Holy Dragons - Wolves of Odin 4/5
1. Dogs of war
3. The last day of life
4. The storm
5. The light of fires
6. The lord of the seas
7. Illusory sabath
9. Wolves of Odin
10. The last fight
If Aria are the Russian Iron Maiden, then surely Holy Dragons are the Russian Blind Guardian. Though not as stunning as the German bards in their prime, Holy Dragons are heavily influenced by the Guardians' earlier, thrashier period circa 'Battalions of fear' and 'Follow the blind'. The band's overt Blind Guardian worship is tempered, however, by distinctly Eastern European trappings such as the Russian-language vocals of Holger Komaroff and the exotic melodies that occasionally creep in. This 'Wolves of Odin' CD must be the veteran band's 5th or 6th studio outing, though I've only heard their 2003 CD, 'Gotterdammerung', and their 2002 CD, 'Judgment day', from their back catalog.
Like the CDs reviewed this month from Thunderblast and Not Fragile, Holy Dragons generally like their tempos fast, as evidenced by the pedal-to-the-metal one-two punch of "Dogs of war" and "Valhalla" to kick off the CD. But Holy Dragons differentiate themselves from the aforementioned acts through their more epic feel, more complex songwriting (i.e., the songs have more parts), and ability to change speeds when the song calls for it. A perfect example of this is "The last day of life", a mesmerizing epic that begins with a bouncy, midtempo Helloween-y harmony guitar part, then gives way to an all-out speed attack before easing off the gas in the first verse, only to floor the accelerator pedal again in the devastating chorus with lead guitar screaming over the top, before segueing back into that Helloween-y harmony. Brilliant stuff. Several other tracks (including most notably "Illusory sabbath") involve the same kind of roller-coaster, tempo-shifting aesthetic, while others ("Ragnarok", "The last fight") are simply pummeling speed.
Musically, Holy Dragons eschew keyboards, a fact which they advertise proudly on the CD's back cover with the circle-red slash symbol through a synth. Excellent. The guitar tandem of Chris Caine and Jurgen Thunderson (gotta love those crazy stage names) may not be ready to dethrone the Olbrich/Siepen duo, but they do a great job nonetheless, dishing out a fine assortment of riffs, harmonies, and some of that patented Olbrich-style soloing. Of course, the Russian-language vocals may be a turn-off for some, but to me they simply lend Holy Dragons an air of uniqueness amidst the sea of English-language European power bands that dominate my CD player. And singer Komaroff may not be blessed with the strongest set of pipes in the world, but he does a solid job sticking mostly to the mid-range.
All in all, 'Wolves of Odin' is an impressive piece of work that delivers strong songs, bucketloads of speed, and a cool Russian vibe. My only criticism is the tin-can production job that largely defangs the guitars with a too-thin tone, while annoyingly leaving the bass lines way too far out in the foreground (a la some of those old Overkill production jobs like 'W.F.O.'). Holy Dragons don't even have a proper bass player and their bass lines are largely uninteresting, so why they choose to flaunt them is beyond me. Still, that minor quibble aside, 'Wolves of Odin' comes highly recommended to those power/speed mavens who crave an epic, melodic speed metal fix, and who aren't afraid to delve into Russian-language vocals to get it.
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