With “To Live Forever”, TAROT began a trilogy of albums that would veer to and fro in style and quality, only approaching undoubted excellence at the end of the trilogy with “For The Glory Of Nothing”. But that is another story. In 1993, the ballsy, traditional Heavy Metal exemplified on “Follow Me Into Madness” was five years in the past, and Metal was having a bad time. Iron Maiden were firmly ensconced in a batch of sub-standard releases, Death Metal was already being rudely de-hymenated by modern frippery, and Gothenburg was rising. Not that there wasn't some great stuff about (MEGADETH and VADER were looking pretty damned good around about this point in time, for example), but traditional Metal seemed to be losing out to Power Metal, Thrash and Gothic Metal.
So anyway, the brothers Hietala and their merry Finns rebooted the leathery cadaver of their '80s output and recorded “To Live Forever”. Janne Tolsa, a future component of ETERNAL TEARS' OF SORROW's symphonic stylings, provides shrill synthesized orchestrations across the album that boost its already flamboyant sound. Marco Hietala is an almost constant vocal presence and dominates the record, to the detriment of his band members and especially Zachary's premier guitar playing abilities.
“The Colour Of Your Blood” is a strong enough track, but showing an emphasis on catchy vocal lines and a groove-based sound, meaning that Zachary Hietala is relegated to playing rather simplistic, chugging riffs and only comes into his own during the solo. Standard procedure for the rest of the album. Then the real problem with this album becomes apparent. It's a bit boring. “The Invisible Hand” would need about two minutes subtracted from its length to make it even a passable filler, but at over six minutes it is definite skipping fodder.
The bulk of the album continues in this fashion. Although it has some decent, Born Again era Iommi-like riffs and top-notch drumming, “The Chosen” does not justify an eight-minute length, mainly due to the fact Marco sings in the same style as the rest of the album. A more restrained approach like on “Shadow In My Heart” could have helped make this the doomy, imposing triumph it so sorely wants to be. On “Live Hard Die Hard”, a decent riff from Zachary is squandered by a repetitive performance from Marco. With “Tears Of Steel”, it takes nearly three minutes before we get to some actual proper nice riffs. The second half of the song owns, but like everything here it all just needs something more, more focus, and better structuring.
At nearly eighty minutes in length, the album is too damn long as a whole. Very rarely could you sit through the whole thing without a couple of yawns escaping. Not that there isn't a lot going on, but they would have done well to develop a few of their new ideas rather than chucking in everything they could think of and ending up with a fourteen-track blowout. Cut down to a nine track album (that is, removing over a third) and opening with the brilliant, neck-destroying “Sunken Graves” (sounding like a more evil rendition of PRIEST's “Leather Rebel”) we would have something here.
So, good bits. There is just about enough quality stuff here to keep you listening to the album through. Apart from “Sunken Graves”, “Born Into The Flame” is decent hard rock, “My Enslaver” is a pretty good track, while the more carefully constructed Heavy Metal epic “Iron Stars” and the PINK FLOYD-inspired “Guardian Angel” end the album on actually quite a strong note. It is ambition that this record suffers for. This was TAROT's attempt at an epic, an all-out long-ass Metal masterpiece. Unfortunately there simply isn't enough really quality material to make it happen for the boys. With this tracklist:
“Born Into The Flame”
“The Colour Of Your Blood”
maybe about four minutes of “The Chosen”
“In My Blood”
the last two minutes of “Tears Of Steel”
“Iron Stars”, which actually merits its seven minutes length
probably, I dunno, five minutes of “Guardian Angel”
...I would really be able to smell what they were cooking. I'd give that like a high 70s score, but the album loses points for the fact that the good, succulent meat is surrounded by so much fat.
(Online October 28, 2011)