It seems like a bunch of my all-time faves have released stonking live albums over the past couple of years. HEAVEN & HELL compiled the ultimate Dio-fronted live SABBATH album with “Live Radio City Music Hall“, IRON MAIDEN accompanied their brilliant film “Flight 666“ with a soundtrack created from the highlights of their world tour, and JUDAS PRIEST had “A Touch Of Evil“, an odd little set compiling songs never before released on live albums. Fittingly, TAROT followed one of their most bestest albums and a continued bloom of goodwill from the Metal-friendly Finnish public with a definitive live album.
Marco is, predictably, sounding pretty damn awesome here. The man pretty much carries NIGHTWISH on stage these days, with his thunking bass guitar and railing voice catapulting them from enjoyable to memorable. Alongside his big bro Zachary and his vocal colleague Tommi Salmela Marco's voice is as imperious and mad-sounding as ever, belting out songs like the incredible performance of “Ashes To The Stars“ as if he were a young dude onstage for the first time.
The rest of the band are tight, with even a complex song like opener “Crows Fly Black“ sounding dead on the studio recording. Zachary accelerates some of his solos and adds extra bits here and there, particularly on “Traitor“ which is overall probably better than the studio version. For a lone guitarist he fills the sound up good and proper, helped in a big way by Marco's bass - the riffs on “Pyre Of Gods“ sounds enormous, as does the noble central riff of “Follow Me Into Madness. “ The drums of Pecu Cinnari arguably get more time in the spotlight here than they ever do on record, mixed big and up front and sounding Heavy Metal as hell.
One of the pleasures of this album is that recent live versions of classic old TAROT songs are available to people who don't frequent Finnish pubs on account of not being in Finland. Me. “Wings Of Darkness“ sounds absolutely incredible, its years of live wear and tear having seen extra little guitar solos and slightly faster drums added to it. “Angels Of Pain“ is the only track making an appearance from “Stigmata“ unfortunately, but I guess for a live show it was going to be this one. Many happy minutes of headbanging. I'm going for a cigarette, wait here.
Right. “Back In The Fire“ is also something of a treat - Salmela sings all the lead vocals here, in place of Marco, and Janne Tolsa supplies the leads that Mako H initially played. Although it's not quite the same with the whining keyboards instead of the exciting guitars of the original, Salmela does an admirable job and really makes the song his own, strident and bold. He also gets to shine “Veteran Of The Psychic Wars“, a BLUE ÖYSTER CULT cover he sang lead for on the “You!“ single. Live covers may or may not work but the organ-assisted march of this one is full throttle awesome.
All in all it's a great collection, with many other of my coveted TAROT favourites putting in an appearance - “Warhead“, “Undead Son“, “Crawlspace“, “Rider Of The Last Day." These all benefit from a huge guitar sound and unbelievably good performances from the band. The material is largely taken from the first two TAROT albums and the most recent three (at the time of recording “Undead Indeed”) and as a result it captures most of their strongest songs. It does also miss a few forgotten gems - “E.T.I“ and “Stigmata (I Feel For You)“ would sound bangin' with TAROT's current lineup and concert-funding capabilities. If you own every TAROT album most of your favourites are here sounding bloody good. If you have a thing for live discs then these still relatively low-profile Finns put in a performance to shame most other bands. If you are neither and have only just heard of TAROT, well this is an ideal way to get stuck in.
(Online November 3, 2011)