Posts Tagged ‘ Power Metal ’

Album of the Week 27-2020: Arakain – Jekyll & Hyde

Now this is how you do a modern metal album! Ever since current singer Honza Toužimský joined Arakain, the band has slowly been moving into a slightly more melodic direction. And with an increasing degree of variation in the tempos, something already hinted at on ‘Adrenalinum’ (2014) and ‘Arakadabra’ (2016), the Czech metal masters seem to have reached the second peak of their career. That is no small feat for a band that has been around since the early eighties. ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ is located on the border triangle of groove metal, thrash metal and modern power metal, with the three sub-genres in near perfect balance.

Arakain was one of Czechoslovakia’s earliest heavy metal bands. On their first two albums, the band’s obvious thrash-metal-days-Metallica influences blended perfectly with them leaning towards slightly more traditional heavy metal at times. As the nineties progressed, the Pantera and Machine Head-isms that many former thrash bands succumbed to took a hold of Arakain as well. Not always with dull results, as the likes of ‘Apage Satanas’ (1998) and ‘Farao’ (1999) still possessed enough variation to be interesting. While groove metal is still present on ‘Jekyll & Hyde’, the album isn’t constantly in midtempo mode and sounds notably more melodic than most of Arakain’s non-ballads.

One thing ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ succeeds at is having an opener that makes you feel excited about the album. ‘Dnes Ještě Ne’ is a nice, driven uptempo song with a fantastic chorus that refuses to leave your head. Toužimský is very effective in letting his remarkably melodic sandpaper vocal cords harmonize with themselves and the thick, heavy, yet uncomplicated riffs of Jiří Urban and Mirek Mach are a rock solid foundation. This heavy, upper mid-tempo riffing with memorable melodic touches formula is repeated, though with different atmospheres, in excellent tracks like ‘To Co Chceš Mít’, ‘Signály’ and ‘Znal Bych Rád’, the latter of which features a brief, but delightful tribute to Kiss’ ‘Detroit Rock City’.

Variation is where ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ succeeds better than most of the albums fronted by Aleš Brichta and Petr Kolář. Often, songs on those earlier albums tended to blend together, whereas ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ has a couple of tracks breaking up the flow quite nicely. The incredibly heavy title track that closes the album, for instance. A slow monster of a track is always a nice contrast to a mostly mid-tempo album and bassist Zdeněk Kub is an expert at writing those. Another great surprise is ‘Sny Dávaji Křídla’, which starts out driven by a riff that would not sound out of place on a Tad Morose album, but suddenly shifts to a slower, atmospheric chorus in 3/4 that greatly enhances the attention span. Still craving something faster? Then give the multi-faceted ‘Hřích’ a shot!

While ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ is not perfect – ‘Jen Vaše Ruce’ is not exactly the most inspired duet they recorded with Czech pop diva Lucie Bílá – it is easily the best Arakain album since the late nineties, possibly their best thus far. I admit that I have a weak spot for veteran bands releasing something so inspired and energetic so late in their careers, but by any measure, ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ is simply a very good contemporary metal album. Only the strict old schoolers who gave up on the band after they started slowing down may find some issues here, but I’d argue that even those will find there are plenty of parallels with 1991’s ‘Schizofrenie’. Highly recommend to fans of the latter day works of Sanctuary and Testament.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dnes Ještě Ne’, ‘To Co Chceš Mít’, ‘Jekyll & Hyde’, ‘Sny Dávaji Křídla’

Album of the Week 25-2020: Takenori Shimoyama – The Power Of Redemption

‘The Power Of Redemption’ is the second solo album Saber Tiger singer Takenori Shimoyama has released in less than six months. It is however, significantly different than ‘Way Of Life’, released in November. While Shimoyama’s raw, impassioned vocals worked surprisingly well with the largely acoustic music on that record, ‘The Power Of Redemption’ is his first metallic solo album. It is full of neoclassically tinged hard rock and power metal in the best possible Rainbow tradition, as is still relatively popular in Japan. The stylistic consistency on the album is admirable, as Shimoyama works with a changing cast of Japanese all-star musicians.

Anyone who thinks Double Dealer is the best band Shimoyama has ever been a part of will likely enjoy the hell out of ‘The Power Of Redemption’. In fact, the track ‘Sun Down’ is only keyboard player Toshiyuki Koike short of being a full reunion of the final Double Dealer line-up. Most of the other musicians and composers Shimoyama works with on the album are from the Rainbow meets Malmsteen school of old school power metal as well, however, with the likes of Galneryus’ keyboard player Yuhki, Cerebellar Rondo guitarist Atsushi Mashiro and Blindman’s Tatsuya Nakamura all contributing material.

However, the most successful partnership here appears to be the one with Yutaro Abe. There is a sense of drama and build-up in ‘Beneath The Wave’ that doesn’t sound miles away from Symphony X, while Saber Tiger drummer Yasuhiro Mizuno and bassist Koichi Terasawa of Blizard and Sly fame are an extraordinarily tight rhythm section. Former Anthem drummer Takamasa Ohuchi appears on the other Abe composition ‘The Last Survivor’ instead of Mizuno, which despite its consistently high energy level features surprisingly subdued vocals by Shimoyama during the verses. The instrumentally dense section before the solo is one of the highlights of the record.

