I got to know about the Croatian guitar master Ivan Mihaljevic back in 2008, when he released his first album “Sandcastle”. See my review here. On this album Ivan demonstrated his skills, having written songs that reminded of Paul Gilbert, Kiko Loureiro, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and similar. The songs were mostly instrumental, the rest were sung. At the time I found the instrumental ones the better ones. Two years later (2010) album no. 2 came out, albeit this time under the new monniker IVAN MIHALJEVIC & SIDE EFFECTS. Titled “Destination Unknown” – see my review here – it showed that Ivan had made progress and the mix of instrumental and sung songs came out better. Previously the sung ones were quite different from the instrumental ones.
The band has played many live shows including shows supporting Paul Gilbert (MR. BIG, RACER X) and Richie Kotzen (POISON, MR. BIG) and headlined the guitar festival Guitar Master in Zagreb.The band has also appeared and played on numerous TV and radio shows (Sala Prove on Rock TV, Garaza on HRT 2, Dobro jutro on HRT 1, Metal Eye on Z1 TV, Rock block on radio KL Eurodom, Glas Hrvatske on radio HR3 and many more…).
And to finish off, some background info on the three members of IVAN MIHALJEVIC & SIDE EFFECTS:
- Alen Frljak teaches drums at Modern Rock Institute in Zagreb and works as a session drummer. With the band INCITER he has played as an opening act for LAMB OF GOD and PARKWAY DRIVE.
- Marko Karacic also plays with great Croatian bands like BIG ROCK, UNDERCODE and IVAN SPELJAK JITZ.
- Ivan Mihaljevic is also a music producer and sings/acts in musical theater. With the band HARD TIME he played Wacken Open Air in 2005, played as an opening act for SCORPIONS, THE CULT and TITO & TARANTULA and toured Europe twice. In November 2008 he played as a guest with the inventor of electric guitar – Les Paul in Iridium Jazz Club on Times Square, New York. Ivan was also producing instructional guitar videos for guitarmasterclass.net and mixer.hr. He is currently working on various projects including a solo project, and he is a full-time member of the historical Croatian hard rock band HARD TIME and the new sensation IVAN MIHALJEVIC & SIDE EFFECTS as well.
Since December 2012, and thus following the pattern of releasing an album every two years, the third album came out, called “Counterclockwise”.
As it is said in the press text: “Counterclockwise” is a concept album which comments on the current state of mind and consciousness of our society and the world. It talks about many situations and feelings people might encounter through their lives. It talks about despondency, about people who disappoint you in ways you’d never expect from them, about dealing with a death of a close friend, about greed and about people dealing with severe depression, but it also shows the light at the end of the tunnel.
The mastering was done by a Grammy award-winning mastering engineer Brad Blackwood (MAROON 5, ZZ TOP, BLACK EYED PEAS, EVANESCENCE, …). The artwork was realized by the artist Robert Butković. The guys decided to fight against the loudness war, which has been destroying dynamics in rock and pop music for the past 2 decades, and go with a more natural sound.
The album begins with “Too Much is Not Enough”, an intro with radio effect. The compositions sounds like a ballad, consists of vocals and guitar. As the sound improves, it nears “Build Your Destiny”, which breaks loose as contact is established. And it rocks! Plus, it sounds so damn catchy, it creates a sort of uplifting feeling. There’s a nice contrast between the verses and chorus, where full enthousiasm is unleashed. Everything is well connected, too, and you can hear the quality musicianship. In addition, this is one positive song, about choosing what you want to do in life, not letting your decisions be guided/influenced by anyone or anything that could bring you down or make you stay inline. In this context, I feel a comparison with e.g. Luca Turilli (RHAPSODY) is not wrong. Also, Alan Watt’s speech about “What if money was no object?” fits perfectly here. You can see/hear the master’s words at this location. About the music, to me it could have used a bit more guitar, especially in the chorus, to give it a bit more bite. The solo is also about feeling the music, not to have a solo per se. Brilliant!
