Friday, 17 January 2020

Adrian Tăbăcaru - Lucifer: A Rock Opera (2020)

Country: Romania
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 15 Jan 2020
Sites (Adrian Tăbăcaru): Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube
(Lucifer: A Rock Opera): Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube

Here's something a little different. Adrian Tăbăcaru is a Romanian drummer who's composed and performed in a variety of genres, from jazz to electronic and including stints as an orchestral percussionist. However, this album is Tăbăcaru with his prog rock hat on, because it's a rock opera performed by a set of musicians and actors from Romania and the UK. He composed this piece of music but the story isn't his.

It originated as a poem by Mihai Eminescu, who has been called as important to Romanian literature as Shakespeare was to English. This project prompted me to read up on him and he's a fascinating author. I'd love to track down an English translation of Luceafărul, the long poem first published in 1883 that is the source for this rock opera, and especially a novel or novella by the name of Poor Dionis, which for 1872 looks seriously wild. So the poem is by Eminescu and the libretto is by Ioana Ieronim. Also somewhere in play is Anșoara Moraru, credited as "literary consultant". How often does prog rock need a literary consultant? Yeah, I was intrigued.

Luceafărul isn't the traditional western story of Lucifer, the fallen angel. It does deal with a similar celestial being called Lucifer or Hyperion, who is doing his job as the morning star when he's called by a lustful princess called Cătălina whom he naturally falls in love with. She wants him to glide down and be with her, in all the meanings of that term, and he's all for it, even agreeing to give up his immortality for her. However, he can't do that without permission from the Demiurge, who he promptly visits at the edge of the universe. Sadly, by the time the Demiurge dissuades him, the sly mortal Cătălin has stolen his Cătălina away.

Yeah, that makes Lucifer surprisingly sympathetic, which is odd, but it also makes for an emotional ride which is perfect for a rock opera like this. It plays a lot closer to classical than say, the Who's Tommy, but a lot closer to rock than anything by Verdi. Tăbăcaru's drums are rarely entirely absent, though they're as versatile as they need to be here. Check out the power of Exordium, the overture that kicks us off, or the wild keyboard runs found in Intermezzo, rock instrumentals that bookend some operatic sections.

We're introduced to the key characters in Lucifer and hear them set up the story in Longing for the Star. Lucifer is a strutty character who hints at being playful and Cătălina is as playful as it gets, the harlot. After this introduction, though, the styles shift. Beyond Infinity has a narrator move us forward and The Long Way Home demonstrates how dark this can get. It's a quiet piece but a dark one, with ritual elements to the lead vocals and the chanting ones behind her. There's lots for Tăbăcaru's drums to do here and there's an oddly slow organ too, creating a neatly unsettling tone.

Thus far, the project has been a little schizophrenic, with a pair of rock instrumentals and a pair of story songs performed by actors in an operatic style. While there are vocals on The Long Way Home, I couldn't catch their words, so this is a mood piece that sets us up for a short but raucous rock song that borders on metal. It's Asking the Void and there are extreme lead vocals here as the keyboards get dissonant and experimental, vocals akin to black metal shrieks but lower and mostly intelligible.

As if in reaction, Antithesis returns to the darkness of The Long Way Home but with more evil vocals, albeit whispery ones full of intent like they're delivered by a devil pretending to be an angel and not doing a great job of it. The music backing her is experimental, xylophones and dissonant strings. If that's the least engaging song because of its odd nature, then the most engaging is the next one up, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, in its way just as experimental, with dancing piano and urgent drums. The urgency only builds as this rock song suddenly becomes a metal song halfway through, fast metal at that with a whole new urgency.

There's a lot less Hyperion and Cătălina as I'd have expected from what the poem promises, but album does take us on an appropriately emotional journey with genres involved that I didn't expect. It's a highly varied piece, which is at once its best aspect and its biggest problem. I do appreciate a world in which Longing for the Star and A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning can appropriately exist on the same album, but I do wonder how much of an audience is going to appreciate that. It would seem that people who like one aren't too likely to like the other. I hope that's not the case.

What else I liked here is that a prog rock opera, with enticing snippets of brass and experimental xylophones, not to mention a cast of eight vocalists and the pivotal role being played by a drummer, can teach me about Romanian poetry. That's a world I very much want to live in. Thank you!

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Waste of Space Orchestra - Syntheosis (2019)

Country: Finland
Style: Space Rock/Doom Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date:
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

Variety in source location as much as genre is one of my core principles at Apocalypse Later but trying to find an album that did really well with the critics last year that isn't from an American band can be troublesome. This album, however, made a couple of top lists of 2019 and topped one, a rather thoughtful and interesting list from Pop Matters. And, as it's an odd album from Finland, that's why I'm reviewing it today.

It's odd in a few different ways, beginning with the band itself, which is a unique creation. For a start, it's not one band but two, who merged when the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands commissioned them to create and perform a ritual piece of music there in 2018. One is Oranssi Pazuzu, a psychedelic black metal band from Tampere and Seinäjoki with four albums to their name. The other is Dark Buddha Rising, a drone/sludge metal band from Laitila who have six albums behind them. Uniquely, the Waste of Space Orchestra includes every member of both bands, so two drummers, two bassists, three guitarists, etc.

I haven't heard either of those bands before, so can't extract their sounds from this musical merger, but I do like what I hear while acknowledging that it really isn't going to be for everyone. It's tough to describe the result, but it's an intriguing mix of space rock, drone doom and performance art. It plays consistently as a conceptual piece but brings to mind a versatile set of influences. Journey to the Center of Mass feels like krautrock for quite a while, a little like early Tangerine Dream, but Wake Up the Possessor is a heavy Hawkwind jam, while Infinite Gate Opening is an overtly ritual section of a piece that was designed with ritual in mind.

