Nuclear Blast [Release date 6.09.13]

The concept of high profile musicians combining forces and working on side projects is as old as Rock music itself – still, as if by instinct, I always find myself negatively predisposed towards any collection of songs that is presented as the brainchild of a so-called “super group”.

Why? Well, mainly because I very rarely find a strong term to be truly fitting the end product. There are rare occasions, however, where musicians of a well-established pedigree with no day jobs to focus on, are given, through this process, a platform from which to both combine and display their fine skills. Enter: the US Power Metal trio Ashes Of Ares, a band whose same-titled debut album is soon to be released by the German label Nuclear Blast.

So, who are Ashes Of Ares and why should we be interested? Well, apart from the fact that, in Matthew Barlow, they feature one of the best Metal vocalists of the last twenty years, they also happen to employ the services of both his much skilled ex-Iced Earth band mate Freddie Vidales (on both bass and lead guitar), as well as the powerhouse of a drummer that is Van Williams – a man whose relentless skin pounding has helped shape the character of every single album ever released under the Nevermore moniker.

Now that I have your full attention, let me explain why I think this ten track debut release should definitely be on your shopping list!

Even the most diehard fan would have to agree that Barlow’s last studio appearance on an Iced Earth album (2008’s “The Crucible Of Man: Something Wicked Part 2”) was, simply put, disappointing in terms of the passion and energy. Well, Matt’s fans will be relieved to know that “Ashes Of Ares” finds the musician – song-writer – police officer reenergised and in top form.

Both his high pitch/ falsetto and his deep/low register style vocals are finely complemented by Freddie Vidales’ simply-crafted but massive sounding guitar riffs and melodic solos, while Van Williams’ hard hitting drum beats provide the glue that holds this musical enterprise firmly together. Most importantly, while both embracing and honouring their past achievements and individual influences, the aim of these three musicians was to create something truly special here and by God they have achieved it!

Though a classic sounding Power Metal tune, the main riff of the five minute “The Messenger” has the depth and substance normally found in a Bolt Thrower composition, while both “Move the Chains” and “On Warrior’s Wings” combine the best elements of Iced Earth and Nevermore in equal measure.

We have been quite used to having Barlow singing along to epic tunes over the years and “Punishment” is definitely among the finest of them, while the duet “This Is My Hell” / “Dead Man’s Plight” showcases the band’s compositional diversity in equal measure. I have always been a real sucker for up-tempo head banging riffs so “Chalice Of Man” has ranked quite highly in my appreciation, while the emotionally charged power ballad “The Answer” provides a beautiful contrast and one of Barlow’s finest vocal performances of the album.

Filled with solid rhythmical riffs and ruthless drum beats, “What I Am” keeps a healthy momentum going, while the equally flamboyant “The One Eyed King” provides the kind of epic sounding composition that an album like “Ashes Of Ares” truly deserves.

When I embarked upon the task of reviewing Ashes Of Ares’ debut release I did so in the knowledge, well… rather in the hope, that any album featuring the likes of Barlow and Williams, would have to be at least a decent musical proposition.

Many enjoyable spins later, I am in the happy position to report that, rather than just being an album worthy of your attention, this is the kind that simply demands it! Familiar and fresh in equal terms, “Ashes Of Ares” is bound to become a loyal companion every time I find myself with a craving for intense and honestly performed Metal. Check it out for yourselves – you will not be disappointed!

John Stefanis

Rating: ****½ (4.5/5.0)

 

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