Review Summary: Imagine if Vivaldi had the chance to add death metal riffs/vocals, a thirteen member band, and the ability of having two sopranos and a tenor. Well, chances are he would come up with this.
Symphonic Metal is usually a hit or miss genre for me. This is due to the fact that the abundance of bands out there is just ridiculous. Some are extremely good at what they do (Nightwish, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Therion, Equilibrium, and Lacrimosa) and some are very bad (Epiclore, Tarja Turunen). Haggard falls into the category of unbelievably good. This thirteen person group, yes thirteen people, put out a remarkable slab of awesomness with Tales of Ithiria
With their last two releases being about Nostradamus and Galileo Galilee, Haggard went with a fictional medieval approach on this record. You know, the good vs. evil aspect that has been done thousands upon thousands of times in the past by thousands of bands. Only on this, Haggard turns this cliche into something beautiful with Tales.
First off one has to notice the heart and soul of this band's music. They take classical music (more correctly baroque) and add death metal growls and riffs to blend together a very unique style not much different from a Therion. The most unique part about them is that they have thirteen members in the group. Each member is fully heard during the course of the album and each provide his or her own touch to the record. The leader that dictates the direction of the band is Asis Nasseri. His genius of writing all of the lyrics and music make him one of the best singer/songwriters in the world. He also gets more props for bringing in the greatest narrator for reading medieval lyrics in Mike Terrana.
And Mike starts the album off with The Origin
. Telling about an battle ready to brew within the viking town, Mike instantly turns himself into the Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones of music narrators. This guy is that good. The power that is shown in his voice, and the great background orchestration give me goosebumps. The best part is that we get to hear his voice for about five minutes because the narration take up a good portion of song slots. This album becomes better when the actual songs make their respective appearance.
Divided into five chapters, the true songs start with Chapter I-Tales of Ithiria
. Starting with a brilliantly placed face-off between the tenor and soprano vocals, the listener is blessed with a nice aspect of a slower, but methodical pace. When the horns kick in, it is time to go heavy. We are treated by the hit-or-miss harsh vocals of Asis. His styling is predictable, and he doesn't bring anything new to the table, but he gives a decent effort on the song. The best use of this vocal styling is when the tenor and soprano are trading off again in the later portion of the song. Asis growls are treated to more as a background, though he does take the majority of the song under his reign.
Chapter II-Upon Fallen Autumn Leaves
takes a similar approach to its predecessor in terms of overall placement of the vocals and music. The orchestra starts the song and then the distortion of the guitars and drums kick in. This time the guitar doesn't give us a rip your face off riff, in fact it's the violin, which gives the riff of the album strangely enough. The middle section is softer with the female soprano singing very high, but very well.
Vocally this reaches its best when Asis' vocals are not the main focal point. The double sopranos and the single male tenor give enough punch to the record to deserve the full attention of the music. For instance, Chapter III-La Terra Santa
is at its best at the beginning with the softer male vocals being accompanied by the orchestra and choir. An interesting take occurs near the middle of the song when Asis is growling during a orchestral part. It works significantly enough to make me raise an eyebrow.
Heaviness is something that has been on the bench for a majority of the record so far, but that changes with Chapter IV-The Sleeping Child
. Easily the heaviest song on here because of the lack of orchestration solos. Luckily the riffs are heavy and melodic enough to fill in while the orchestra takes the back seat for this one song. The galloping Iron Maiden riffs work perfectly for this song too.
Chapter V-The Hidden Sign
ends the chapter story telling nicely. An epic song at heart, it performs at a slower pace than some of the other songs. Hans Wolf's piano solo is easily the best section of this great song. It's just something about that solo being added with the violins that makes it so amazing. The song ends with everyone going all out singing and even the orchestra getting into it with their heavier feeling.
The orchestra, that is the best part about the album. No matter how great the drums, guitars, and bass are. No matter how trained each vocalist is, this record would not be the same without these men and women at the helm of the band's heart. Each chapter song is given a different baroque style touch and is given its own identity. Each narration song is given the same as well. The song that gets its own special touch, more so than the others, is Hijo de la Luna
. This Japanese (correct me if I am wrong) song isn't the best song on here, no that goes to Chapter I-Tales of Ithiria, but this song is the best executed and most stunning. Everything blends together perfectly on this song, and album. The little touches by the piano add so much more depth to the song's overall structure. The ability to hear the flute behind all the distortion gives that same perception as well. These little things are not just heard in Hijo, but throughout the whole album, and that is what makes this a special album.
Haggard's fourth album proves to be a ride that a fan of orchestral music should take. While the growling vocals of Asis may seem unoriginal and uninspired at times, the other three vocalists safe the department; not to mention that a song or two may drag on a bit much, and there's a lack of true songs in general. If the vocals were used like they were in Chapter III for the whole album, and there was more songs, AND there wasn't a totally useless instrumental, this could have easily been a classic rating. The orchestration is just stunning, beautiful, haunting, magnificent, and yeah you get the picture. Case in point, this album rules even with its little nitpick flaws. This definitely isn't Nightwish, but I will gladly throw aside Once and Dark Passion Play long enough to hear a beauty like this.