Yutaro Abe’s compositions are hardly the only worthwhile tracks on the album though. ‘Chaos Region’, a composition by Earthshaker guitarist Shinichiro Ishihara, is probably the most pleasant surprise on here due to its more modern sound and somewhat unpredictable structure, while Nakamura’s ‘Grace Of My Heart’ is a classy, elegant hardrocker with an excellent chorus. The best lead guitar work on the album may just be provided by Bow Wow frontman Kyoji Yamamoto on the closing ballad ‘Whisper In The Dark’. The other ballad, ‘Life After Life’, has a bit of a weird, semi-jazzy vibe, but also a fantastic bass solo by Terasawa and a great guitar solo by Atsushi Yokozeki. Once it sinks in, it is quite a nice sequence break from all the shredding.

While not necessarily a surprising album, ‘The Power Of Redemption’ is different enough from Saber Tiger to be a worthy release and it is nice to see Shimoyama embracing his seventies rock inspired heavy metal roots again. He is obviously highly skilled at singing this type of music and the musicians he chose to work with really did a great job bringing out the best in his voice. Anyone yearning for a new Double Dealer record or apprehensive about the new Concerto Moon album should definitely give the album a chance. But really, if you like your metal with plenty of neoclassical guitar runs and great, Dio-esque vocals, you cannot go wrong here.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Last Survivor’, ‘Chaos Region’, ‘Beneath The Wave’

Album of the Week 24-2020: Chaos Over Cosmos – The Ultimate Multiverse

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at Sacred Blade and Othyrworld and stated that many science fiction-themed bands opting for a futuristic sound end up sounding horribly dated. Chaos Over Cosmos, the project of Polish multi-instrumentalist Rafał Bowman, however, manages to strike the perfect balance between nostalgic and contemporary by fusing quite modern-sounding progressive metal with a sci-fi atmosphere that is apparent in both the production and the lyrical themes. Their second album ‘The Ultimate Multiverse’ has a slightly more brutal sound than debut album ‘The Unknown Voyage’ and while I tend to prefer the more melodic stuff, it seems more effective.

Compared to the debut album, the biggest change would be the fact that Australian vocalist Joshua Ratcliff has replaced Javier Calderon, who apparently has a background in extreme metal. There are still clean vocals in the choruses, often doubled in a manner that reminds me of how Florian Magnus Maier sounds in Alkaloid, but the majority consists of growls. Musically, the compositions somewhat reflect the change, but the basic ingredients are still the same: complex, contemporary guitar riffs getting their cinematic atmosphere from their surroundings, which are frequently keyboards reminiscent of the retro synth wave movement, though not quite as dominant.

Referring to Chaos Over Cosmos as progressive metal might be a tad misleading though, as there aren’t many time signature changes and very few, if any Dream Theater-isms. Due to the highly complex and unpredictable nature of Bowman’s compositions, however, I still think it is a more fitting description than power metal. Choruses often pop up from out of nowhere and the time feel is prone to change at moments where one would not expect them to. Despite what such a description might suggest, however, ‘The Ultimate Multiverse’ stubbornly refuses to sound disjointed.

Part of that is the clearly defined concept Bowman has going on. This extends to every part of the album. While I have a strong preference for clean vocals, I love how the grunts are produced here. Ratcliff’s grunts really sound like you’re surrounded by some kind of interstellar vortex. The strongest aspect of ‘The Ultimate Multiverse’ is the guitar work though. Despite being composed and largely recorded by a guitarist, the album is not crammed full with solos and lead guitar parts. Instead, Bowman decided to let the riffs tell the story and the album absolutely benefits from that.

In a way, Chaos Over Cosmos is a project that could really only happen in this day and age, with its two members being on opposite sides of the world and their Bandcamp being their main promotional platform. There are people who claim that such a construction can never provide the experience a band can, but personally, I don’t think it’s all that different from a band with one or two people calling all the shots. Especially not if the core concept is as strong as it is with Chaos Over Cosmos. Definitely worth checking out if you would like to hear a somewhat more streamlined take on modern progressive metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Cascading Darkness’, ‘We Will Not Fall’, ‘Asimov’

Album of the Week 23-2020: Heljareyga – Heljareyga

Heljareyga is the solo project of Týr frontman Heri Joensen. And their first – and so far only – album is in my opinion the greatest thing Joensen ever released. ‘Heljareyga’ contains five songs with a combined running time of 48 minutes, but none of the songs feel like they are around ten minutes long. This is largely caused by the epic, deeply melancholic atmosphere on the album, though Joensen proves that he knows how to build tension and suspense in a composition here. Furthermore, ‘Heljareyga’ is full of excellent riffs that are as melodic as they are powerful and some stellar lead guitar work.

The often heard complaint that Heljareyga is nothing more than Týr with longer songs is in my eyes unfair. Sure, Joensen has an unmistakable voice and some recognizable songwriting touches, but the songs are nowhere near as folky as Týr’s songs in Faroese and far more melancholic than their English-language songs. Nothing here sounds as triumphant as the likes of ‘Hold The Heathen Hammer High’. Instead there is an air of resignation, but not without a powerful, upper mid-tempo thrust. The riffs are generally longer than Týr’s, while guitar solos and lead guitar themes are more central to Heljareyga’s sound.

Despite all of this, Heljareyga is not needlessly complex or even all that progressive. Joensen just allows the riffs a lot more time to unfold. During the title track, for example, the band takes a full two minutes to develop multiple variations of the chorus melody before a single note is even sung. This doesn’t go at the expense of the listenability, because the band discovers all the dynamic possibilities of the riff by taking it from a clean guitar context to a more distorted environment with different time feels in Amon Djurhuus’ drums. Also, having three guitarists (Joensen, John Ivar Venned and Ken Johannesen) allows for seemingly endless layering opportunities.

What ‘Heljareyga’ does emphasize is the problem with stylistic labels. None of the existing metal subgenres is quite fitting for the album. The riffing has most characteristics in common with power metal and traditional heavy metal, especially with the frequent guitar harmonies, but always in the minor key and at a relatively subdued tempo. Atmospherically, Viking metal comes to mind, but the music is far too dynamic and riffy for that particular tag. Ultimately, it should not matter in order to enjoy the music. Give the album a spin to see if you enjoy it. The songs are stylistically similar, but all have their own mood. ‘Regnið’ has probably been chosen as the opener due to its relative accessibility, while the spectacular closer ‘Vetrarbreytin’ is fairly complex.

And if that wasn’t enough, the production on ‘Heljareyga’ is nothing short of fantastic. I would not be surprised if the mixing process of ‘Heljareyga’ took a long time, because each of the guitar layers is exactly where it should be, while I also love the natural, yet powerful sound of the drums. The album has the unfortunate premise of being a solo effort by the frontman of a successful band that doesn’t sound a million miles away from that band, but also nowhere near as close as many people claim. Certainly an impressive work by the Faroese singer/guitarist that should be in the collection of any fan of epic-sounding heavy metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Vetrarbreytin’, ‘Heljareyga’

Album of the Week 22-2020: Othyrworld – Beyond Into The Night Of Day

Othyrworld was the continuation of Canadian sci-fi heavy metal band Sacred Blade. Don’t believe me? Their first – and unfortunately only – album ‘Beyond Into The Night Of Day’ contains nine tracks that could also be found on Sacred Blade’s 1986 debut album ‘Of The Sun + Moon’. While that may render the release pointless to some, that album was actually quite ambitious for its time and I’m not sure if the available technology was able to fulfill main man Jeff Ulmer’s vision at the time. Ulmer definitely took control of ‘Beyond Into The Night Of Day’, as he is only helped by drummer Ted Zawadski.

Musically, Sacred Blade and Othyrworld were pretty much on the more progressive end of the US power metal scale, despite not actually being American. Comparisons to Crimson Glory are often made due to the song structures and sci-fi themes, but those comparisons may also be a tad misleading. Jeff Ulmer’s voice is significantly lower than Midnight’s, for instance, and some of his compositions have a notable psychedelic quality that cannot really be heard anywhere else in the power/prog field. Especially not in the mid-eighties, when the majority of the song material on ‘Beyond Into The Night Of Day’ was first constructed.

What is remarkable about Othyrworld’s music is that it somehow retained its futuristic sound through all these years. The futuristic elements of a lot of sci-fi inspired art from the eighties – be it music, movies or even novels – have become horribly outdated through the years, but ‘Beyond Into The Night Of Day’ sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. Zawadski’s huge, reverberating snare drum hits could be seen as a period piece, but his kit has a very natural sound, making it sound timeless instead. The same goes for Ulmer’s very bright acoustic and surprisingly dry-sounding electric guitars.

‘Beyond Into The Night Of Day’ is best listened to in one sitting. The fact that many tracks segue into each other suggests that it was intended to be experienced as such. It’s quite hard not to be carried away by the spacey atmosphere if you actually feel it. Ulmer isn’t the most powerful singer in the world, but his laid-back tone and multi-tracked harmonies create a rather unique ambience. And even if you’re having trouble adapting to the vocals, the album is full of lengthy instrumental passages. In fact, the last ten minutes of the album – the spectacular ‘Moon’ – are only accompanied by a few spoken stanzas.

