Released: 2006, Blue Light Records
Reviewer: Luxi Lahtinen
THE SPELL OF IRON: 5.0/5
FOLLOW ME INTO MADNESS: 5.0/5
TO LIVE FOREVER: 4.5/5
TO LIVE AGAIN: 4.5/5
FOR THE GLORY OF NOTHING: 4/5
It could be whole-heartedly said that some sort of a piece of musical history has been made; in the history of Finnish Heavy Metal at least, to be more precise. And believe me, this concrete-hard fact ain´t even open for any kind of discussion, or even tiny smart-ass argument for that matter. Namely the first 6 albums from this legendary Finnish Heavy Metal band called Tarot (also known in Finland as ´the Tarot-sixpack´), have finally been re-released as re-mastered and expanded versions - with many bonus tracks (live + demo outtakes, etc.) by a small domestic Finnish label, Bluelight Records which was ´the cozy home´ of Tarot ´til Spinefarm Records grapped them under their heavy wings in 2002, and the band´s 6th full-length studio album, SUFFER OUR PLEASURES was outted through their new label.
When Tarot´s THE SPELL OF IRON originally saw the light of day in 1986, it was THAT ALBUM of which people talked in Finland about with an exceptionally big excitement. The band´s ´playbacked´ live appearance in one relatively popular music show in the Finnish TV, had just impressed armies of metal fans back then - and that´s when Tarot´s evergreen hit song of all times, "Wings of Darkness", was put on everyone´s lips amongst the Finnish metal fans for the very first time in a larger scale. THE SPELL OF IRON was a strong debut album from Tarot, with its somewhat distinctive Maiden´ish-Dio´ish-Sabbath´ish influences sowed around here and there on the album, offering classy songs one after another ("Midwinter Nights", "Dancing on the Wire", "Back in the Fire" and so on - not to forget the band´s most landmark song, "Wings of Darkness" either) and capturing the essential spirit of so-called ´classic Heavy Metal sound (don´t like to use this synonyme too much, but in T.S.O.I.´s case, it fits like a bullet hole into your skull)´ very nicely and effortlessly, just the way majority of us ´sophisticated Heavy Metal -fans´ - i.e. the Tarot -fans, surely wanted it to be offered in the first place.
As for the bonuses on this re-released version, 7 bonus tracks in total, well, of course its nice to have some extra shit on your re-releases as you get kind of ´more´ worth of your money, but even without all of those bonus songs (demo versions, live versions, etc.), THE SPELL OF IRON is worth of your every hard-earned penny - just believe me!
It´s been 20 years since the album was released, and it still sounds fresh and enthusiastically energetic. It´s also been marked on the massive iron gate by many fans of the band Tarot´s THE SPELL OF IRON is one of those timeless classics that is not meant to be rusted in the squeeze of time... ever!
Tarot´s follow-up album, FOLLOW ME INTO MADNESS, that was released 2 years after the band´s well-received debut record, followed basically the same path that THE SPELL OF IRON paved the way for in 1986. Again, as it was somehow expected, the whole band showed its sharp metallurgist´s claws as professional song writers again and wrote some of those evergreen Tarot´s tunes they have become known for. The band´s use of dynamics in their song structures on FOLLOW ME INTO MADNESS had grown on the next level and all that really came through clearly in such songs as "Descendants of Power", "Rose on the Grave", "Follow Me into Madness" - and in a powerful, nearly ballad-like song "Shadow in My Heart". Also a bit Priest´ish "Breathing Fire" was one of most vicious numbers on Tarot´s second record, drawing a fair dose of influences from J.P.´s most successful album of all times, SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE.
The album cover of F.M.I.M. is one of the most horrendous pieces of artwork I´ve ever seen - not to forget Tarot´s look with snobbishly coquettish costumes, ridiculous hairdos and somewhat girlish make-up. Granted, I have seen much worse, but the band´s image didn´t necessarily support or fit into their music THAT good at that time. Just a honest observation...
