THE RAGGED SAINTS
SONIC PLAYGROUND REVISITED
Released on January 31, 2020 (AOR Heaven)
Since their creation in 2011, courtesy of guitar duo Tomi Julkunen and Toni Bite, The Ragged Saints have made no secret about their simple mission to deliver melodic hard rock similar to the sounds that swayed their musical upbringing. After luring singer Markku Kuikka, bassist Jukka Hoffrén and drummer Miikki Kunttu along for the ride, the highly touted debut The Sound of Breaking Free was dropped in 2013 laying the AOR foundation that would eventually lead to new release Sonic Playground Revisited on melodic rock label AOR Heaven. Funneled through seven years of the band’s various other groups, projects, and everyday life in general, The Ragged Saints‘ latest is an ’80s-influenced ten-tune record patiently created with the added gift of being afforded the opportunity to stand back and check out each track from various angles. The result is a cohesive album the band is not only over the moon about, but one these Finnish rockers are excited to get public opinion on.
Kicking off the streaming attack earlier this year with the catchy “Secret In Our Hearts”, The Ragged Saints have launched a melodic assortment of well-cared for tunes perfectly packaged for fans hungry for new hook-loaded anthems along the lines of Europe, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, or even Joe Lynn Turner‘s or Johnny Gioeli‘s various projects. From cleanly distorted ’80s guitar to powerful vocals and anthem worthy harmonies, it’s all here just as fans of hard rock seasoned with shakes of melodious overtones demand. Yeah, there’s even old school keyboards and pensive real-life lyrics of life, loss, and all those other things that have come to romanticize AOR albums over the past couple decades or so.
“Never Gonna Let You Down” gets the ball rolling with an uptempo drive that bridges the gap between classic soundtrack anthem Survivor and All I Know‘s wrongly ignored Vanity Kills record. Somehow in all this ’80s melodic goodness, The Ragged Saints do somehow manage to also squeeze in a bit of organ as well begging the question of an even deeper musical background which is validated next courtesy of “Like A Spinning Wheel”, a track that hints at a chance the band might even dig the melodic side of Dio. Out of an album chock full of solid tunes, this has hands down become my fave. Maybe I’m a sucker for driving polished catchy hard rock but… OK no buts, I’m an all out sucker for driving polished catchy hard rock and I absolutely love this tune.
Now before anyone assumes that Sonic Playground Revisited is merely a serious selection of chugging melodramatic music, let me quickly mention that there is plenty of sticky sweet infectious anthem stuff to be found in the mix starting with bubblegum popping track “Take Me With You.” Even with the leaves dropping, it’s tough not to get caught up in this trip of a sing-a-long summertime song. First listen, worthy of top down, radio cranked cravings of cruising around with a fave better half punctuated with the perfect air guitar solo and John Parr-esque anthem tempo drop break. Man, it’s hard not to get amped up in the happy feelies listening to this one.
Before getting back to the main hard rock wheelhouse, The Ragged Saints take a breath long enough to sneak in “Just Believe”, a pretty guitar picked ballad that with a little more care could have filled the lone mellow spot on Sonic Playground Revisited soundly. However, the vocal melody comes off a bit rushed and singer Markku Kuikka‘s gritty at times vocal marks the only time on the album the singer doesn’t shine big. So maybe there are bands on the planet that would pine for at least one song this solid but on a record filled with greatly formed and captured tracks, “Just Believe” falls well below the band’s consistently top notch output. The biggest shame is that with a bit more work, “Just Believe” could have not just been something more, but maybe even something huge.
For those concerned about my previous statement regarding this being more than just an album of great melodic hard rock tunes, fear not as Sonic Playground Revisited is packed with more power than anything else doing fans of such a huge service by delivering down the stretch. While the lead up came with a few side trips down ballad and power pop paths, the final five to the finish are mainly a power push of hard rock starting with the pounding “Absence of Light” complete with a drop into the first verse that would make any “Final Countdown” junkie twitch in joy leading to an aggressive anthem chorus that beckons an army of lighters. “Always Forever” is an infectious hooky rocker along the lines of Bon Jovi‘s “Only Lonely” while “Pretending Diamond” and “Turning Cold” rock in all the ways that made me fall in love with Andy Taylor‘s solo work only with more powerful vocals. But don’t get confused by the comparisons, this is great stuff that stands on its own but with a band that isn’t afraid to admit creative coaxing by groups from the ’80s, such comparisons are meant as high praise far more than anything else. If anything, The Ragged Saints offer spins on old sounds that few have managed to deliver since those great old bands we all love, so consider the connection as coming from a place of nostalgic love.
Before the revisit is over, these Finnish lads do drop down into a gear that takes all of The Ragged Saints strengths and squeezes them all into a ball of hard rock power and catchy pop happiness wrapped into anthem awesomeness complete with killer solo and power chords galore. It’s a feel good final moment that leaves the listener with uplifting hope before gently leaning into a beautifully orchestrated finish. It’s maybe not your typical hard rock record ending but a finish that wraps things up in a way that boldly expresses that while The Ragged Saints may wear their influences on their collective sleeves, they refuse to just flat out be typical.
01. Never Gonna Let You Down
02. Like A Spinning Wheel
03. Take Me With You
04. Secret In Our Hearts
05. Just Believe
06. Absence of Light
07. Always Forever
08. Pretending Diamond
09. Turning Cold
Markku Kuikka – vocals
Tomi Julkunen – guitars
Toni Bite – guitars
Jukka Hoffrèn – bass
Miikki Kunttu – drums
Produced by Harri Petjakko and The Ragged Saints
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Harri Petjakko
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, September 2020
The Ragged Saints‘ “Absence of Light” single:
The Ragged Saints‘ “Never Gonna Let You Down” single:
The Ragged Saints‘ “Like A Spinning Wheel” video:
The Ragged Saints‘ “Turning Cold” video: