This extremely compact and delightful EP is an exception to the rule of thumb that when a band that did great in the 80s revives that they never quite have the magic that was there originally. Although it lacks the extremely large sounding production of the full length albums that followed soon after, it definitely foreshadows the eventual melding of their original traditional Metal sound with the faster and more atmospherically driven Power Metal style that was really beginning to blossom by 1999.
The most obvious influences that come into play when the atmospheric synthesizer prelude leaves and “The Legend” enters are JUDAS PRIEST and IRON MAIDEN. Being a song paying tribute to their recently deceased former vocalist, it has the melodic and atmospheric qualities of the former’s late 80s material, but the mid tempo pacing and Epic trappings of the latter. The principle riff has this sort of steady gallop to it that doesn’t quite travel as fast as say, “The Trooper”, but more like a non-Middle Eastern version of “Powerslave” with a lot more detailing and a vocal performance as gravely as Udo Dirkschneider on his best day, but all tempered with a mellow sounding keyboard backdrop.
As things progress onward, the Epic qualities drop back a little to give way for something a little catchier and riff happy. “Heart Of Fire” brilliantly melds the up beat and methodical riffing of ACCEPT with this driving middle section that goes through those rapid guitar solo tradeoffs that you’d normally expect out of HELLOWEEN circa 1985. “Princess Of The Rising Sun” carries a similar up beat quality to the previous song, but with an elaborate riff set that is more melodic than driving. Picture a song molded after “Breaking The Law”, but with a sense of somber storytelling rather than an anthem of angst and rebellion.
While all of this is definitely enjoyable to the ear of any fan of more guitar oriented Power Metal, the best song on here is the last one. “Howlers Of Insanity” definitely takes its cues from late 80s SABBATH, be it the down tempo beat, the Iommi tinged principle riff, or the keyboard ambience that literally sounds like Geoff Nichols doing session work. Songs just like this one made both “Headless Cross” and “Tyr” amazing albums, and even the lead guitar tracks sound heavily influenced by Iommi. The only thing that keeps this from being an all out SABBATH worship work is Joe Amore’s vocals, which sound nothing like any vocalist who ever worked in said band, but still a voice that works very well in this sort of traditional Doom Metal work.
Fans of the classic album “Cosmovision” and people who followed the band during their tenure in the 80s will like this, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. It definitely puts just as much emphasis on intricate riffing as it does on melody, whereas most others at this time tended to focus a little more on the latter, rather than the former. It’s short, it’s sweet, and unfortunately it is not an album that is widely talked about in comparison to the band’s other releases. Although this is to be expected with a band that has been as consistently good as these guys have been, it is also something that ought to be remedied sooner rather than later.
(Online December 11, 2008)