Aria - Armageddon 4/5

Reviewed: 2-16-07


1. Last dawn
2. Marked by evil
3. Guard of empire
4. New crusade
5. Messiah
6. Blood of kings
7. Light of past love
8. Viking
9. Alien
10. Your day

If the Metal CD Ratings site were ever to establish a Lifetime Achievement Award, Russia's Aria would be high on my list of nominees. Formed back in 1985 when their country labored under the yoke of communism, Aria underwent untold hardship and struggle to create the Iron Maiden-inspired heavy metal that they loved even as their government clamped down hard on all facets of Western culture, including its music. I've heard stories about how Aria were forced to write double-entendre lyrics that could be construed as praising Russian factory workers, the theory being that odes to the Russian proletariat were non-threatening to the ruling regime even if those propaganda ditties were backed by walls of guitars and Marshall stacks. Aria persevered and flourished after the lifting of the Iron Curtain and have continued steadily releasing high-quality studio CDs for more than 20 years. The band are widely hailed as the forefathers of Russian heavy metal, and are affectionately known by their Western fans as "the Russian Iron Maiden". Aria's gift and their legacy to the world of heavy metal was to meld the classic heavy metal riffs and arrangements of Iron Maiden with Eastern European sense of melodic structure and the surprisingly smooth and lyrical Russian language. Today Aria cast a long shadow indeed, and their influence is felt on virtually every Russian language metal CD to be released.

Aria's high-water releases are widely (and correctly) recognized to be the pair of 'Play with fire' (1989) and 'Blood for blood' (1991); nonetheless, each of their 10 full-length studio recordings is meritorious and has much to commend itself to the traditional-minded metal listener. That said, the last couple of Aria releases were a small step down from their glory years, perhaps as a result of internal band strife that resulted in the fracturing of Aria into multiple bands (a faction led by popular former vocalist Valeri Kipelov split off under the banner of Kipelov, and released an outstanding Aria-type CD called 'River of time' in 2005). Given this instability, my expectations for 'Armageddon' were tempered. Lo and behold, 'Armageddon' is the Russian legends' finest output in years. Everything I love about Aria is present in abundance on this CD. The melodic riffs, the impassioned vocals, the instantly memorable melodies, the snappy songwriting and the flair for the epic are all omnipresent, wrapped in one of the best production jobs the band have ever had.

Opener "Last dawn" is an instant classic with its sparkling harmony guitar melody and phenomenal chorus. But my favorite song is track 6, "Blood of kings", a 9-minute epic that ranks favorably against any epic tune Aria have ever written. Let me put it this way: If "Blood of kings" were sung in English and slapped onto 'A matter of life and death', it would be hailed as the strongest song on the CD and regarded as one of Maiden's best songs in years. Track 3, "Guard of empire", is another monster with a guitar melody to die for and another stellar chorus. Old-school metalheads generally, and Aria fans in particular, will be on Cloud 9 for much of this CD's 54-minute running time. Even those Kipelov-worshiping skeptics may find themselves begrudgingly admitting that singer Artur Berkut delivers such a fine performance that Kipelov is hardly missed.

It always pleases me to no end when a veteran band shakes off the doldrums of a bout of uncertainty or relative mediocrity to deliver an absolute corker of a CD. Aria have done just that with 'Armageddon'. If you're already a fan, what are you waiting for? Pick up your copy of this new CD without delay, as it's available from several U.S. distros for less than $10. If you've always wondered about Russian-language heavy metal and want to hear how the masters do it, 'Armageddon' is a more than worthy gateway.




MAIN - A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z - MISC