Anyone who loved the melodic power/prog metal of the likes of Crimson Glory, Queensrÿche or maybe early Ray Alder-era Fates Warning and doesn’t mind the vocals being a bit lower in pitch should definitely give Sacred Blade and Othyrworld a chance. ‘Of The Sun + Moon’, ‘Fieldz The Sunshrine’ and the relatively straightforward ‘In The Light Of The Moon’ should have been eighties metal classics, while newer material such as ‘Ethereal Skyline’ and ‘The Alginment’ show a truly one-of-a-kind, laid-back blend of eighties prog metal and psychedelic rock that could have opened a lot of new doors for Othyrworld. Unfortunately, both musicians died – Zawadski earlier this year, Ulmer back in 2013 – but they certainly made their presence on Earth count with this release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Moon’, ‘Of The Sun + Moon’, ‘Fieldz The Sunshrine’

Album of the Week 21-2020: Hollow – Between Eternities Of Darkness

Back in the nineties, Sweden had its share of excellent power metal bands that were significantly darker than their German counterparts. But while Morgana Lefay and Tad Morose did manage to build somewhat of a following, there aren’t many people who seem to remember Hollow. Both ‘Modern Cathedral’ and ‘Architect Of The Mind’ were excellent proggy power metal albums in a style comparable to Crimson Glory and early Queensrÿche, with some Nevermore-ish contemporary touches for good measure. The band quietly faded away, but in late 2018, singer/guitarist Andreas Stoltz suddenly returned with ‘Between Eternities Of Darkness’, another excellent power/prog album.

More so than ‘Modern Cathedral’ and ‘Architect Of The Mind’, ‘Between Eternities Of Darkness’ does an admirable job concealing its complexity. There probably would not be a lot of experts willing to label the material progressive, because it’s largely in 4/4 and the album is chock-full of strong melodies. Even when Stoltz plays the verse-chorus structure fairly straight, however, there is often a change in time feel or a variation during repeated sections making the songs far more complex than those of many of Hollow’s peers. Except for maybe Elegy, another sadly forgotten band that Hollow frequently is reminiscent of on ‘Between Eternities Of Darkness’.

The album is really a solo work of Stoltz, as he wrote all the music and performed all the instruments. A drummer is credited in Stalder Zantos, but I’m pretty sure that’s Stoltz himself or it means the drums are programmed; what other duo consists of two people whose names are exact anagrams of each other? But even musically, ‘Between Eternities Of Darkness’ is dominated by Stoltz’s melodic, somewhat intricate riffs and multi-tracked vocals. These vocals – generally high-pitched and emotional – could be a turn-off for some people, but I think they are exactly what the album needed to get its story across.

Oh yeah, there is a story on ‘Between Eternities Of Darkness’, about a family on the run from their past, only to see the kid go down the wrong path anyway. Since Stoltz’s vocals are so upfront, it’s hard to zone out, but I do think he does a great job giving the story a certain gravitas. The saddest moments have bright-sounding acoustic guitars as a basis (‘Shadow World’, ‘Say Farewell’), while the compositions and arrangements get a little more dense during the tenser moments (‘Down’, ‘The Road I’m On’), though always with a highly memorable chorus. Hollow is still best when they combine both extremes. The contrasts in ‘Fate Of The Jester’ open the song up beautifully during its chorus, for example, while ‘Death Of Her Dream’ brilliantly balances melancholy and turbulence.

Returns of bands that never had a large audience to begin with always make me less suspicious than reunions of those who do and ‘Between Eternities Of Darkness’ is a great example of why I think that way. Stoltz obviously recorded this album because he had something to say that he couldn’t express with Binary Creed. In addition, it’s admirable how he created this thing on his own without it sounding like an ego fest. While he proves to have immense skills as both a singer and a guitarist, the melodies are clearly what defines ‘Between Eternities Of Darkness’. Fans of any band mentioned in this review should definitely check this out.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fate Of The Jester’, ‘Down’, ‘Death Of Her Dream’, ‘The Road I’m On’

Album of the Week 19-2020: Stormlord – Far

Maybe I should just start a series of these. Since ‘Hesperia’ didn’t really do anything for me, I initially didn’t pay much attention to Stormlord’s sixth album ‘Far’. Big mistake. ‘Far’ rivals ‘Mare Nostrum’ as the Italians’ best album and is undoubtedly the next step in their evolution from extreme to epic heavy metal. As this transition is so gradual, I doubt if the album would alineate many Stormlord fans, but they may just gain a couple that would usually stay away from extreme metal as a whole. That is the mark of a good band that doesn’t neatly fit any existing categories.

Stylistically, Stormlord has never sounded this close to actual epic heavy metal. Not that they sound anything like Manilla Road or the likes, as the seven-string guitars, David Folchitto’s occasional blastbeats and Cristiano Borchi’s extremely harsh vocal performance keeps the music firmly in a contemporary idiom. But the grand, sweeping orchestrations and the heroic guitar melodies give Stormlord more depth than bands with similar origins. Also, ‘Far’ contains significantly more clean male vocals than any of the band’s earlier works. Initially, I was disappointed that the fantastic deep, gothic voice of guitarist Gianpaolo Caprino was once again severely underutilized, but Marco Palazzi’s semi-operatic guest vocals certainly increase the epic nature of the overall sound.

