Russian NWOBHM giants Aria bring us their latest release Curse of the Seas. Founded in 1985 and famed for being the first Soviet Heavy Metal band to reach mainstream success, they have since undergone many line-up changes. However, they have less releases than one might expect for a veteran band - this album being only their 13th since 1985.
The band have a classic NWOBHM/Proto-Power Metal sound similar to Iron Maiden, with elements of Scorpions and Judas Priest. The lead vocals (Mikhail Zhinyakov) are particularly strong on this album - powerful and stately, they drive the songs forward in the band’s guttural mother tongue. It is refreshing to hear a band who sing in their own language in 2019, as so many bands perform mainly, or even solely in English. Whilst accented English can add a certain level of interest to vocals through different intonations, this is taken to another level when the singer is singing in their own language. In Aria’s case, the rolled r’s are especially enjoyable as a driving force to the lyrics.
The bass (Vitaly Dubinin) is pleasingly high in the mix, giving the songs a full and weighty texture. The guitar (Vladimir Holstinin and Sergey Popov) tone is classically 80s-sounding which is perfect for the rollicking Maiden-esque melodic shred sessions on tracks such as ‘Lust Run’. Effective and tasteful orchestration is also used on some tracks e.g. ‘Hard to Be God’ including strings and backing vocals to add drama.
There is a fairly good mix of upbeat, motivational sounding powerful songs e.g. ‘Lust Run’ and ‘Lucifer’, and slower more mellow passages e.g. ‘Alive’ and ‘Smoke Without Fire’. ‘Alive’ has a deceptively chilled out intro section with 80s sounding clean guitars and then tension builds with chugging distorted guitars followed by drums (Maxim Udalov) as the song gets heavier. ‘Lucifer’ is a particularly memorable track, featuring a catchy pre-chorus hook reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train’.
The album for the most part is mid-paced, which does begin to feel a bit samey by track 8 ‘Kill the Dragon’, which has what can only be described as a bouncy but plodding guitar line throughout its chorus. Fortunately, the following track ‘Smoke Without Fire’ is a melodic feast of a ballad with impassioned vocals and lead guitar breaking into a pleasantly unexpected acoustic guitar passage, ending the ballad on a more contemplative note.
The closing track does not disappoint, leaving a lasting positive impression of the album. ‘Curse of the Seas’ begins as a sensitive but serious sounding, lighter ballad with the ambient sound of waves and wind in sails and a notably gentler, almost crooning vocal style used in the intro, which adds some refreshing variety. However, the track soon returns to the band’s usual mid-paced and powerful style, then breaking into one of the strongest choruses on the album- it’s catchy, melodic and Scorpions-esque. At just over 12 minutes this closer is something of an epic, but it has plenty of different sections to retain interest and is nicely woven together with guitar melodies throughout. The more atmospheric, crooning style of the intro is echoed in the outro, providing a satisfying epitaph.
Overall Curse of the Seas is nothing ground-breaking for the band or genre, and there are some less-interesting moments where the album lulls but fortunately the best tracks and moments are spread out enough to keep the listener engaged; plenty of well-written and energetically performed NWOBHM/early Power Metal numbers can be found here. Would recommend for fans of: Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Helloween, Dio and Judas Priest; especially those who like their Metal to be performed in the band’s native language.
Score: 8 /10