Tierra Santa - Caminos de fuego 3.5/5
1. Caminos de fuego
2. La leyenda del holandes errante
3. Reina de Egipto
4. Arde Babilonia
6. Ejercitos de las tinieblas
7. Para siempre
8. La voz del destino
9. El fin de los dias
10. Eterna y sagrada
My thoughts toward Spain’s Tierra Santa are a bit complicated. I fall into that category of metalheads who absolutely revere their early work as landmark heavy metal CDs. During the ‘Medieval’/‘Legendario’ period, especially, Tierra Santa were the kings of Spanish heavy metal, with their uptempo galloping Iron Maiden-inspired tunes destroying the contemporary work of the British masters (and nearly everyone else at that time). But then the band embarked on a slow steady decline, as their subsequent CDs were marked by ever more prominent keyboards, slower tempos, less energy, and (eventually) a distressingly wimpy hard-rock mindset. Even at the band’s nadir, 2004’s ‘Apocalipsis’, the songs were well-written, well-played and pleasant enough. It’s just that Tierra Santa had strayed so far from what made them great that I couldn’t help but be wistful for what once was. In 2006, Tierra Santa released ‘Mejor morir en pie’, another tepid outing that I assumed would be their swansong. For years thereafter, all was quiet.
Surprise, surprise: Late last year, Tierra Santa resurfaced with their 8th full-length CD, the encouragingly titled ‘Caminos de fuego’ (Spanish for ‘Streets of fire’). Despite the lengthy hiatus, the band’s core of vocalist/guitarist Angel San Juan, guitarist Arturo Morras, and bassist Roberto Carinanos remains intact, so this certainly wasn’t a half-hearted cash-grab single-original-member “reunion” of the kind that have infected the scene of late. When I learned that Germany’s well-respected Hellion Records was releasing (or perhaps licensing) the CD, a flicker of hope emerged. After all, Hellion isn’t going to tarnish its ironclad reputation by being associated with a pedestrian hard rock affair. The German metal underground simply wouldn’t stand for it. The eye-catching cover art of a flame-engulfed skyline further fueled the fires of anticipation. Maybe, just maybe, Tierra Santa were going back to their roots and delivering a classic Spanish metal CD for the new decade.
The verdict? Those yearning for a return to the 1997-2000 Tierra Santa sound may be disappointed with ‘Caminos de fuego’, but only mildly so. What the band have done on this CD is combine elements of their early work with elements of their latter-day recordings, and the combination works quite effectively. Although ‘Caminos de fuego’ is lacking in uptempo Maidenish romps, the San Juan/Morras guitar tandem sounds more potent than it has in many years, playing with a heavier, more fiery, decidedly metal edge as they dish out those trademark splendid Tierra Santa melodies and harmonies. And thankfully, Angel San Juan remains a remarkable singer, belting out the tunes in his native Spanish tongue in an instantly recognizable manner that conveys emotion and conviction while still exuding this unusual laidback quality. The keyboards are undoubtedly present through this CD, but they’ve been scaled back in the mix, taking a backseat to the excellent guitars and simply adding a little extra flavor and accent to the proceedings. In fact, the only song where the keys seem overbearing in spots is on the brooding track 9, ‘El fin de los dias’.
Overall, ‘Caminos de fuego’ is as much as a die-hard Tierra Santa fan could have reasonably hoped to receive from the band at this stage of their career. The layoff did the band good, as this CD feels peppier and more energetic than anything the band have done since 2001’s ‘Sangre de reyes’. The songwriting is strong and catchy, with songs like the blazing “Caminos de fuego”, the modern-day Maidenish epic “Reina de Egipto”, and closer “Eterna y sagrada” standing out as top-shelf tracks that should become staples of Tierra Santa’s live set, nestled comfortably amongst the old classics. The performances are worthy. In short, ‘Caminos de fuego’ is proof positive that the old Spanish hombres still have something to contribute to the world of traditional melodic heavy metal. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Tierra Santa CD before, you could do far worse than checking out ‘Caminos de fuego’.
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