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While mid-'80s metal still bows to the neo-punk/rage of today's music, three new releases test the waters for the future. While a couple of new bands (one with a well-known leader), Victor and Para-dise Lost, seek new territories in the guitar-based grind, while veteran Great White tries its bite on a live release.

- VICTOR features a memorable sound of its own, a hybrid of modern metal and classic rock that's quite dynamic. Headed by Alex Life-son, Rush's guitarist for two decades, Victor is an effective modern/album rock crossover creation that kicks out roaring licks and grinding grit.Opening with the angry "Don't Care" and closing with the mellow funk rhythm of "I Am the Spirit," this debut weaves lines of aggressiveness and articulate instrumentality that reflect somewhat the music of this day and age, not the past.

Though there is a nod to the Led Zeppelin blast fest "Four Sticks" with "Start Today," which features Canadian vocalist/songwriter Dalbello (who sounds a lot like Rush vocalist Geddy Lee) and the Who's "Who Are You" with a techno interlude in "Mr. X," the band tries to stay on the tip of the modern sound.

Rush fans might be taken aback at the way Lifeson approaches his arrangements. The songs were written mainly by Lifeson - who hasn't penned anything since "Making Memories," which appeared on Rush's second album, "Fly By Night," more than 20 years ago. And all deal with the darker side of love (obsession and anger).

Still, guitar fans shouldn't worry. A tongue-on-strings Joe Satriani-like instrumental piece, "Shut Up Shuttin' Up," featuring Lifeson's wife Charlene, also spotlights the guitarman's trademark jams, and "Strip and Go Naked" takes a break from the gloss with a backwoodsy slide blues jam.

This is not Rush, but a creative offshoot. And fans shouldn't fret: Rush will be back sometime later this year.

- GREAT WHITE emerged during the '80s metal ride. The band then turned more to the blues, and thanks to Jack Russell's screeching vocals, Great White took a spot in the Led Zeppelin soundalike brigade that also featured White-snake, Kingdom Come and even, gulp, Steelheart. With an eerie, note-for-note rasping take on Zep's "Babe (I'm Gonna Leave You)" on MTV's "Unplugged," Great White took the Led balloon by the nose as became one of the influential bands heartiest imitators.

Great White's new live album is a little bittersweet. Consisting of two separate concerts - one in the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, Calif., in 1993, the other at the House of Blues in Los Angeles in 1994 - the album fails to expand on the band's dynamic capabilities.

Hits such as the calypsoish "Sail Away," the bluesy "House of Broken Love" and the shuffle slide of "Rock Me" are all here, with the final track being a rowdy rendition of the band's Top 10 single "Once Bitten, Twice Shy."

Blues and acoustic jams are the ruling factor here ("Congo Square" and "Afterglow"). Otherwise, as far as jamming rockers go, there isn't a lot to chose from.

"Can't Shake It" is the only straight-on rocker here. Conspicuously missing is the FM radio track "Lady Red Light" and the favorite "Big Goodbye."

Furthermore, those who like piano-laden ballads will also be disappointed. "Angel Song" and "Love Is a Lie" are nowhere to be heard. Even the hit "Save Your Love" is probably on the cutting room floor. That's quite a downer for Great White's last release as a band.

- PARADISE LOST's "Draconian Times" is elegantly moody. Opening with dark, classically inspired piano and erupting into a sinister guitar jam on "Enchantment," the band's sound brings to mind Metallica/Killing Joke vocals and Type O Negative and Ozzy Osbourne arrangements, with Queensryche and Savatage themes.

As a result, the album's sound is big and fresh. Though it won't appeal to many modern rock fans, gothic lovers will relish the brooding impact and metal lovers will embrace the guitar riffs - even if they do sound a little over-produced at times.

Motivational despair ("Forever Failure"), recurring frustration ("Once Solemn") and insanity ("Shadowkings") are just a few of the themes that run through the album.

RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.