The title says it all! Opinions expressed here are those of the authors. Personal tastes may vary, and we are cool with that.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

CD Review: Tarot's Spell of Iron MMXI

Upon releasing their latest studio album, Gravity of Light, Finnish metal pioneers Tarot re-released a remake of their 1986 debut album Spell of Iron. All of the old songs were re-recorded while featuring vocalist Tommi Salmela and the keyboard work of Janne Tolsa, two elements that Tarot did not have back then. The new elements will add an interesting new twist on these old songs, but would they ruin what the old songs brought, or will it work? I have never been a big fan of re-recording old good songs because the 2nd time around usually never sounds as good as the originals, but I am very curious on what this sounds like since Tarot is one of my favorite metal bands.

Unlike my previous reviews, this one will be a comparison between the old and the new songs with the winner of the version by their year (1986 or 2011), but I will rate the new album at the end of this review as normal. So here is my song by song review:

1. "Midwinter Nights": Winner: 1986 Both versions sound good but the old version had a certain raw sound to it that cannot be duplicated, especially the old guitar work done on the first release just sounded so original. The keyboard playing in the new version fits very nicely and doesn't interfere too much with the overall sound. Tommi sings very good here too in a couple of sections of the song as well. Both are great, but the old version wins.

2. "Dancing on the Wire": Winner: 2011 This is another really catchy metal song that Tarot is good at producing. I think the 2011 version has more elements to it with the added modern double-bass pedal parts, Tommi's added vocal harmonies, and the heavier guitar tone. The original is good, but I think it needed a little more personality to it which the 2011 version definitely delivered.

3. "Back in the Fire": Winner: 1986 The keyboard synth in the main riff/melody sounds a little cheesy. Other than that, it stayed close to the original's energy and I think Tommi really sings this song well. My favorite version of this song is the Live Undeed version where Tommi sings the song with so much passion and Janne's keyboard had a much better sound at that show too. The 2011 version is still very well done, but I wish they would have used a better sound for the keyboard.

4. "Love's Not Made for My Kind": Winner: 1986 Despite the 80's metal sound of the original being a bit dated for today's standards, I think the 2011 version is too slowed down. With the song being slowed down this drastically, it sounds more like a metal ballad and is missing the energy and power the original had. The newer version sounds much more modern and not as dated, but this was one song I wish they would have kept the same tempo at since the original had so much energy to it.

5. "Never Forever": Winner: 2011 Both versions of this song sound great. I have always liked this song and I am glad the energy of the original is still present in the 2011 version. I always thought this sounded like Iron Maiden wrote it, especially the way the riffs were written. Of course, Iron Maiden was a big influence on Tarot's sound no doubt. The organ sound on the keyboard adds an interesting element and gives it the more updated Tarot sound of today. I think some fans of the old version are going to find that sound to be annoying since so many are used to hearing it raw. I find the keyboard sound to be a great new element to the song in my opinion. It was a close one to decide which one I liked better, but I think the 2011 version wins by a hair.

6. "The Spell of Iron": Winner: 1986 The album's title track and a great song of course. The 2011 version is slowed down and like "Love's Not Made for My Kind", it is missing the energy the original had plus Marco's vocals on the original were better than what Tommi and Marco did in the new version. I like the arrangement of the new version and it still sounds very well done overall, but the original wins on this song.

7. "De Mortui Nil Nisi Bene" Winner: A tie This is definitely the greatest instrumental of Tarot's career (I do not know of any other instrumentals the band did other than this one). The 2011 version sounds like a Latin version (since the name of the song is in Latin) with acoustic guitars and it has more of a dance feel to it. I would say that the 2011 version is more creative because of the fact that it doesn't use traditional metal instrumentation or arrangements. It's hard to say which is better because I really enjoy both versions a lot. I am going to give it a tie. Both versions are great in their own way. Either version is highly recommended to listen to!

8. "Pharao": Winner: 1986 Both versions are great with this song! I like the fact that they kept the energy of the original in tact, but with added modern metal elements to it. The winner here is the 1986 version only because they completely rewrote the lyrics in the 2011 version and I thought that they should have kept it the same (most of the lyrics in the songs were rewritten to an extent, but not this drastic).

9. "Wings of Darkness": Winner: 1986 Ah yes, this classic Tarot song and one of my favorites by this band. I love how they kept the same feel and overall sound of the original. Since Tarot plays this song at all of their live shows practically, they already have a good understanding of how it goes. I wish they would not have changed the way the lyrics were written in the newer version which is why the original is still the best one for me. Other than that, it sounds great! Both are a highly recommended listen. A true Finnish metal classic.

10. "Things That Crawl At Night": Winner: 2011 This is the ballad of the album. You can hear the improvement of Marco's softer vocal style in the 2011 version, even though he sounded great in the original too. The original sounds more raw while the new one sounds more modern and polished. I think that the new version is better because some of the lyrics were changed but actually improved instead of ruining them. Usually I am not a fan of changing the lyrics, but here it worked. Tarot has improved on their musical aspects in their slower songs and the 2011 version proves that with their experience and age, though both versions are very well done.

So that was my review of Spell of Iron MMXI. Here are my overall impressions:


  • Much better production and sound as expected

  • Marco's vocals are better in some areas as heard

  • Most of the songs still kept the same intensity and feeling

  • The newer modern elements fit well in the old songs

  • Tommi sounds good and fits in many of the songs

  • Cons:

  • The lyrics should have been left alone instead of altering them

  • The newer elements, such as Tommi's vocals and the keyboards, were a bit much at times

  • Too polished at times

  • A couple of the songs were altered too much, such as "Love's Not Made for My Kind" and "Spell of Iron"

  • Honestly, I wish Tarot had this kind of production for Gravity of Light. This is by far Tarot's most professional sounding album and I think they did a really good job remaking these songs. I would have to say that even though the sound is better and the production is top notch, the 1986 Spell of Iron has a sound that will never be done again and I think that it still wins over the new released version. But I like the interpretations of the old songs on this new release as it is a must to have for Tarot fans everywhere! I don't think Tarot should do too many remakes because I do want to hear new stuff from them, but this was a very clever idea to get generations of metalheads interested in where the roots of metal from Finland were founded on and how it evolved. I give this album a horns up \m/. It's a great addition for anyone into old school metal done in a very good modern way! It shows how metal has really progressed since the mid 80's and I liked how I heard the evolution of Tarot's sound as well! Highly recommended!

    Overall rating: 4/5

    You can also read Jon's review of this album on his blog here.

    1 comment:

    CanuckFan said...

    I've downloaded this and will hopefully listen to it soon. Thanks for the review!