Released: 2013, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
The teaming of the revered former frontman of Iced Earth with another of the band's many ex-members and the longtime drummer from Nevermore is a match made in power metal heaven for anyone who's into that sort of thing. And the self-titled debut from Ashes of Ares – featuring vocalist Matthew Barlow, guitarist Freddie Vidales (who actually played bass in Iced Earth) and drummer Van Williams – delivers the sort of textbook clamor you might expect from such a pedigree.
Any band Barlow fronts will end up sounding like Iced Earth as soon as he opens his mouth, so indelibly stamped are his distinctive vocals. And given that, it's no surprise Ashes of Ares, the album, has a familiar ring to it. Thing is, though, the band don't seem terribly concerned right now about not making their sound seem familiar.
For one, they used the same producer and studio Iced Earth have employed for much of their career – Jim Morris and his Morrisound Studios. Hence, the crisp, dry guitar tone and snap, crackle, pop drum sound that have become Iced Earth signatures are here abundance.
Likewise, while the material may not carry overt thematic threads, it certainly is anthemic and grand. The tracks build and build on Williams' deliberate, though fill-laden pace and Vidales crunching, lock-step riffs, all providing an ample platform for Barlow's soaring, expressive vocals, which here are slathered on in layers.
He's a one-man choir on the likes of “This Is My Hell,” with multi-tracked harmonies the whole way through, verses and choruses, and his classic upper-register wails added all over the place for accent. The opening to “Dead Man's Plight” sounds like a veritable howling furies and there are two or three counter-vocal parts going on at once on “Chalice of Man.” Yes, Barlow is a superb vocalist, but the overkill here borders on the absurd.
That said, the band have crafted a pretty fetching, confident batch of songs and the album as a whole, despite its rough patches, makes for a solid foundation these guys should be able to build on to carve their own niche if they so choose. The aforementioned “Chalice” and closing tracks “What I Am” and “The One-Eyed King” are surprisingly and refreshingly heavy. “King,” especially, boasts some wicked guitar work by Vidales and has the kind of adventurous structure that makes you wish there was more where that came from.
But that will have to wait until next time. For now, Ashes of Ares have a worthwhile debut that gets them on their way. And as the flavors in the band meld, they certainly could be a power metal powerhouse down the road.