dear to me, and they are part of a period that will remain forever with me.”
Gotthard are one of those bands that have you scratching your head wondering why they never really broke out of their native Switzerland. Their brand of Deep Purple (and all the Purple off-shoots) influenced melodic hard rock has never gone out of favour, and how a song like ‘Let It Be’ failed to be the massive worldwide hit that it deserved can only be put down to timing. Grunge and the advent of “alt-rock” put melodic rock in the shadows, and songsmiths like Gotthard missed out on precious airplay that acts like MTV-era Whitesnake had by the bucketload. Perhaps, then, Leoni feels vindicated by dusting these songs off again? Recruiting Romero makes sense, as his powerful raspy voice is uncannily similar to that of Steve Lee. It’s hard to listen to Coreleoni and not have the original versions on pause in another window… curiosity gets the better of you. One thing noticeable from the off; these new versions are way heavier. The keyboards from the originals have mostly been forsaken in favour a much meatier guitar sound. Leoni, and fellow six stringer Jgor Gianola, deliver power chords by the truck load, the sound of a Gibson being throttled never more than a few moments away. ‘Firedance’, for instance, is six minutes of slow burning, bass heavy Hard Rock, with one incredible guitar solo after another. ‘Downtown’ has more of a thunderous rhythmic groove than the original as Mila Merker on bass and drummer Hena Habegger help give it a more modern and vibrant feel. ‘Higher’ and ‘Ride On’ are personal Gotthard favourites, as they remind me of Joe Lynn Turner/’Death Alley Driver’ era Rainbow, so I was curious to hear Romero’s take on these. I’m happy to report that they are belting versions, and more examples of why Ritchie Blackmore rates Romero so highly.
‘Let It Be’ was touched on earlier, and Christ it is fantastic hearing it with the guitars so prominent. I accept that it’s totally from a different era, but a song this good will never go out of fashion as it connects with the listener on so many levels. ‘All I Care For’ is another timeless classic. Due to the stripped back nature of the track, it often gets compared to Extreme’s ‘More Than Words’. The 1992 original is a go-to moment that always seems to pop up in my YouTube history. Here it gets a fresh coat of Coreleoni-coloured paint, and a towering Leoni solo towards the end which stops you in your tracks. Romero is ultra-respectful to the original, and never resorts to the flashy over-singing that blights so many power ballads. One brand new original track features on the album. ‘Walk On Water’ is modern hard rock at it’s best. The Deep-White-Bow connection is still prevalent, but with a 2018 bite to it. If you have yet to catch Ronnie Romero in concert then what the hell guys! Anyone that can sing ‘Stargazer’ like he does deserves your attention.
The title ‘The Greatest Hits Part 1’ suggests that Leo Leoni has much more in mind for Coreleoni. On the strength of this evidence, he has made a wise decision.
Available February 23rd on Frontiers Music. More Coreleoni information here.