Tierra Santa - Mejor morir en pie 3/5

Reviewed: 9-8-06


1. Mejor morir en pie
2. Un grito en el aire
3. Magia
4. La impureza de la amistad
5. Otela
6. Si tu alma has de vender
7. Hoy vivo por ti
8. Una luz en la oscuridad
9. La tentacion
10. Nunca te alejes de mi
11. Himno a la alegria (bonus track)

I didn't want to like this CD. In the last few years, my enthusiasm for Tierra Santa has steadily waned, mirroring the veteran band's tragic, relentless trajectory away from the spirited Iron Maiden-inspired attack that rendered 'Medieval' (1997), 'Legendario' (1999), and 'Tierras de leyenda' (2000) such benchmark CDs in the Spanish metal scene. We're now 4 CDs and 6 years removed from the band's glory era, and they have slowly, steadily, and inexorably watered down the product until it has become a mere shadow of its former self. These days, Tierra Santa are properly classified as a hybrid of hard rock and heavy metal, with simple melodies, laidback playing, slavish reliance on verse-chorus-verse-chorus songwriting formats, dastardly AOR keyboards used prominently on multiple songs, and a distressing shortage of the requisite speed, crunch and bite that make metal, well, metal. I gave the band's 2004 CD, 'Apocalipsis', a 2.5 rating on this site, and was ready to swear off Tierra Santa altogether. Like a witness to an impending train wreck, however, I couldn't tear my eyes away and somehow ended up buying the band's latest CD, 'Mejor morir en pie', out of a twisted, morbid sense of curiosity.

My Spanish skills are negligible, but I was appalled when I realized the CD title means, roughly, "It's better to die on your feet" (a throwback to the old "Damage Inc." lyric from Metallica). What is this, some kind of joke? Tierra Santa have been living on their knees for years in their softened, blunted, and slicked-up approach to their craft, and this CD is no less an offender in this regard as 'Apocalipsis' was. But just when I was ready to take my newly-sharpened hatchet to 'Mejor morir en pie', I made an odd and surprising revelation: The songs on this CD are actually pretty good. Tracks 1, 4, 6 and 9 all have enough spunk and energy to appeal to old-school rivetheads who adored 'Medieval' and 'Legendario'. And several other songs (including tracks 5, 7 and 10) compensate for their lack of heaviness with tasteful melodic guitar work courtesy of the experienced Angel/Arturo guitar tandem, as well as the typically rich, smooth vocal stylings of Angel. The icing on the cake is the 4-minute Beethoven adaptation that closes out this 42-minute, 11-track affair. Sure, Trans-Siberian Orchestra have already executed the idea of rock/metal arrangements of classical pieces (including this specific piece) on a much grander scale, but Tierra Santa's version works well nonetheless.

'Mejor morir en pie' is not a CD to take to the gym for a strenuous workout. It will not purge your aggression. It will not leave you feeling empowered, triumphant or victorious. It will not inspire you to sing its praises or seek out Tierra Santa's back catalog (which all of you should do immediately if you have not heard their first 3 CDs). But it will be a pleasant, inoffensive, toe-tapping listen when you're reading the morning paper, walking the dog, weeding the garden, washing the dishes, or just in need of a change of pace from the usual metallic onslaught. Tierra Santa are capable songwriters and good players. Much as I'd love for them to return to the form that once made them the greatest band on the Iberian Peninsula, I am enough of a realist to recognize that the odds of that happening are remote, indeed, and to appreciate their current work for what it is. Or maybe I'm just descending into wussdom in my old age.




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