For those who fear that Stormlord has lost its edge: don’t. While many bands that fit the aforementioned description have the guitars drowned out by the orchestrations, Stormlord is still very much a guitar-driven band on ‘Far’. Keyboard player Riccardo Studer is omnipresent, he even co-mixed the album, but his lush orchestrations primarily take on a supportive role behind the guitars. Even his two solo compositions, ‘Sherden’ and ‘Invictus’, aren’t vehicles for his skills. The former is carried by keyboards melodically, but is also heavy and forceful, while the latter may actually be the perfect song for old school Stormlord fans to start with.

While metal albums of the more epic variety tend to be best listened to in one sitting, ‘Far’ does have its share of stand-out tracks. ‘Crimson’ was an immediate favorite due to its remarkably blunt, aggressive riffing and rhythms, although it does feature some compositional sophistication later on. ‘Mediterranea’ has a brilliant structure that gives its riffs room to breathe, while also featuring Caprino’s vocals prominently, while the almost tranquil opening of the title track has something of a ‘Twilight Of The Gods’-era Bathory feel. ‘Vacuna’ and the somewhat more open ‘Levante’ are an excellent finale. ‘Cimmeria’ is a more ambitious, almost proggy track and definitely one of the crowning achievements of ‘Far’.

So yes, while I would have preferred an album that Gianpaolo Caprino had a more prominent vocal role on, ‘Far’ leaves nothing to be desired stylistically and compositionally. The album shows a band refusing to stand still and make the same album twice in a row. And although that is admirable, I do hope the next Stormlord album has more than a bit in common with ‘Far’ in terms of its compositional approach. The niche that the Italian sextet found for itself suits them perfectly. ‘Far’ is at the very least on par with their previous masterpiece ‘Mare Nostrum’, but it may just be a hair better.

Recommended tracks: ‘Crimson’, ‘Cimmeria’, ‘Mediterranea’, ‘Far’

Album of the Week 18-2020: Morgana Lefay – The Secret Doctrine

Possibly topping my list of metal bands that never got the recognition they deserved because the nineties happened is Morgana Lefay. Being mislabelled is part of the problem, as the Swedes were always lumped in with their country’s power metal scene, which doesn’t do them any justice. Morgana Lefay’s music was always darker, generally slower and much more contemporary than that of their peers. Also, Charles Rytkönen is one of the most amazingly expressive lead singers in metal history. While the band would get even better, ‘The Secret Doctrine’ proves they had most of their strengths figured out early in their career.

In a way, I understand the mislabelling issue. Morgana Lefay isn’t the easiest band to categorize. There are vague similarities to Crimson Glory and ‘Into The Mirror Black’-era Sanctuary, but Morgana Lefay isn’t quite as proggy. The riffs of Tony Eriksson and Tommi Karppanen are significantly heavier as well, which combined with the moderate, almost doomy tempos of most of their material makes the music feel like a bit of precursor to the later groove/thrash trend. Those bands never had the degree of theatricality the Swedes have though, with Rytkönen’s clean, but raw vocals often drawing somewhat justified comparisons to Savatage’s Jon Oliva.

Whatever this type of metal is called, however, it’s excellent.  Eriksson and Karpannen kick in your teeth with their thick riffs, which despite their obvious thrash influence get quite a great deal of their power from the slow tempos. Their palm mutes are incredibly punchy, but they don’t overpower the mix. Because of these subdued tempos, the somewhat faster tracks like ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Dying Evolution’ immediately feel like ripping thrashers without interrupting the overal bleak atmosphere. Elsewhere, the steep contrast between bright-sounding acoustic guitars and crushing heaviness justifies the “power” in power ballads ‘The Mirror’, ‘Alley Of Oaks’ and ‘Last Rites’.

Another reason why ‘The Secret Doctrine’ is the best early Morgana Lefay record is the relative lack of filler. Sure, ‘Last Rites’ and the title track are remakes from their (extremely limitedly distributed) debut album ‘Symphony Of The Damned’, but they fit the overall atmosphere here. Only the juvenile ‘State Of Intoxication’ is a bit shallow, but that is abundantly compensated for by excellent mid-tempo crushers like ‘Rooms Of Sleep’, ‘Nowhere Island’, ‘What Am I’, ‘Cold World’ and the vaguely oriental-sounding ‘Soldiers Of The Holy Empire’. Even the unimaginatively-titled ‘Lord Of The Rings’, which literally quotes the opening poem of ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’, is a surprisingly entertaining stomper.

Though ‘The Sacred Doctrine’ is not quite as good as the band’s 2004 masterpiece ‘Grand Materia’, it is an early highlight in Morgana Lefay’s discography and without a doubt the best album to pick up if you want to know more about the origins of the Swedish band. Ulf Petersson’s (and the band’s) production is a clear product of the early nineties, but not unlike Scott Burns’ Morrisound productions, I actually think that works in the music’s favor. It gives the guitars a claustrophobic, pulsating feel that fits Morgana Lefay’s downtuned riffing perfectly. If you like your metal darker and more aggressive than the average European power metal band without sacrificing any of the theatricality, there are hardly any better options than Morgana Lefay.