Nevertheless, another classic Finnish Heavy Metal album was born; and it could be said FOLLOW ME INTO MADNESS has very well stood the test of time, even getting better over the years when reaching the times of pure nostalgia. In addition of 5 bonus tracks (both previously unreleased live - and demo versions), for most of us this re-release will surely be an essential purchase - keeping in our minds in places like eBay or Gemm the original version of the CD is almost impossible to find. Or alternatively you need to have some extra money deep down in the bottom of your pockets to get one for yourself.
The following years - for 5 long years exactly, Tarot practically vanished from the Heavy Metal map almost without a trace; except for a few thrown single-off gigs in some well-selected cities in Finland. What happened in the Tarot -camp, was basically the band suffered from a lack of motivation for song writing, going through a truckload of disappointments, one after another. One of the most radical news amongst the Tarot -fans was surely the fact the band´s 2nd guitarist Mako was fired out of the band due to some serious inner conflicts inside the Tarot -camp. He was soon replaced by a guy named Janne Tolsa, however not as a 2nd guitarist - but behind the keyboards. Keyboards mean usually a lighter sound, but in Tarot´s case it happened just the opposite. On Tarot´s highly anticipated third album, TO LIVE FOREVER, that was originally released in 1993, the band´s adrenaline was pumped to maximum and more progressive elements had started to gain ground and dominate Tarot´s song structures. Janne´s keyboards also played a remarkable role in the renewed Tarot sound, providing more depth and atmosphere for the songs, and overall working out as a very welcomed and important element in the band´s sound in 1993. The band had struggled, and fought hard to get the songs together for TO LIVE TOGETHER, bringing as many as 13 new Tarot -compositions (added with a fine version from Sab´s "Children of the Grave") on a plate made of pure Heavy Metal for the fans of the band. The whole album, when it hit the Tarot -fans for the first time, was like a big ´hurray´ scream for everybody who had waited for a new album from these Finnish Heavy Metal dinosaurs for so long. And yes, it also was worth waiting for. Many of the songs on TO LIVE FOREVER, contained lots of so-called ´never-say-die-hit-potential´ to become next Tarot´s most favorite live numbers that the fans urgently wanted to hear from them in a live situation. That´s exactly what happened. Such songs off this album as the ultra-catchy "Do You Wanna Live Forever", almost tragic-sounding "The Invisible Hand", epic-like "The Chosen", downright heavy "Tears of Steel", very Sabbath-influenced "Iron Stars" - and one of the most screamingly tender yet overly touching Heavy Metal ballad songs made ever, "Guardian Angel". All these aforementioned songs, and more, are one of those reasons for all that why Tarot has won so many hearts and souls to their side over the years. The guys´ sense of both experience and pure skills for some ultimately catchy song structures had already become evident on their 1st two albums - and a continuous stream of the band´s creative ideas had taken a bit more progressive form in the material of TO LIVE FOREVER. Janne Tolsa´s keyboard-wizardy was undoubtedly a refreshing element to spice Tarot´s sound in a good way, and his creativity has been culminated in a pleasing way on HIS first Tarot album, TO LIVE FOREVER. Good catch from the Tarot -camp to hire Janne for the line-up as a permanent member.
As for the bonus tracks on the re-released version of T.L.F., it´s only got one bonus track; a previously unreleased acoustic version from "Do You Wanna Live Forever" which actually sounded pretty good... eh, pretty ´interesting´, I mean. But doesn´t all acoustic versions tend to sound ´interesting´ - somehow, and someway?
As for catching Tarot live in a recorded format, TO LIVE AGAIN, a 16-song live-CD (recorded live at the famous Tavastia Club in Finland on August 3rd 1994) was released for the ear candy of the Japanese Tarot -fans the same year by Zero Corporation, and therefore was kind hard to find for most of the Tarot -fans living outside of Japan. Thank the mighty Heavy Metal demons the re-release of that partucular live-CD happened finally, after 12 long years since it was originally released in this lengthy format (STIGMATA´s limited 2-CD version featured songs from the same gig as bonus, but only having 10 songs instead of 16 cuts). The live sound on THE LIVE AGAIN is thorougly very good and just as authentic as it can get. However, according to the liner notes of one of the long-time rock journalists in Finland named Marko Säynekoski, to get a fuller general impression the sound of the audience was sampled from various places of the recording and then combined the samples. Well, it did just that, adding the needed ´live´ vibe into the recording and furthermore it´s gotta be said this live-CD from the Tarot -camp couldn´t have possible contained any better set from the 1994-Tarot-era-and-back: "Live Hard, Die Hard", "Tears of Steel", "Midwinter Nights", "Wings of Darkness", "Things That Crawl at Night", "Dancing on the Wire", etc. speak all for a classic Tarot -live set. In many ways, a fantastic live recording from these Finnish pioneers of Heavy Metal.
