Review Summary: Following the lead of Tool, Tarot focuses on releasing albums over very long intervals of time. The difference is, Tarot actually wrote a good album this time around.
Marco Hietala. One of the coolest people ever. A bassist extraordinaré, Marco has laid down the low end for many of Finland’s finest bands, including Sinergy (ok, maybe not finest), Nightwish, and his own band, Tarot. Not only that, but he looks like a cyberpunk viking ready to pillage and burn your town to the ground.
Plus, he has a sexy goatee.
Anyways, this review can’t be about my mancrush on Marco. This is about Tarot. Tarot have a Tool-esque infamosity for releasing their albums. Simply put, it’s a LOONG time between them. Tarot have never been ones to put quantity before quality, though, and it shines throughout each and every one of their releases. From their early, EXTREMELY Maidenesque albums, to their newer, unabashed heavy metal moments, Tarot have had a long and illustrious career pockmarked by many a terrific song.
Their latest, Crows Fly Black
, is no exception. Tarot is one of the only bands that I listen to that can be classified as straight up “heavy metal.” Yes, they have keyboards, but at their core is a sound rooted in what can only be described as heavy metal. They are very heavy, and 100% metal.
At the core of it all is Marco Hietala. He has THE perfect voice for this kind of music. I know I’m using this phrase a lot, but he really does have a heavy metal voice. It’s operatic, but not in the Tarja Turunen diva sense. I think he sounds a little bit like a non-biker bar Russell Allen. He has that power, but he’s a bit rougher around the edges, which works well in his favor.
In addition to being the star vocalist, Marco also handles bass duties. Marco may be one of my most favorite bassists ever. His bass tone is one that only those blessed with ridiculously big balls can pull off. Heavy as all hell, distorted, and grinding, he often serves as a second guitar. Marco doesn’t just root all the time either; often, he has more interesting parts than the guitarist. Ashes To The Stars
contains Marco taking the helm in the verses with some excellent basswork. Throughout the rest of the album, he is always there, pounding away and kicking your ass in a way only the blessed can. Think if Christopher Walken played bass for a heavy metal band. That’s Marco.
On the topic of kicking ass, this album contains more ass owning than is the recommended legal limit on the disc. It delivers ten ownings that effectively keep the listener subdued, but something keeps them coming back for more punishment. That’s the sign of a good band.
Zachary Hietala, Marco’s brother, handles guitar duties. His riffing, while nothing terribly original, is effective, in an almost AC/DC kind of way, in that it’s controlling. Zachary is blessed with the ability to shred circles around Angus Young and his pansy brother Malcolm, however, and this album displays it better than any other Tarot release I’ve heard so far. His solos can only be described as face-melting goodness. They truly melt your face off when he gets his fingers a-flyin’.
Pecu Cinnari handles drum duties. The drums are there to keep a beat. They aren’t anything you haven’t heard before. He mainly plays a standard beat over the music, and keeps it in time well.
Now, the keyboards do add a bit of flavor to the band. Janne Tosla provides mainly atmospheric keyboards, albeit with that aggressive edge that Tarot possesses. While Marco and Zach are chugging away and laying the smack down, Janne keeps it interesting with melody lines and chordal arrangements. Take the title track, for example. The chorus consists of a C chord and some vocals. It would seem pretty boring, but Janne has a very creepy keyboard part that fits over everything and makes it the best track on the album. Organs also run abound in this release.
And finally, we get to Tommi Salmela, who provides backing vocals. I don’t like him one bit, especially now that he gets solo parts. Whereas Marco has an awesome voice, Tommi sounds like a Zakk Wylde imitator. His voice is tolerable, but I’d much rather have had Marco do all the vocals. He can do it perfectly.
The band blends perfectly together though, and lends an absolutely asskicking feel to everything they write. Tracks like Bleeding Dust
and the title track are complete no holds barred heavy metal fests, full of heavy pounding riffs that make you feel like a complete badass whilst listening to them. However, they also know when to tone it down a bit. Tides is a haunting ballad track that starts off with a great interplay between Marco and a piano line. Granted, the distortion blasts in not soon after, but it’s toned down a bit. Howl!
is this album’s I Rule, with its shoutalong chorus and so much badass that even the acoustic guitars are coated with a layer of distortion. It sounds pretty bad on paper, but honestly, it’s really awesome.
Even though this album overflows with asskicking goodness, it’s not perfect. Quite a few of the songs seemed to be put together very quickly. Messenger Of Gods
has a great organ intro that sounds like a wedding that quickly turns into a funeral, but the riffing is severely underinspired. Although Tarot tries a 6/4 riff for the chorus, which I appreciate, as they’re trying to use different time signatures, the song falters. Grey
, while I like that song, suffers from the same problem. It’s a bit repetitive, and quite simplistic. However, it is saved somewhat by the feel of the song. It sounds very desperate and urgent, as though pleading for your life. Finally, it appears that all of the singles on the album tend to follow the same pattern. The guitars drop out and leave just the bass playing in the verses, then come back at the chorus. This is a minor quibble, though, and doesn’t detract from the album terribly.
While I may call out some problems here and there, this is still a terrific album. It’s not one of Tarot’s best, but it is one of the better albums that was released this year. It does what it was designed to do very well: deliver finely crafted heavy metal tunes directly onto your ass, leaving it sore yet still craving more. It’s like the first time you had your ass handed to you, or the first time you looked at pr0n, or even when you saw K-Fed as a rapper. You’ll never forget it.
The difference is, this is good. VERY good.
Crows Fly Black
Ashes To The Stars