Saturday, 26 October 2013

Ashes of Ares' 'Ashes of Ares' - Album Review

'Supergroups' are a fairly odd entity in the world of music. The idea of many well-established names coming together and making music is often an exciting one. Questions like: 'How can this not be awesome?' are thrown around and the hype is usually huge, but more often than not supergroups fail to live up to the expectations. Either that, or in the case of bands like Velvet Revolver, they fall foul of inflated egos and furious in-fighting that threatens to overshadow the music entirely. It is quite rare for a supergroup to find bona fide success but Ashes of Ares might just be one of those bands. While their self-titled debut album will never be considered a classic in the progressive/power metal world, it shows a lot of promise for the future - providing it becomes a full-time venture for all invovled. Made up of frontman Matt Barlow (Iced Earth; Pyramaze), guitarist Freddie Vidales (Infusion; Iced Earth), and drummer Van Williams (Nevermore; Pure Sweet Hell); Ashes of Ares have a lot of talent. However, it is important to remember before going into this album that none of these three were ever the main creative force behind their respective bands. Sure Barlow has contributed some lyrics and melodies to many Iced Earth songs over the years but the mastermind behind the band's sound and success has always been Jon Schaffer. The same can be said for Williams who always lived in the shadow of Warrel Dane and Jeff Loomis in Nevermore. Having said that though, having two ex-members of Iced Earth in their ranks - including the person whom many still consider the band's most iconic frontman - is naturally going to push the band in that direction. There are hallmarks of Iced Earth's distinctive sound on this album but without the spark that makes them so well loved by many. That being said, Ashes of Ares is still an enjoyable album and I was impressed by Vidales as a musician and a songwriter. He played bass guitar for Iced Earth between 2008 and 2012 but here he handles all the lead and rhythm guitars (apart from a couple of guest solos) as well as all the bass guitars. The album was produced by Jim Morris who has worked on nearly all of Iced Earth's albums in the past so clearly knows Barlow and Vidales well. Overall it sounds good, but a couple of places sound just a little muddy. Luckily, this does not affect the listening experience too much.

The album gets off to a good start with The Messenger. The clean guitar work in the intro is pure Iced Earth and Barlow's layered vocals sound as fresh and beautifully menacing as ever. He is one of the few singers in metal that really conveys emotion in an honest way. The main verses ramp up, backed up by some interesting drumming from Williams, and Barlow alternates between his falsetto and his more natural, rich baritone range. After a melodic chorus, we get to hear Vidales' first real lead work and it is impressive and totally suits the style of the song. As I mentioned before, if anything really stands out about this album, it is the fact that Vidales really is a musician to be reckoned with! Move the Chains is next and it ups the pace. The song has a thrash feel to it but with still enough melody to stop it becoming too mindless. Barlow's vocals really are excellent here and makes the song sound quite dark and evil. Again, Vidales impresses us with another fluid solo that slows down slightly in the middle to make good use of harmonies. Barlow also really lets rip at one point and unleashes one of his signature banshee screams. On Warrior's Wings follows and it is an acoustic-led piece that acts as a ballad. Barlow gets to show the more melancholic side of his voice here and does so very well. He has sung ballads well throughout his career and this is no different. Things pick up towards the middle of the song with a simple riff from Vidales and some round-the-kit work from Williams. This song is a bit of a tour-de-force, with everyone in the band getting to show off their skills. Vidales gives his us best solo yet (maximum shred!) and Barlow's delivery helps to make the chorus a real anthem. It ends as it began with some delicate acoustic guitar and comes full circle - an mini epic! Punishment is up next and gets back to the metal in convincing fashion. It steams along at a fist-pumping mid-pace before Williams' double bass drumming helps to drive the verses.The chorus is probably the highlight here, along with a very technical guitar solo performed by Williams' former Nevermore bandmate, the aformentioned Jeff Loomis. Another solid metal tune that most fans will enjoy.

This is My Hell follows and contains another acoustic intro. It is these moments on the album that really remind me of Iced Earth - even the guitar tone is very similar! This song, which has an accompanying video, is probably the most straight forward 'metal' song here. There is nothing fancy going on here just good, solid metal. I can understand why they filmed a video for this song, as it is extremely accessible without compromising their sound in any way at all. Dead Man's Plight was probably the first Ashes of Ares song that most people heard as it was put on Youtube a little while before the album was released. Again, it is another more straight ahead metal song with some catchy vocals from Barlow. One thing I like about this song is how the really fast double bass drumming of Williams is in direct contrast with the slower paced riff from Vidales. It works well and makes the song feel heavier than it actually is. Another very enjoyable number! Chalice of Man is properly heavy however! The dirty guitar tone really works here and it sounds like something that would more be suited to death metal production. Barlow's melodic vocals stop it from becoming anything of the sort though, but there is a part where he almost is perfoming harsh vocals! It works so well and just shows his voice is extremely versatile - true talent. There are a couple of really nice solos here too. The first is from Vidales who by now we realise is a great player and the second is from Gio Geraca (Malevolent Creation; Murder Suicide) who is also part of the Ashes of Ares live band. The following couple of songs are slightly more average and unremarkable but the album ends on a high with the excellent The One-Eyed King. It opens with some nice lead guitar before really kicking off into a real headbanger! I would say that it is one of the most varied tracks on the album and has a destinct progressive feel that makes it one of the album's highlights. Williams' drumming on the song is very solid and uses lots of good patterns to keep things fresh and interesting. For my money, this is the direction that Ashes of Ares should take into future releases. It has a sound of it's own and does not sound too reminiscent of any of their previous bands. It makes sure the album ends on a memorable note. Overall, Ashes of Ares is a solid debut album from a new band. My point earlier about none of the members being the main creative force of their previous bands meant that I was not really sure what to expect here, but on the whole I am pleased with this effort. I feel that this band has the potential to have a good future and I hope that they take the time to really nurture the project and devote all the time to it that it deserves.

The album was released on 9th September 2013 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for This is My Hell.

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