Release Date: March 18th, 2016
Label: Nuclear Blast
Victor Smolski, as I always say, is one of the most underrated guitarists of today’s metal scene. His aggressive style missing from the new Rage stuff was the obvious issue with his departure as I have said in my review of the My Way EP here. Well, the hunger for Smolski is over and we have his new band Almanac’s debut album, Tsar.
Were I a guessing man, the Lingua Mortis Orchestra project is probably the foundation of this album. For those with foggy memories, that was Rage’s 2013 release composed in its entirety by Smolski. Almanac features the Orquestra Barcelona Filharmonia and delivers quality power metal with neo-classical touches and with a focus on Russian history behind it. Tsar is your typical, by the book Euro-power release with the addition of complex guitar partitions by Smolski. If you are a fan of Sammet’s Avantasia, Edguy or Masterplan, there is no reason for you not to like Tsar. Actually, with violent riffs and pumping, up-tempo drumming, it may shine out from the rest of the bunch for you…
You’ve felt it as well, didn’t you? A “but” is coming…
The bottomless pitfalls of this genre are sadly present in Almanac’s music as well. What are those pits? For starters, the album is Euro-power metal to the letter. That creates a “we have already listened this, no matter how extra-ordinarily good it is performed” feeling. This “generic” feeling is surpassed at times with the ridiculously good guitar work of Smolski, like his performance on Hands are Tied but the ears search for more variation in the rhythm department as well. To be blunt, there should be more songs like Hands are Tied or Children of the Future. They both have a touch of thrash metal in them, showing Smolski’s Rage roots as well. The second issue is the songs being too similar. There will be times you will be confused about the tracks, not knowing which song you are playing if you are not paying attention. That is another issue with Euro-power albums. Now, these things are not bad things for the fans of the genre. If this attitude is what you are looking for, then this album is probably one of the best Euro-power releases in the last few years and it offers more variety than you would expect from the typical stereotype releases of the genre. I am also unsure about the contribution of the orchestra. Not from an artistic perspective but from one of necessity as the music is pretty much dominated by Smolski’s guitar work and except for certain openings like the ones on No More Shadows, it feels like overkill and at times, too much “multilayered”. Actually, there will be times you will long for that kind of opening through the album as it needs “breathers” in places because of this “in-your-face wall of sound” issue.
It is just that; when I am listening to power metal, I expect “out of the box” approaches like Blind Guardian did with their Nightfall in Middle Earth or Kamelot with their Black Halo.
Set aside the issues, this album is a solid debut and I will keep an eye on how things proceed from here on. So should you, power metal heads.
Victor Smolski – guitars
Andy B. Franck – vocals
David Readman – vocals
Jeannette Marchewka – vocals
Armin Alic – bass
Michael Kolar – drums
Enric Garcia – keyboards and piano