“Let There Be Blood“, “Stormblåst MMV“, more recently “Battle Hymns MMXI“, aren't exactly big success stories in the world of Heavy Metal. This rash of "re-recorded classics” has seemed more like embarrassing cash grabs and/ or desperate contractual out-clauses. The only example of severe ass-kicking that came from large-scale re-recording for me has been VADER's “XXV“ compilation, which is tasty. The latest band to do so is TAROT, personal faves and the granddaddies of Finnish Heavy Metal, reworking their less-known 1986 debut “The Spell Of Iron“.
It works extremely well, considering the poor track record of such attempts and the disparity between TAROT's dual-guitar, single-vocalist scrappy Metal of the '80s, and their dual-vocalist, single-guitar mammoth sound of “Crows Fly Black“ and “Gravity Of Light“. The album features a huge guitar sound for Zachary, with even “Never Forever“ sounding a lot heavier than the IRON MAIDEN copycat original. The athletic scale runs punctuating the track still sound nice and sharp, and Zachary does a fine job of flexing his ability in various styles throughout the record.
Things have been slowed down in places, possibly to allow the release to make more sense alongside the band’s recent discography. No problem. Opener “Midwinter Nights” sets a mid-paced groove for much of its runtime, but this makes the neoclassical shredding of its halfway solo even more exciting. “Love's Not Made For My Kind” is slowed down and expanded into a crawling epic. Although the lyrics and melody suit the pace, the twinkling keyboards throughout prohibit the new, creaking mid-paced riffs from letting it be as awesome as “Hell Knows” or “Warhead”. Without the NIGHTWISH style synths it might sound a lot cooler, but unfortunately they are all I can hear. The title track is no longer the simple, breathless metal anthem it once was, but rather an eerie mid-paced track that gives the lyrics and tune a more foreboding quality. The chorus, which remains at a galloping pace, still gets the heart thumping - but now with a more sinister vibe. It doesn't always work - “Dancing On The Wire”, which was an absolute standout on the original, floats past here, possibly due to its acoustic chorus and now rather relaxed vocals which sap the tension from the composition.
Tommi Salmela took his time to grow on me, until the release of "Gravity Of Light" actually, but now I dig this guy's vocals big time. His high wail gives a great contrast to Marco's gruff howl. He's had a workout with these songs onstage, but here he's allowed to bellow in unison as well as line-by-line with Marco in the climaxes of “Back In The Fire” and “Wings Of Darkness” (the former ending with a huge ad-lib roar from both, awesome), and it sounds as epic as it did on songs like “Satan Is Dead”. I think Salmela's voice has even improved, he just slays when he opens “Never Forever” and sings on the title track, and often rivals Marco for the accolade of most insane sounding TAROT singer on this and other tracks. Marco, meanwhile, who has developed a more varied and above all intimidating vocal presence since “For The Glory Of Nothing”, puts in a far superior performance here to the original (something which I don't think can be said about any other re-recorded album anywhere). He does “Things That Crawl At Night” solo, and sounds as if he's stood alone on stage in an opera house, he's that powerful, not to mention dramatic.
Aside from Salmela, the greatest necessary contrast to navigate in recording this was likely the fact that TAROT has had only one guitarist since the mid '90s, and their songs have been written for such a setup. The bass has played a bigger and bigger role since the days of the '90s, and the grooving sound of recent albums now pervades these old songs. They adapt well, with slight amendments to a number of riffs giving a more lumbering, heavy sound than the melody-dependent originals. This is also the first time the band have substituted early dual-guitar attacks with keyboard lines on record as they do during concerts, and on “Back In The Fire” in particular it sounds great, giving a threatening modern twist to what was a decidedly old school sounding track. Now it fits right in with “Crawlspace” and “Traitor!”
All in all, a number of tracks actually sound better, due to the heavier sound, the tendency toward ominousness the band has built into their sound over the last decade or so pervading through, and the fantastic vocals. “Pharao” is melodic as it ever was, the tense riffs sounding unbelievable in this reimagining, and surpasses the original due to Zachary being far tighter and heavier than back in the '80s. “Wings Of Darkness”, the band's signature song, is now assisted by a hammond organ and the most outrageous vocal performance on the album (possibly by TAROT in years), both singers sounding totally unhinged and fucking awesome over the newly throaty interpretation of the addictive guitar riffs. It's only “Love's Not Made For My Kind”, “Dancing On The Wire” and the bizarre acoustic rendering of “De Mortui Nil Nisi Bene” (which while being cool and catchy, doesn't really make sense here) which fail to impact in quite the same way.
Somewhat sacrilegiously, I've enjoyed a good number of these better than their original incarnations. The original album should still be bought first (for context, or as a friend of mine would put it, for awesome), and I'd even recommend “Undead Indeed” for a first taste of TAROT blasting out their oldies with their current lineup and sound. Loyal TAROT troopers definitely need this record. It's received a lot of attention from me and is by far the best attempt I've heard at reimagining an old album in its entirety. However, just because this turned out good, does NOT mean VENOM and SLAYER have an excuse to give me “Black Metal MMXII” and “Reign In Blood MMXII” next year.
(Online November 6, 2011)