Released: 2006, King Foo Entertainment
Reviewer: Luxi Lahtinen
The long-running Finnish Heavy Rock/Metal ´gianst´ have returned, bringing in a new plateful of punishments from the Heavy Metal Gods. The band recorded their previous, sort of ´comeback album´, SUFFER OUR PLEASURES in 2003, which clearly proved the Tarot –camp was still full of creative juices and ambitious energy despite of the fact a few years had passed since the band activated to record S.O.P. (that indeed was a truly awesome album – definitely one of the best metal releases in 2003!).
For a record, Tarot have always been releasing strong and high-quality albums music-wise during their whole career, yet they have still been unable to put a Tarot album out average of their skills, which is sort of an achievement in itself, I think.
Anyway, 3 years have passed by since their excellent previous album – and in three years, many things tend to happen which even is of course very cliché-ish to state. However, if one hasn´t followed the comings and goings in the Tarot –camp for a long time by that close eye, to update one of those empty holes in your knowledge about Tarot, it should be told the band has now officially been increased by one head, a guy named Tommi “Tuple” Salmela who has actually worked out as a live backing vocalist for the band for well over decade, since 1995 to be more precise. He got to show his true potentiality on the band´s YOU single as a vocalist in which he did an amazing job with an old Blue Öyster Cult song, “Veteran of the Psychic War”. And keeping this in our fragile memories, expectations toward the next Tarot album of course tend strangely to raise pretty frighteningly high - I mean, if you consider yourself as a fan of the band (like me).
3 long years since the release of Tarot´s excellent SUFFER OUR PLEASURES album, and band´s new album, CROWS FLY BLACK, has been in a nonstop rotation in my CD –player for the last 4-5 days. Am I addicted to their new album that heavily then? Maybe, or maybe not, but isn´t that still somehow... scary? Well, to mirror S.O.P. to the band´s latest baby in the Tarot -family, CROWS FLY BLACK, I´m somewhat relieved to say the band has, once again, really taken and spent their time well and gloriously when composing songs for this new album, doing some serious brainstorming how they would want to sound like on their follow-up release. After several intense and dedicated listens (with an uplifting mind), it can honestly be said, all their efforts to get together an album full of somehow ´trademark-ish´ Tarot –tunes, has absolutely paid off for them – and as a matter of fact, very well even. The first thing you are about to notice, the whole concept for the band´s new – both musically as well as lyrically, is darker, more frightening, and I guess it´s fair to say, a bit more psychedelic – at least as far as the music on CROWS FLY BLACK is concerned.
The album is started off with “Crows Fly Black”, which has a relatively dark and psychedelic intro beginning. Soon the songs turns even darker, having overall a very eerie atmosphere that is supported by many heavy bass – and guitar parts, haunting keyboard effects (reminding me of kind of like weeping choirs) and of course those truly magnificent vocal parts that Marco is able to produce out of his golden lungs. Also, the band´s second, ´new´ vocalist Tommi introduces his lead vocal skills in the song, and one shouldn´t wonder a bit any longer why he´s now the official member of the band´s steady line-up. “Crows Fly Black”, judged as a single song, is absolutely a quite piece of work from Tarot, speaking for some darker themes that they have adopted tighter into their sound these days.
“Traitor” comes off as a more straight-forward Tarot –song, sounding a somewhat solid, relatively aggressive and well-rollin´, kinda ´easier-to-get-into´ –type of song with some well-fitting backing vocalism sections that bring in a familiar ´80s vibe (huh, Anthrax comes to my mind for strange reason?!). Zachary´s lead guitar part is fantastic in this tune, by the way.
“Ashes to the Stars” could be considered as one of the true highlight tracks on the record; oozing an addictive energy that puts juices flowing in your brain to make you to repeat the very catchy chorus part that penetrates into your mind every time you listen to the song. “Spread my ashes to the stars, join the raw chaos at heart – Spread my ashes to the stars, fall forever in the dark...”. Damn, cannot get the chorus part killed from my head – no matter how hard I tried!
“Messenger of Gods” throws even more psychedelic elements into Tarot´s realms of sounds. Starting off with an organ intro that reminds of sort of Sunday church service, the song kicks off in the air bravely, sounding heavy, catchy and all that, but somehow it still lacks some kind of ´final punch´ so that it could be considered by one of those more positive sounding compliments that Tarot obviously used to hear with their previous album. It may be sort of lame to say, but despite of a somewhat ear-sticking chorus part, that´s all the song has to offer to listeners.
“Before the Skies Come Down” sounds actually a very Tarot´ish song; it truly has all the typical trademarks of a Tarot songs. An ´easy-to-get-into´, but very well-crafted song structure that get enough support from Marco´s always so fantastic vocal performance, and in which Tommi´s backing vocals bring in an extra ear-pleasing flavor into the song. Also, Zachary´s lead guitar part in the end of the song, is somewhat Maiden´ish. All in all, a very strong, but at the same time, somehow so typical Tarot –song.
In “Tides” we get entered a semi-ballad world of Tarot. Marco sounds like he´s nearly mourning in the beginning of the song. Again, this song sounds very much like any typical Tarot –song – pompous, heavy, melancholic, melodic, i.e. just great! Nothing else to be reported about it.
“Bleeding Dust”, on the other hand, gives a lesson about how heavy indeed Tarot is capable of sounding when they get that mood activated in them. The opening riff (which lasts through the whole song, by the way) is probably one of the heaviest riffs Zachary has ever composed for Tarot. Along with Marco in this tune, Tommi proves yet again how damn talented singer he really is. His vocalism turns out be simply excellent thoroughly and it´s really hard to say anything negative about his vocal performance. We already know Marco´s skills as a singer, so there´s no need to speculate his vocal parts in every curve, I guess.
Then comes a single track “You”, which, like Marco had previously stated, is a kinda straight-forward Tarot –song as it originally was meant to be. There´s enough ´hidden fuck-yous´ in the message of the song, so we don´t have to speculate the purpose of that message much further, do we. However, even if “You” doesn´t live up to all those known standards a Tarot –song usually features, it rocks and rips through with such a level of intensity that puts weaker minds to seek for the lost yesterday.
“Howl!” may win the title “The Best Duet Song” on the album, but it also follows that certain tradition to get named as ´a typical Tarot –song´ - excluding the end of the song which doesn´t sound like... (eh!), ´that typical Tarot –song´. In fact, there´s not that much happening in the song, but normally Tarot songs aren´t based on any multi-parts, or multi-verses, are they? I love the song as it is, not offering any ´larger-than-life´ experiences, but still some good and solid Heavy Metal from these old Finnish metal warriors (Did I say ´old´? Look at the guys of Judas Priest – they both look and are old! Everything is so relative...).
“Grey” has got a privilege to be the final tune on CROWS FLY BLACK, and it´s an awesome closer song; very melancholic yet somehow sorrowful as a wholeness. But according to the lyrics, one shouldn´t wonder a sad nature of the song a bit as the story that goes along with song, hand in hand, is indeed pretty sad and has a desperate feeling to it.
Last, it could be stated that CROWS FLY BLACK may probably not be as strong release content-wise as their previous album SUFFER OUR PLEASURES, but it´s definitely darker, and probably even a bit more varied album musically (mostly thanks to Tommi´s contribution for the 2nd vocals). It would be as much as an understatement to say C.F.B. has its moments, as much as it would be an overstatement to claim, it´s definitely the best Tarot –album they have recorded so far. This, yet again, depends on who´s sitting on which side in the courtroom, and in which position.
It also could be stated that The Tarot camp grows old like an aging samurai warrior... with pride and glory.