“What Is Underneath” is a song that begins in a musically similar way to the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS’s hit “Under The Bridge”. It’s a kind of Jazzy, clean Rock song that rocks full-on in the chorus. The focus lies again on the guitar, obviously, but the drums don’t follow standard patterns, as the fills demonstrate. The obligatory guitar solo has something Joe Satriani-ish. I also like how all members sing together at the end of the song. The a cappella sounds well done. “Driving Force”is the second longest song on this album, clocking in after 8 and 1/2 minutes. It starts with a clean guitarline, advancing slowly. And little by little the flower opens up, so to speak. The pace is not fast, but this Hard Rock song does sound catchy as well. Contrast is created through the chorus, where full power, volume and speed is unleashed, as well as an increase in melody, to which Ivan’s singing adds a deal. Highlight here is especially the guitar solo with the groovy drumming. Very tasteful! Halfway the band even follows in the footsteps of DREAM THEATER with a clean, Eastern-sounding piece (see “This Dying Soul” by DREAM THEATER). Heavier guitarwork kicks in, giving the music a darker character. Slowly the light at the end of the tunnel comes into sight and so the chorus is due again. Another touching song, also excellent to cruise to, I must say.
“Tic, toc, tic, toc, …”, the intro of “Gilded Cage”. This acoustic track sounds very relaxing. It’s a ballad with full vocal power in the chorus. “Gift Of Life” is brought by the wind. A clean guitar lick sounds, very atmospheric, very similar to SAVATAGE or even METALLICA (see “The Call Of Ktulu” on “Ride The Lightning”, 1984). Midtempo Progressive Rock/Metal breaks loose and again a comparison with DREAM THEATER and alike can be made. The main ingredients are the clean music, in a Jazzy way, with piano accents, and of course the vocals. Full power comes out a little later. Emotional input is set for the chorus. Powerful music backs the wah-wah solo to stress the solo’s purpose. Ivan and co. sure have worked hard on the new songs, that’s without question.
Previously Ivan put a lot of effort in instrumental songs, but so far, he has sung more than before. Hence at least one instrumental song, “Time Travel”. And here I say: Kikou Loureiro (ANGRA). Because the Jazzy/Progressive music sounds very alike. And it’s very well done! A music box is used to introduce “Eclipse”. Midtempo Progressive Hard Rock follows and there is room to let the bass be heard. This is also the longest song on the album, ending after more than 12 minutes. And Progressive music it is. There’s a nice, melodic flow between instrumentality and vocal parts. Like Ivan takes breaks to let the music do the talking. Last, but not least, all ends with a semi-acoustic ballad called “I Am”. Acoustic verses vs electric chorus. But, strangely enough, this song sounds different, production-wise. Why? No idea. Especially the drums are proof of that. The music is more atmospheric.
Long story short: “Counterclockwise” is Ivan’s best album to date. Even if the previous releases contained very good songs, on a whole, considering the album itself, this new one beats the others. The production is very good, very realistic. The song material is also very solid, catchy and ready for multiple rounds of playtime. Sure, a bit more instrumental songs wouldn’t hurt, but as Ivan has improved his singing and has written songs that create a better marriage between singing and music, this suggestion is a bit trivial. My sole point of criticism is that I’ve already posted my Best Of 2012 list. “Counterclockwise” would easily have found a place on it. In any honest case, I can only recommend this album and hope that the band can make a European tour (and finally play in Belgium, as they couldn’t make it for the PPM Fest Battle earlier this month).
- Too Much Is Not Enough
- Build Your Destiny
- What Is Underneath
- Driving Force
- Gilded Cage
- Gift Of Life
- Time Travel
- I Am
Ivan Mihaljevic – vocals, guitar
Marko Karacic – bass, backing vocals
Alen Frljak – drums, backing vocals