Recommended tracks: ‘Rooms Of Sleep’, ‘The Mirror’, ‘Dying Evolution’, ‘What Am I’

Album of the Week 16-2020: Accept – The Rise Of Chaos

Despite liking the Mark Tornillo-fronted era of Accept, ‘The Rise Of Chaos’ kind of passed me by initially. Looking back, the inconsistency of its predecessor ‘Blind Rage’ combined with the promise of a somewhat more straightforward album and a few bouts of extreme lyrical simplicity in the preview tracks probably contributed to that. That was clearly a mistake. First of all, complexity was never Accept’s forte and while I love ‘Stalingrad: Brothers In Death’ for its melodic depth, ultimately one just wants to hear Accept pound out ballsy, effective heavy metal. As such, ‘The Rise Of Chaos’ is a triumph.

Most of the adjecives associated with Accept – solid, dependable, workmanlike – can be interpreted as both positive and negative. ‘The Rise Of Chaos’ will not do much to change whichever interpretation you adhere to. Musically, this is exactly what one would expect: simple, powerful riffs, raw lead vocals, gang chants, Wolf Hoffmann’s classically-inspired guitar solos… Just like Accept always has been. The album is distinguished by its atmosphere, however. It’s not defiant and euphoric like ‘Stalingrad’, neither is it quite as melancholic and dynamic as ‘Blind Rage’. Instead, there is an undercurrent of disillusionment and nostalgia running through most of the songs.

This does not mean Accept has gone all reflective on ‘The Rise Of Chaos’. The main mission of the band is clearly to still churn out a bunch of fist-pumpers that are easy to sing along. It just means that even the simplest tracks are not quite the party anthems that the likes of ‘Balls To The Wall’ were. The social observations in the lyrics generally have the depth of a puddle, but there is a larger number of outright minor key guitar riffs this time around to greatly enhance that atmosphere. Even while you’re shouting along the title of opening track ‘Die By The Sword’.

It helps that Accept has Mark Tornillo singing these days. He has the same shrieky approach as Udo Dirkschneider, but he is better able to carry an actual melody. His voice truly gives songs like ‘Worlds Colliding’, closing track ‘Race To Extinction’ and pensive album highlight ‘Koolaid’ an extra shot of emotional depth. The latter fits alongside lower-key, more melodic latter day Accept songs like ‘Shadow Soldiers’ and ‘The Curse’ nicely. Those who prefer to hear Accept in their simple, pounding glory need not worry: the likes of ‘No Regrets’, ‘What’s Done Is Done’ and the aforementioned ‘Die By The Sword’ should still be more than satisfactory.

Even though it is subtle, the greater degree of melodic sophistication really make ‘The Rise Of Chaos’ a more worthwhile album than ‘Blind Rage’, which was an album of highlights rather than an album with a pleasant, continuous flow. Only the cringeworthy lyrics of the somewhat too straightforward ‘Analog Man’ make me reach for the skip button at times, but as a whole, ‘The Rise Of Chaos’ is an excellent latter day Accept record. There are not many classic metal bands that release material that is at least on par with their heyday material these days, but Accept is one of the best examples of how to do it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Koolaid’, ‘No Regrets’, ‘Race To Extinction’, ‘Die By The Sword’

Tools for Discovery: Aria albums ranked

Yesterday, I informed you about the release of the Aria documentary ‘Behind The Shadow Kingdom‘. This documentary serves as an excellent introduction to the band’s material, but those of you who can’t read Russian, but still would like to dig deeper into the band’s material, may want some help. In the near future, I will publish a show & tell list of my favorite songs, but let’s start with ranking their albums. I am by no means an expert, but I love the band and have been following for a while and these are all of Aria’s album in what I consider least to most enjoyable. I consciously went for that choice of words, as “worst to best” would suggest a great difference in quality, while I think most of these are very well worth your time.

Interestingly, at the time I started writing this article, I had no idea what the outcome would be myself. My number one was a surprise even to myself until the list was finished. The simple fact is that Aria has a ridiculously consistent discography and most of these albums are worth owning if you are a fan of traditional heavy metal. And if you need a sample on an album that strikes you as interesting, each of them – except for the Artur Berkut-fronted albums – are available through platforms like iTunes and Spotify.

There are no strict rules for this list, except that it’s studio albums only and I try to include a limited number of songs as recommendations. Especially the higher ranking titles could really have most of their songs listed. Or all, in case of the number 1…

13. S Kem Ti? (1986)

Since Alik Granovsky and Andrey Bolshakov wrote all the material on ‘S Kem Ti?’, it would be tempting to say that Aria’s sophomore album is practically Master’s first album. At the time, however, both Aria and Master could do better than this. ‘S Kem Ti?’ is melodically lacking. ‘Volya I Razum’ and ‘Zdes’ Kuyut Metall’ became classics of the early Russian metal scene, but they also both could have a minute trimmed off the end. There are some cool songs on ‘S Kem Ti?’, but overall the album somehow shows Aria more confused about their identity than on the debut album. Ultimately the best thing about ‘S Kem Ti?’ is its cover.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ikar’, ‘Vstan’, Strah Preodoley’

