Skills, ‘Different Worlds’: Album Review

There’s apparently no shelf life on the melodic hard rock skills that Skills show on Different Worlds, the first album by the label-formed “supergroup.” And if that brand of rock is your bag, the 11-track set is prototypical enough to slide in alongside anything by Whitesnake, Dio, Dokken, Scorpions and the rest – even Judas Priest within its 42 minutes. Hell, its cover even looks like a graphic kissin’ cousin to Whitesnake’s self-titled, multiplatinum 1987 effort.

There are reasons to be skeptical about the whole endeavor, of course. Skills are another one of Frontier Records’ “laboratory” projects, formed by company chief and hard-rock true believer Serafino Perugino as a vehicle for Brazilian singer Renan Zonta (Electric Mob, Brother Against Brother). Perugino teamed Zonta with Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis, Billy Sheehan of Mr. Big, Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo and David Lee Roth’s band, and Giant drummer David Huff. The result on Different Worlds is slick, sleek and timeless, a trip in the way-back machine that nevertheless boasts an abundance of contemporary-sounding sonic oomph and sounds as valid now as it would on the Sunset Strip circa 1986.

And rest assured that Zonta is a star, a powerhouse tenor who, while perhaps inseparable from his forebears in the hair-metal community, is nevertheless commanding and present. He handles the anthems and the power ballads with equal veracity, bellowing with Valhalla-shaking power – check out the impressive lung capacity of “Just When I Needed You” – that fits well with the metal-leaning dynamics of his bandmates.

You’d be hard-pressed to call Different Worlds groundbreaking in any way, and there are moments when it feels like a batch of songs that would have worked as original compositions for the Rock of Ages musical. There are keepers among them, though, including the polished and propulsive “Show Me the Way,” the galloping “Escape Machine” and the arena-sized “Hearts of Stone.” Gillis opens “Stop the World” with some interesting guitar interplay and nods to the late Eddie Van Halen in the title track’s intro, and you drop the needle just about anywhere on the album and find a chorus worthy of your cell phone flashlight.

Early on, Zonta promises that “the best is yet to come,” if there is indeed more to come from Skills. Either way, Different Worlds gives the singer a credible calling card, and you can bet we’ll be hearing more from him, if not the band, down the road.

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