In 1995 STIGMATA, the forth studio record from Tarot, was released and it was clearly the band´s most progressive Rock -orientated album out of all 4 studio albums they had made to that date even if neither had the Tarot -fellows or the fans of them forgotten one important fact despite of a good load of more progressive elements on STIGMATA, Tarot still was a Heavy Metal band of the highest calibre, no more - no less. The band´s song writing capability had still remained on high standards - and a fistful of instant Tarot classics were created on STIGMATA as well off which such catchy numbers as "Angels of Pain", "State of Grace", "Expected to Heal" and "The Teeth". The most ´unusual´ Tarot -track in the whole history of the band, however, had to be a song called "Sleepless" which was an acoustic ballad song, and which served Marco´s wide singing skills clearly to the listeners how extremely gifted and exceptionally ranged voice the guy had. "Sleepless" is - and has still remained as one of the finest compositions these old-timers have been capable of creating during their respectful existence. It would be great to see them performing the song a bit more live than what they have done thus far.
This re-released version from STIGMATA has also been blessed by three bonus cuts. The most interesting bonus song must be a cover version from Accept´s song "Turn Me on (on BALLS TO THE WALL)" in which Tarot tries to stay truthful to the original version as much as they try to make it sound a bit more like from them. Also, an acoustic version of "Stigmata (I Feel for You)" turns out to be a relatively successful experiment after all, naturally giving more space for Marco´s excellent vocalism in which his voice sort of bursts greatly into the flames, metaphorically speaking, of course.
Three years had passed by ´til the fans got a possibility to enjoy the next Tarot album, titled FOR GLORY OF NOTHING. The Tarot -guys had returned back to the studio environment as hungry as ever; only this time their appetite was spiced with more gloomy, darker and more aggressive colors than ever before. The result of those recording sessions brought 10 new Tarot -compositions to the daylight. I guess everybody who has followed Tarot´s career since the band´s debut album, THE SPELL OF IRON , that was released 12 years ago prior to this release, already knew that this album was no disappointment either. And those people were absolutely right - it wasn´t, if the songs´ musical variety, and all the different contrasts between the songs on FOR THE GLORY OF NOTHING, worked out some sort of measurement for this album. The 10 songs that were featured on FOR THE GLORY OF NOTHING, showed once again where these fine fellows in Tarot were really capable for; to create something that truly set them apart from the masses; to maintain their very unique and distinctive sound from one album to another that wasn´t easily copypasted at all. And FOR THE GLORY OF NOTHING made no exception either as far as all their uniqueness musically was concerned. The tips of guys´ song writing pencils were yet again modified to the sharpest format, and the results can easily be heard through such breath-takingly captivating numbers like an up-tempo´ish "Crawlspace", creepingly massive "Warhead", powerful "Beyond Troy", painlessly yet ambitiously raging "Dark Star Burning", tenderly sorrowful "Ghosts of Me" and somehow hypnotic "Ice". All fine songs, in their own unique and specific way.
The necessary bonus tracks, 3 pieces in total, are also available on this re-released version of F.T.G.N. off which "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is surely a fine addition to get on this version. The rest of the two songs serve more or less the ´meh!´-department and not much else really, I think.
Now when these re-releases are out and even relatively easily available from various distros all over the world, be sure to get them as their quantities don´t run and last forever. Or alternatively, wait for another 10 years and buy them off from eBay for $50 (or more) each just like many of us have bought the original versions by long pennies. It´s your call now which you prefer... ;o)