12. Generator Zla (1998)

‘Generator Zla’ is a frustrating album. Again, it is a below average Aria album with an awesome cover, but contrary to ‘S Kem Ti?’, ‘Generator Zla’ does have a few songs that rank among Aria’s best. The particularly Maiden-esque ‘Obman’ has rightfully become a live staple for the band, ‘Smotri!’ is an enjoyable opener and I love the dirty hardrock grind of ‘Gryaz’. It’s just that many of the songs here have good moments rather than being great all the way through. Also, mildly altering the track order may have fixed some of the sequencing issues the album has. None of the last three tracks is bad by any means, but they could really have used being broken up by one or two more traditional metal tracks.

Recommended tracks: ‘Obman’, ‘Grayz’, ‘Smotri!’

11. Armageddon (2006)

‘Amageddon’ is without a doubt the most modern-sounding Aria album to date. The album has a distinct contemporary power metal vibe, including the appropriate production, and while the band manages that style quite well, they also sacrifice a bit of their identity in the process. It is a very consistent album, which is admirable, but also in the sense that much of it goes by in a bit of a blur. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to enjoy here. Especially the first half of the album has a bunch of songs with excellent melodies, ‘Krov’ Koroley’ is a classic Iron Maiden-styled epic and closer ‘Tvoy Dyen’, Artur Berkut’s sole songwriting contribution to Aria’s discography, is a refreshing melodic hardrock track.

Recommended tracks: ‘Strazh Imperii’, ‘Krov’ Koroley’, ‘Pozledniy Zakat’

10. Maniya Velichiya (1985)

Back when Aria debuted, there wasn’t really much of a Soviet metal scene to speak of or any template to follow. As a result, there is a freedom and spontaneity to ‘Maniya Velichiya’ that none of their other albums have. Vladimir Holstinin and Alik Granovsky just wrote what they thought was good. The drawback would be that ‘Maniya Velichiya’ lacks consistency, but even that is not much of a problem here. Aria had a great singer, a great guitarist and a bunch of interesting songs. ‘Torero’ is so good that it hurts. Although Aria was still in search of the identity that fit them best here, ‘Maniya Velichiya’ does an excellent job introducing Aria, though it does run out of steam a bit during the second half.

Recommended tracks: ‘Torero’, ‘Bivny Chërnih Skal’, ‘Eto Rok’

9. Kresheniye Ognëm (2003)

With a largely new line-up in place – only founding guitarist Vladimir Holstinin and bassist Vitaly Dubinin remained – ‘Kresheniye Ognëm’ is something of a second debut album for Aria – or third, if you count ‘Geroy Asfalta’ as the second. It has many of the same strengths and flaws as ‘Maniya Velichiya’ as well. ‘Kreseniye Ognëm’ is quite likely the most frontloaded album in Aria history. It starts out with a bunch of excellent songs that really support the legitimacy of an Aria without their legendary singer Valery Kipelov. It just fails to maintain momentum during the second half of the record. The album is somewhat underproduced to a fault as well. Artur Berkut is often described as the band’s worst singer and while he certainly is less impressive than the singers who preceded and followed him, he does a more than admirable job here. He sounds powerful and convincing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Kolizey’, ‘Kresheniye Ognëm’, ‘Patriot’

8. Himera (2001)

Often singled out as the album on which Aria started to fall apart, as no less than three members would depart the band after its release, ‘Himera’ is actually much better than the circumstances would suggest. It does suffer from some consistency issues, but when ‘Himera’ is good, it is excellent. I used to think that the ballads far outshone the more metallic tracks on the album – and, truth be told, ‘Oskolok L’da’ and especially ‘Shtil’ are simply excellent – the harder material grew on me significantly. ‘Goryachaya Strela’ and the title tracks are fantastic heavy metal songs that I always liked, but recently, I have also really come to like the powerful melodic rocker ‘Put’ V Nikuda’ and the majestic epic ‘Tebye Dadut Znak’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Goryachaya Strela’, ‘Tebye Dadut Znak, ‘Shtil’

7. Noch’ Koroche Dnya (1995)

Created in a time of inner turmoil, with both guitarist Sergey Mavrin and singer Valery Kipelov leaving the band – though the latter would return before the album was recorded – it is something of a miracle that ‘Noch Koroche Dnya’ came out as well as it did. While it lacks the consistency of the three classics that preceded it, the highlights are every bit as good. ‘Angelskaya Pil’ is one of the best power ballads Aria ever recorded, ‘Duh Voyni’ and the title track are classic Aria in all their Maiden-esque glory, ‘Rabstvo Illusiy’ is one of my favorite Aria openers and ‘Korol’ Dorogi’ is an energetic masterpiece. That cover is an eyesore though.

