EMERGENCY – Martial Law (Album Review)

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Emergency-Martial Law

What have we got here? Another long lost Dutch gem uncovered by Divebomb Records! English shouter Pete Lovell is most famous for fronting Dutch band Picture on two classic albums (Eternal Dark and Traitor) and of course being the frontman on the Picture‘s two great comeback albums in the 2000’s. Lovell grew up on Jersey (one of the Channel Islands in the English strait) where he started out with his own band Guilty Spirits in the early 1980’s. After the release of Picture‘s album Traitor back in 1985 Lovell got disillusioned by the music industry and the concessions Picture were prepared to make just to keep the record contract. The record label were pushing the band in a more commercial direction away from heavy metal and more into a hair metal/AOR kind of music. That prompted Lovell to leave the band.

Emergency formed in 1985 when Jos Anonissen (bass) asked Coen Van Hoof (keyboards) if he would like to form a band together with him. They found brothers Jos and Frans Limonard (both guitar) who had played together in the band Rancid. On drums, the band had Hedwig Spijkers.  In April 1986 Pete Lovell was contacted shortly after he left Picture and Emergency was at that time managed by ex-Picture manager Henk van Antwerpen. He and guitarist Fans Limonard contacted Lovell who said yes. Emergency did a demo right away and within six months after forming the band landed a deal with Ariola Benelux which was a subsidiary label of BMG Records.

When Lovell joined, some of the tracks was already written and his job became to write lyrics and vocal melodies. Emergency had now only Frans as the sole guitarist. When all songs were written they went into the studio with producer Erwin Musper (who had produced Dutch band Zinatra and done some engineering work on Def Leppard‘s Hysteria). Martial Law was recorded at ML Studio and Wiseloord Studios in 1987/1988. With label Ariola, Emergency was free to develop in a direction they wanted and the label signed them because of the music they played in the first place. There was no pressure on the band to write in a certain direction. The Emergency sound was somewhere between Europe, Bon Jovi, Treat, and Dalton. Melodic hard rock with big hooks and lots of keyboards.  Martial Law was released in early 1989 and did okay in the native country of the Netherlands. Soon, however, the drummer Hedwig Spijkers left the band and was replaced by Ernst Van Ee (ex-Highway Chile and Helloise). With him onboard the band continued touring throughout the Netherlands.

Band photo from late 1980’s. Picture courtesy of Metal Treasures.

When the band started writing songs for a second album all inspiration had run out and Emergency fell apart piece by piece. Another promising band just calling it a day way too soon.

Martial Law

Well, let’s take a closer look at the music on this disc. Emergency play melodic hard rock with a commercial edge. The music has lots of AOR hints and sound like a cross between early Bon Jovi and Europe. Other bands to compare the music to are Swedish bands Treat and Dalton and very close to what is sometimes referred to as Scandi-AOR. (although Emergency was definitely not Scandinavian). There are lots keyboards throughout the album and they have a place at the forefront of the sound. Pete Lovell has got a really strong voice as always and it is a bit different hearing him on this kind of melodic rock.

The album kicks off with the huge anthem “Hiding in the Shadows” which is an excellent melodic rocker with huge choruses, lots of keyboards and a memorable hook. A great opener and one of the strongest cuts on the entire album. It’s a hard-hitting lead track that was also released as the first single off the album. Lovell‘s voice fits the more melodic edged music perfectly. We move on to another song about the native Americans problems with the white man (heard that before?) and a popular lyrical theme. The song is called “All Running Wild” and starts with a drumbeat and a couple of nice guitar riffs. The song has a melodic and interesting guitar solo from Frans Limonard.Reaching Out” is next and gets off with an unusual heavy riff and the song has a guitar-oriented sound throughout and the keyboards stay mostly in the background. A nice mid-tempo rocker with a standout and memorable chorus. Definitely one of the heaviest songs on Martial Law. Up next is the second single release and ballad “Please, Say Please Me”. This is a typical 80’s hard rock or “Power ballad” with lots of keyboards and again a memorable chorus. It had potential to be played on radio at the time but somehow got lost in the shuffle. We go on to “Maybe It’s Love” and again we get a melodic yet heavy guitar riff with quite a bit of solo guitar on top of that when the song starts. On the chorus, Lovell gets to scream out a little bit and I add the song to one of my favorite because of the heavy groove, the infectious hook and Lovell‘s vocal performance the lift the song one level.

The original back sleeve of the vinyl edition

“Across Desert Sands” starts with a middle eastern theme but quickly evolves into a heavy rocker with chugging guitar parts. This is a real highlight and up there with the opening track as a definite fan favorite. Being a bit heavier than the rest of the pack with a heavy groove in the lower end of the sound from Jos Antonissen. This would probably be a live favorite and just the arena rock sound that I am so fond of. With the next song “Running Out of Miracles” we increase the speed a bit. This is a nice fast-paced hard rocker with another great vocal performance from LovellThe album goes on with “Upside Down” which is a feel-good rock song designed for car rides in the summertime with the wind in your hair. Still, not the strongest cut on the album and we go on with “Just One Precious Moment”. This is the album’s second, and last, ballad. A song of love and affection just the way a ballad should be right? The album closes with “Dangerous”  which is another mid-paced melodic rocker and a suitable end to a nice melodic hard rock album.

Summary

Emergency is a band I didn’t even know existed back in the late 1980’s although I was living in Europe and listening to this kind of music. I guess they were most known within the Benelux area (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) and for some part, Germany. Being signed to a Dutch label the distribution of the album was probably focused on those countries as well. Thanks to Divebomb Records I am now able to discover Martial Law in its full glory 28 years after it’s initial release. I was familiar with Pete Lovell of course but had no clue he did record this album after leaving the more well-known Picture. 

I would say that the music on this disc is very similar in style to Treat (think Dreamhunter period) or the Norweigan band Return (AttitudesStraight Down the Line era).  To draw parallels to the Dutch music scene bands like Zinatra and No Exqze comes to mind. The songs are written well along the concept verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus formula. Nothing revolutionary there but this is sort of an undiscovered gem. The musicianship is top notch. Pete Lovell is a stand out vocalist and if you are into the more melodic spectra of the hard rock genre this is something for you to check out. Frans Limonard has several nice chops and solos in his guitar playing and the keyboard from Coen Van Hoof is always present in a positive way. Never too dominant and adds to the overall sound of the album. If I were to pick out standout songs the forceful opener “Standing in the Shadows” is a sure pick alongside “Across Desert Sands” with the rocking track “Maybe It’s Love” not too far behind. With a couple of heavy rockers, a couple of heartfelt ballads and lots of great melodic hard rock with huge hooks and memorable choruses this album deserves at least 7,5 out of 10 geeks as a grade. Divebomb Records has outdone themselves this time by including both a lengthy interview with Pete Lovell and a really nice reprint of the lyrics to the songs. There also lots of unseen pictures in the booklet which is really nice.  Well done boys!

Mikael Svensson

BUY: Martial law here!

Divebomb Records Official Website / Divebomb Records on Facebook

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