@PlanetMosh reviews Ring of Fire – Battle of Leningrad out now on .@FrontiersRec
In 2000, having completed a successful mini-tour with Yngwie Malmsteen in late 1999, Mark Boals began creating his second solo album. Released on 24th January 2014 via Frontier Records, ‘Battle Of Leningrad’ is the fourth album by power metal band Ring Of Fire. Given that there has been nine years since their last release this album surely has to be something pretty special.
“Mother Russia” kicks things off and provides a wonderful dramatic beginning for the album, with the cinematic melody backed up by marching drums. All in all a perfect beginning to tell the story chosen for this album; which is the siege of Leningrad during WW1. Though it is the vocals that bring the power metal sound you will recognise, one that for me harks back to the 80’s, especially with the inclusion of the piano sounds and guitar riffs. You can also easily find yourself singing along to the repeat of ‘Mother Russia’ in the chorus, with its catchy repetition. The only downside for me is about four minutes in when there’s a sudden, short silent break after which the sound is a bit flat, though you forget this as the vocals again kick in.
“They’re Calling Your Name” is a change of direction due to the speed of the guitars which give the impression that they’re either running from something or they’re the ones doing the chasing. The vocals contrasts with a slower, more spoken rhythm and at about 1.08 there’s an interesting spiralling down of the melody followed by the fabulous use of synths and guitars. This instrumental break lasts for two minutes and is one of the highlights for the album for me. The downside is the vocal line that follows as it doesn’t sit with the previous instrumental melody. The rhythm of the vocals are a bit too staccato and the tone though following the melody sounds flat (do not read off key). Which is a pity. There is a good dramtic ending which links straight to “Empire” and continues with the darker side of the album’s theme. This song has a morose meloncoly sound which draws out feelings of acceptance, and despair. The vocal line reminds me of a Robin Hood storyline and not one I would put with the ‘empire’ sound to the song. However it all fits together, and stops the song from being too dark as the vocal line, hopeful in tone, does sound a bit happy. Again there is great use made of synths in this song (about four minutes in) and I really like the false ending that follows.
“Land Of Frozen Tears” takes a change of direction musically and vocally. A long guitar introduction brings you into a ballad, which kicks up a bit from the original softness though electric guitars, though is still muted. It is the vocals that appear more dramatic in this song as they retain that 80’s power metal feel, as well as pulling in the ballad style of the same decade to show a new side to Mark Boals’ vocals. I would really like to hear this one live, especially the part after 3 minutes which has that large stage setting behind it.
Moving on I have to say that I love the beginning of “Firewind”, which it’s spacy sounding synths leading into a piano providing a more classical sound that is balanced against the later electric guitars. This at about 1.30 explodes towards a more synthetic sound again. The verses are at odds with the rest of the album by the absence of any real musical background apart from a hint behind the basic drum beat. Though later there is a wonderful addition of piano sounding scales and I really do love the classical aspects of this song. I just wish the vocals had that emotional backing to them, as though the tone works, there is no depth to them for me, which if it had been there would have made this song not just good, but great.
“Where Angels Play” takes the classical aspects and brings it in the form of strings for the start which continues at 2.22 (listen to this part). They are mixed so well again with drums and electric guitars that you are then moved seamlessly towards a more modern sound. This continues at a fast pace until 3.39, when for me it loses something with the return of the vocals. The instrumental that has been going since 2.22 doesn’t need anything added to it, and the vocals detract from the quality of that part of the song.
The title track “Battle Of Leningrad” has a slower backbone to it with a drudge sounding beat and lower melody that brings a sinister edge. I love the guitars and higher synths that fly in and out at intervals. This is renewed again at 3.33 with a piano sounding melody that is then taken over later by a guitar riff – again another seamless merging of classical with modern electric. This for me is the key and most striking aspect of the album and is well worth listening to in order to hear the way they bring the different elements together, how then lend them into one arrangement and how they are also set against each other to give depth and meaning behind the songs. I would just prefer this song without any vocals.
“No Way Out” has a sinister sounding music box beginning with church bells tolling, which is quickly replaced by a lovely fast riff. This brings the album back up a beat and lightens the mood, by throwing things back to a basic metal sound. “Our World” by contrast though retaining the basic element, goes to piano sounding keys for a more simplistic story of the melody. It has a real honesty to it and the vocals are bent to a whisper to respect this. I’ve mentioned a lean away from the vocals for previous songs but I think for this song he has it absolutely spot on. There is no pretense to any aspect of this song, it is gentle, raw and honest and it is this honestly that makes the vocals fit so well with all other elements. Though others may not agree as it is not a fast, chugging guitar riff of a power metal song, I think this is a clear stand out song and one of the strongest they have offered. It should also have been the last as it provided the perfect closure to the album.
However, along comes “Rain” and it is a good song. It’s got those great synths again (which have a church organ sound later on) and the pace is faster and more aligned with the earlier side of the album so I completely understand why they chose to have this at the end; start as you mean to finish. But for me it should have gone before “Our World”, as it just doesn’t wrap things up at the end.
Listen to this album if you like your 80’s power metal, if you like your basic metal sounds and especially listen to this album for the melodies and instrumentals – they need to be heard.
- Mother Russia
- They’re Calling Your Name
- Land Of Frozen Tears
- Where Angels Play
- Battle Of Leningrad
- No Way Out
- Our World
Mark Boals – vocals
Tony MacAlpine – guitars
Vitalij Kuprij – keyboards
Timo Tolkki – bass
Jami Huovinen- drums