Recommended tracks: ‘Korol’ Dorogi’, ‘Duh Voyni’, ‘Angelskaya Pil’, ‘Robstvo Illusiy’

6. Proklyatiye Morey (2018)

To be fair, an album that starts with an opening track as mind-blowing as ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’ could be totally uninspired otherwise and still manage to make a positive impression. Fortunately, there are many more good tracks on ‘Proklyatiye Morey’. The mix of long progressive tracks and shorter, punchier songs is in many ways reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s latter-day work, though it has to be said that Aria consists of less formulaic songwriters. Speaking of songwriting, Sergey Popov continues to prove himself a valuable addition to the songwriting team, having written several of the album’s highlights. ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is slightly less consistent than the other Mikhail Zhitnyakov-fronted albums, but much better than any band in this stage of its career could wish to be.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, ‘Ot Zakata Do Rassveta’, ‘Zhivoy’, ‘Ubit’ Drakona’

5. Igra S Ognëm (1989)

Out of all the classic Aria albums, ‘Igra S Ognëm’ is the darkest-sounding. Apart from the slighly too upbeat closer ‘Day Zharu’, all the songs on ‘Igra S Ognëm’ have a disillusioned, at times even melancholic feel. It also has the largest number of songs of which I constantly forget how great they are, possibly due to the fact that the album is often relatively poorly represented on the band’s setlists. The nine-minute title track is a masterpiece and ‘Raskachayem Etot Mir’ a crowd pleaser, but the aggressive defiance of the likes of ‘Boy Prodolzhayetsya’ and opener ‘Chto Vi Sdelali S Vashey Mechtoy’ should not be forgotten either, just like the hopeful, yet still fairly melancholic ‘Rab Straha’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Boy Prodolzhayetsya’, ‘Igra S Ognëm’, ‘Chto Vi Sdelali S Vashey Mechtoy’, ‘Rab Straha’

4. Krov’ Za Krov’ (1991)

‘Krov’ Za Krov” is one of those Aria albums on which just about every song became a classic. It is bookended by two of the greatest songs Aria ever released, but there is more than enough to enjoy in the intervening thirty minutes. The darkness of ‘Antichrist’ is quite unusual among Aria’s discography, but it works exceptionally well. And though Valery Kipelov refused to perform the song live due to a combination of his christian beliefs and fans misinterpreting the message of the song, it is one of his best recorded performances to date. The title track is another great epic, though it falls somewhat short compared to ‘Igra S Ognëm’, while ‘Ne Hochesh’ – Ne Ver’ Mne’ is one of the hidden gems in the band’s repertoire.

Recommended tracks: ‘Proshay, Norfolk!’, ‘Sleduy Za Mnoy!’, ‘Ne Hochesh’ – Ne Ver’ Mne’

3. Cheryez Vse Vremena (2014)

If the first Mikhail Zhitnyakov-fronted album rekindled Aria’s fire, its follow-up stokes it even further. On ‘Cheryez Vse Vremena’, Aria sounds more confident and energetic than ever. And they’re not exactly shy about it either, as the title track is one of the most propulsive opening tracks the band ever had. The whole album manages to retain the traditional metal feel that has basically become synonymous with Aria, but also sounds relevant and contemporary in the 21st century. Sergey Popov really establishes himself as a reliable songwriter on this record, having written three songs, including ‘Gorod’, a top three Aria song for yours truly. There is undeniable chemistry between the current members of Aria and that propels ‘Cheryez Vse Vremena’ into greatness.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gorod’, ‘Cheryez Vse Vremena’, ‘Angeli Nyeba’

2. Feniks (2011)

All obvious references to the titular character aside, ‘Feniks’ does really mark a triumphant return to form for Aria. It takes the contemporary productional approach of its predecessor ‘Armageddon’ and injects that into the traditional heavy metal compositions Aria is known for. Vitaly Dubinin really worked his ass off to make ‘Feniks’ count and it works. It has some of the greatest Aria songs to date and a singer that can carry them. After all, ‘Feniks’ was current singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov’s debut with Aria and his power, range and theatrical delivery immediately made him my favorite Aria singer. All the powerful riffs and guitar harmonies you could ever want are in these expertly crafted songs.

Recommended tracks: ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, ‘Chërny Kvadrat’, ‘Dalniy Svet’

1. Geroy Asfalta (1987)

By today’s standards, ‘Geroy Asfalta’ would qualify as an EP, with its six songs and barely half an hour of run time. Its brevity works in its favor, however. ‘Geroy Asfalta’ is truly one of those “all killer, no filler” affairs. I could spend ages signifying its importance for the Soviet metal scene, but the most important fact is that ‘Geroy Asfalta’ is an expertly written and performed heavy metal album. Bassist Vitaly Dubinin debuts on the album and immediately leaves his mark on the songwriting department. That also means that the Iron Maiden influence is dialed way up, but I also think the accusations of plagiarism are largely exaggerated – save for maybe the solo section of ‘Na Sluzhbe Sili Zla’. ‘Geroy Asfalta’ was the deserved breakthrough for Aria and still ranks as their most influential album.

Recommended tracks: ‘1100’, ‘Ballada O Drevnerusskom Voine’, ‘Mërtvaya Zona’