Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Lords of Black's 'II' - Album Review

Last year, an unknown Spanish metal band called Lords of Black were catapulted into the spotlight of the hard rock world. The legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore; founding member of Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Blackmore's Night; for so long caught in the renaissance/folk rock world as a member of Blackmore's Night, decided that he want to rock once more! 'Who would front this new incarnation of Rainbow?' well all wondered. Joe Lynn Turner was confident it would be him but, like he so often does, Blackmore surprised everyone by announcing that the unknown Chilean singer Ronnie Romero would be his new frontman. Rainbow fans immediately scoured the internet for clips of Romero singing, and that is how Lords of Black came into the public consciousness. Lords of Black were formed in 2014, and their self-titled debut album was released the same year. That album was released independently, but the increasing interest in the band has led to a record deal with the big Italian rock and metal label Frontiers. The band's second album, imaginatively titled II was released in March via this label. While it is Romero that has been put under the microscope, Lords of Black is guitarist Tony Hernando's band. He writes the majority of the band's songs and, on this album, plays all of the guitars, bass guitars, and some of the keyboards. Romero and Hernando are joined by drummer Andy C. who also plays the majority of the album's keyboard and piano parts. Bassist Javi GarcĂ­a has since joined the band, and appears in the band's new music videos, but played no part in the recording of the album. Obviously there are going to be lots of comparisons made between Lords of Black and Rainbow, which I fear may effect people's enjoyment of II. Lords of Black do not really sound like Rainbow at all. Romero does certainly have more than a hint of original Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio's vocal styles in his delivery at times, but this is about as far as the comparisons can go (with the exception of the band's cover of Rainbow's Lady of the Lake, which is a bonus track on this album and thoroughly excellent take on a seriously underrated Rainbow song). Lords of Black's sound can be characterised as a mix of progressive and power metal. Imagine a mix of the heavier end of Kamelot's atmospheric, moody sound; the guitar-heavy parts of Pagan's Mind's sound; and the energy of early Blind Guardian, and you will not be far off imagining what Lords of Black sound like. They are not, by any means, a revelation and there are many other bands out there that do this type of music better; but this album is a worthy addition to the genre and contains many memorable songs. It also shows that Romero will be a great fit for Rainbow, as his vocal performance throughout is stellar.

A gothic instrumental intro Malevolently Beautiful soon gives way to Merciless, the album's first proper song. The song, with it's shredded neo-classic guitar opening and fast double bass drumming, has something of Yngwie Malmsteen's early work about it, and Hernando often displays skills that are comparable to the great Swede. The song is very vocally driven however, with a chugging atmospheric verse and a faster power metal chorus. They keyboards do not dominate, but provide a solid backing to the song and Hernando's crunchy power chord rhythms. His first guitar solo of the album is jaw-dropping and lengthy, with lots of excellent neo-classical motifs and a strong sense of melody. This song really brings out the best in the band, and is an excellent opening number. Only One Life Away opens with a riff that sounds a little like classical Rainbow actually, before a emotional guitar lead takes over that sounds like Kamelot. The song's verses have an excellent muscular quality to them, with some really tight drum patterns and matching guitar chords. The song does not seem to have a proper chorus, as it transitions seamlessly from the verse. This works quite well however, as the tension slowly builds and the layers of keyboards slowly increases. Romero even channels a little of the late Steve Lee in his vocals during this song, which sounds amazing. Everything You're Not is a piano-driven song which, after a heavier intro, descends into ballad mode with some excellent piano from drummer Andy C. that displays he is a true multi-instrumentalist. He wrote the music for the song too a shows a slightly different side of the band. The song gets heavier as it goes along, with a majestic chorus being one of the album's highlights. Even in the more metal moments, the piano lines are still very prominent which gives the song it's identity. New World's Comin' is actually quite similar, with a piano arpeggio providing the focal point during the song's intro, but this song maintains it's crunch throughout without slowing down. There is definitely a big chunk of Kamelot's sound here, with the heavy atmospheric sound they are famous for. This is another memorable song however, with an excellent vocal display from Romero. The song contains another excellent chorus, and another really excellent lengthy guitar solo. Hernando always goes all out with his solos, and each one is memorable and enjoyable. Cry No More is a fairly anthemic piece of power metal, with a effects-heavy intro and a really inventive and standout riff that comes in later which the verses are built around. It is not a fast song, but has a bounce like a classic HammerFall tune. The chorus is very catchy, with some serious grit creeping into Romero's voice. Hernando also really shred here, with a really fast and impressive solo! Tears I Will Be is another piano-heavy piece, although it is actually a powerful bassline that makes it's mark the most in the verses. It is very simple song, but still contains plenty of strong melodies to get your teeth into. Romero's chorus is a strong point and provides a good mid-album sing-a-long.

Insane is a moodier song, but it still packs a good punch. The verses are characterised by clean guitar patterns and thick bass, before the chorus picks up with a heavier feel and some dense keyboards. This song contains what is possibly Romero's best vocal performance on the album. His verse delivery is more restrained, before he really lets rip in the chorus with a melodramatic howl that showcases his gritty style perfectly. This makes the song really stand out and, as a result, it is one of the album's best moments. Live by the Lie, Die by the Truth is another simpler power metal romp that has something of Primal Fear about it's direct, to-the-point approach. It is built around a strong chorus that has plenty of strong vocal hooks and is one of the most memorable on the album. Like all good power metal tunes, the song also has an excellent guitar solo that brings the best out of Hernando's impressive playing. The lengthy Ghost of You the album's most progressive moment. Opening with a delicate classical guitar melody, the song slowly builds up to a more traditional metal song over time. The intro is impressive and diverse, which leads nicely into a downbeat moody verse. The verses are some of the song's strongest moments however, with an excellent vocal display and some slightly doomy guitar playing. The song's chorus does not really live up to the song's more epic tendencies with a clunky melody. That being said, there are plenty of redeeming features here, including plenty of flashy guitar playing throughout. The classical intro showcases a different side of Hernando's playing, but the rest of the song features more of his impressive shredding. There is a really long guitar solo at the heart of the song that is probably the best guitar moment and shows that Hernando is a very underrated guitar player that will hopefully one day reach a larger audience. The Art of Illusions - Part III: The Wasteland is a continuation of a series of songs started on the band's first album and is a good slab of power metal with a catchy lead guitar intro and a relatively jaunty chorus with a subtle keyboard backing that really helps bring it to life. The sort of song is the band's most in-your-face material, and for that reason is also the most immediate. It is songs like this one that stand out the most what you first hear II, and what initially attracts you to the album. The album's last song, besides the Rainbow cover, is Shadows of War which is a heavy, faster metal anthem with some really impressive drumming from Andy C. There are some slower, Eastern-tinged lead guitar sections throughout to break up the pace, but it is the fast choruses that steal the show here with a dynamic vocal performance that ends with a strong high note. Overall, II is a strong album from a band which are sure to grow in stature over the next year or so. While much of the album is quite derivative of other bands who do this sort of music better, Lords of Black are still a good band, and this album sees them beginning to make their mark.

The album was released on 18th March 2016 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Everything You're Not.

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