Four years ago, Adrian Vandenberg, the legendary guitarist who garnered fame with Whitesnake, returned to action, following a short hiatus, with Vandenberg’s Moonkings. The album, ‘Mk I’, received numerous plaudits and its sequel, the cunningly titled ‘Mk II’ sees Adrian return, alongside his colleagues Jan Hoving (vocals), Sem Christoffel (bass) and Mart Nijen Es (drums). Released via Mascot records, ‘Mk II’ was partially recorded at the legendary Wisseloord Studio in Hilversum, Holland (where the band also worked on their debut), by long-time Vandenberg collaborator Ronald Prent, and features twelve blistering tracks that, once again demonstrate Vandenberg’s exceptional talent.
The album gets off to a good start with the anthemic ‘Tightrope’, a track that takes the vintage maiden of Paul Di’Anno and pairs it with the hard groove of AC/DC, Jan Hoving clearly enjoying himself as he delivers a lung-busting performance, only for Adrian to send the song into orbit with a flaming solo that will have air guitarists in their element. Next up, the fast-paced ‘reputation’ adds a touch of punk rock attitude and a pinch of Motley Crue and you can practically hear the leather creak as Adrian cranks up his guitar on the middle eight. The aptly-titled ‘angel in black’ is a classic-in-the-making with its lust and damnation subject matter, Dio-esque vocals and creamy riffing before the elegant Led Zeppelinisms of ‘the fire’ drift, dreamily into view. Reminiscent of ‘III’, it recaptures much of the magic of the hard rock greats and when the song kicks in, it does so with palpable force. Opening with some beautifully played guitar, ‘walk away’ is a power ballad that provides a nice break from the sturm und drang, although I could do without the synth strings. Nonetheless, in an era of soundbites, it’s surprisingly refreshing to hear so powerful a ballad in the hands of anyone other than Aerosmith or Guns ‘n’ Roses. Getting back to the rock, the first half concludes with the bluesy, groovy ‘all or nothing’, a track that could so easily have been a huge single back in the day.
Kicking into the second half, ‘what doesn’t kill you’ is a melodic, hard rock ballad with elements of Europe in its DNA, whilst ‘ready for the taking’ is pure old-school, blues-rock delivered with a delicious heat and an AC/DC sneer. It’s an album highlight and, if its wonderfully over the top chorus doesn’t have you singing along, then you’re surely not listening to it loud enough. With its unselfconsciously retro synth opening and blazing riffs, ‘new day’ is pure driving hard rock written by, and for, those for whom rock never dies. You could call it cheesy, I guess, but that would be to miss the point, and it’s great to hear a band simply cut loose and rock. ‘Hard way’ builds from a nimble, Angus Young riff and tears around with a lightning-powered blues energy, sheets of static passing between Adrian and Jan, who continues to impress with his gutsy vocals. Whilst the title of ‘love runs out’ promises a power ballad with a tear-jerking melody, the actual track is a stadium-sized monster that sounds like a cross between Kiss and Sisters of Mercy. It’s a cracking tune, tailor made for killer crowds and guaranteed to leave you with a ridiculous grin on your face. The album wraps up nicely with ‘if you can’t handle the heat’, one last blast of insanely melodic, neon-lit hard rock that (like all of the tracks) knows how to hit hard and fast, without outstaying its welcome. It neatly tops off the record and it leaves you very much wanting more.
As with ‘Mk I’, Adrian Vandenberg and his cohorts have delivered a ferocious tribute to the world of hard rock, pairing attitude and technicality in a frequently irresistible display. Sure, much of it feels familiar but then, as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke… Most crucially, ‘Mk II’ is an album that exudes a sense of joy and it’s difficult to imagine leaving a Vandenberg Moonking show feeling anything other than elated. The band have the experience to keep things varied, but, more often than not, the album simply sounds like a group of talented and passionate musicians having fun in the studio, and it proves to be effectively infectious. If you dig your hard rock, check it out, you won’t be disappointed. 8