Astral Doors - Worship Or Die - (8.5/10)
Published on June 13, 2019
It is stipulated that without innovation, metal and all that it stands for would wither and die, yet most of the great music that it gives us all comes largely in the form of bands that spend more time affirming past accomplishments and only occasionally bringing something completely new to the table. Astral Doors is one of those bands that has raised the concept of repackaging the glory of the past into something in line with present practices to an art form. They’ve been at the business of answer the question of “What would Dio do?” since they first entered the fray at the tail end of the power metal revival in 2002, and the answer given dovetails fairly closely with something that Dio would have been fairly open to attempting, namely blending the European heavy/power metal sound of the post-millennial period with the sound of Dio’s high period in the mid-1980s. Their chief draw has always been the highly distinctive and Dio-like vocal persona of Nils Patrik Johansson, who has since become a highly sought after voice in power metal circles, and their latest offering Worship Or Die puts that same best foot forward while reaffirming what this band has always been about in predictable fashion.
Naturally from one album to the next there will be some degree of variation, and this time around the pendulum has shifted towards more catchy, moderate length anthems with a fanfare chorus emphasis that comes off as a bit less intense and dark than Notes From The Shadows, but otherwise resembles said album the most in terms of structure. This is obviously in opposition to the somewhat more epic and nuanced character of their previous outing Black Eyed Children, functioning more as a Last In Line to said album’s Dream Evil. The field is largely dominated by more mid-paced and catchy anthems in the vein of mid-80s Dio classics such as “Evil Eyes” and “Breathless”, as observed in infectious bangers like “Concrete Heart”, “Night Of The Hunter” and “Ride The Clouds”. Things actually veer into Sacred Heart territory for a bit with the keyboard-driven romp “Let The Fire Burn”, which is something of an unusual twist for this band’s generally heavier emphasis on cars and greater reliance on Deep Purple-oriented rock organ sounds from the keys. Likewise, the lone speed metal foray “Triumph And Superiority” shows some affinity for “I Speed At Night”, but also comes with some “Kill The King” inspired moments mixed in with a Helloween sense of fanfare chorus work.
All this being said, Astral Doors doesn’t outright eschew the epic demeanor of their last outing for this album’s entire duration, yet the way their longer songs work here is notably of a less haunting and more straight up melancholy character. The serene mix of clean guitar lines and harmonized leads followed by a mid-paced trudge that is “Light At The End Of The Tunnel” shows a strong commonality with “Children Of The Sea”, painted over with a European power metal sense of chorus work. The somewhat darker “Marathon” veers the closest to the haunting chills of “Black Eyed Children”, albeit of a slightly swifter galloping character once the quiet intro segues into the heavier body of the song. And though it isn’t a necessarily long song, the closer “Forgive Me Father” presents a woeful, doom-oriented take on heavy metal balladry that mirrors elements of the last album while also listening the closest to an overt throwback to the 80s era. Then again, the generally colossal character of “St. Petersburg”, which leans pretty heavy on the “Heaven And Hell” emulation, proves to be the show-stealing moment of this album, so it may well be that old tricks are always the best ones.
To anyone who has been a consistent fan of this band for any duration since 2002, this plays things about as close to home as one can without outright self-plagiarizing previous albums. There are a few moments that may shine a bit brighter this time relative to the last couple offerings depending on how much epic songwriting versus straightforward rocking one prefers, but it’s a pretty safe bet that liking one Astral Doors album means liking them all. They live and die by the quality of their performance more so than any innovative quirks in their songwriting, and it’ll likely be a cold day in hell before Nils has an off day at the microphone. The rest of the band are obviously no slouches and the riff work is nothing to be scoffed at, but one area where this band has differed a bit from their object of emulation is that there isn’t an emergent second star to function as a foil for Johansson the way Vivian Campbell, Craig Goldie and Doug Aldrich did on their respective work with the king of rock ‘n’ roll. There are no slouches to speak of, and there are a few moments of technical brilliance, but overall this band is a well oiled machine that features instrumentalists providing the backdrop for a stellar voice, and it continues to work for them nine albums into their career with no bumps in the road to speak of.