The album's page at Svart Records explains that it involves three beings and their quest for knowledge. The Shaman sees oppressing visions of the future. The Seeker searches for truth in unknown dimensions. The Possessor corrupts the others, manipulating them for his own purposes. They conjure up a portal during a ceremony, which sucks them into an alien dimension, "populated by brain-mutilating colour storms and ego-diminishing audio violence". Finding equilibrium, all three minds are melted into one collective consciousness.

You know, that sort of thing. What's amazing is that wild visions like that tend to sound wild on paper but the performance turns out to be a let down. How can anyone live up to that? Well, Waste of Space Orchestra do precisely that. While you wouldn't conjure up every detail of the story from a listen or three, the music does mirror it rather closely. It's clearly not just a ritual but a journey too and "brain-mutilating colour storms" is as good a description of a piece of music like Vacuum Head as any I can come up with. You don't have to be a synaesthete.

For all the black metal and sludge roots of the bands involved, this should play best to Hawkwind fans as the closest thing I can conjure up to compare it with is their double live Space Ritual album from 1973, not just because the title would be appropriate here too but because it features a sound both as dense and as trippy, because its songs were interspersed with electronica and spoken-word sections (some written by cult author Michael Moorcock) and because it was an audio-visual experience. This, of course, is heavier.

What impressed me from the outset was the use of melody. Void Monolith is a crushingly heavy intro, all those duplicated instruments layering to deepen the effect. However, there's a delicate melody woven through the whole song. The Shamanic Vision doubles down on that deep heavy sound, with two drummers going full tilt tribal and the voice of the Shaman howling into the void. It eventually finds a black metal blitzkrieg but there's a melodic cloud waving around everything. However heavy this gets, and it gets very heavy, there's always something melodic going on too.

The other important thing to note is that, while this is a studio recording that splits the concert piece into nine tracks, the breaks coming at logical points, this quickly becomes a single hour long piece of music. As such, my list of highlights isn't made up of songs but parts of them: the build-up in Journey to the Center of Mass, a hypnotic section towards the end of Wake Up the Possessor, the opening drums in The Shamanic Vision, the way Vacuum Head kicks in hard.

This certainly isn't going to be for everyone, just as neither band involved is probably going to be for everyone, but, if you're into the idea of a wild trip into the cosmos that encompasses space rock, black metal, drone, ritual chanting and electronic weirdness, then this is magnificent stuff and it's a must for anyone who wants to, as Bill Hicks said, squeegee your third eye. I recommend checking out the Pop Matters list in general. I only reviewed one album from their top twenty last year, though I've caught up with three more this January, and I only disagree about one. I'll be dipping into it further over the rest of the month.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Tortuga - Deities (2020)

Country: Poland
Style: Psychedelic Stoner/Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube

One of the countries that surprised me in 2019 by the quality and diversity of its music was Poland with bands as varied and impressive as Monasterium, Velesar and The Matter of A, so I'm eager to keep on exploring Polish music in the new year. Here's the second album from Poznań's Tortuga, who describe their sound as "psychedelic stoned doom". It's certainly a lot more rooted in psychedelic rock and stoner metal than Monasterium, but it's still doom metal at heart.

Deities isn't a concept album per se but it's themed around the elder gods of cosmic horror legend H. P. Lovecraft and, as the Archpriest of Chaos in the First United Church of Cthulhu, I salute that and I salute the glorious cover art by Too Many Skulls which is absolutely gorgeous.

A few other aspects became quickly obvious as common factors.

One is that a majority of the album is instrumental. Technically, only two of seven songs on offer are instrumentals (Shining Sphere and Defective Mind Transfer), but there really isn't much singing going on. Esoteric Order is seven and a half minutes long but it only contains four lines of lyrics. The others have more, Galeón de Manila even unfolding in Spanish, but not one of them has much. The two vocalists are also the two guitarists and it's clear that they think of themselves as guitarists first. It's actually possible that there's a higher word count in the samples and narrated intros than in the lyrics.

Another is the prominence of the bass guitar. This first manifests during a glorious intro to the first track proper, Esoteric Order, which is as jaunty as stoner doom gets. It's guitar free for a whole minute and really makes a strong impression. The bass thankfully never goes away but it returns with a vengeance on Black Pharaoh II, surely the standout track here. Most of the time when I mention the bass in album reviews it's to complain that it isn't audible or to be happy that it is. This is my second review this week alone to compliment the fantastic bass work, here delivered by someone by the name of Heszu.

The third is less surprising and that's that this is a heavy album. Tortuga play monolithic doom in that it's very heavy but also uncomplicated with an avoidance of flourishes. The guitars are particularly economical, playing as few notes as needed to generate the necessary doom and despair. While there are nods to psychedelic rock and stoner metal, not least in the fuzziness of the guitars, the result is doom, slow and heavy with wailing solos.

For Elizard is particularly stupid but it's a lot of fun too, given that it introductes us to Yig, a snake god, who Tortuga define as completely hating Godzilla, "this other fucking lizard". Vocals are delivered in gaps between minimalistic riffs or over another gorgeous bass run. The song is solid, as dumb as it is, and I can't resist a chorus that reads, "Yig hates Godzilla. Fuck you, Godzilla!"

Doom metal just can't succeed without riffs and the riffs here get more and more crushingly heavy as the album runs on. For Elizard has a very nice one, but there's a heavier one in Defective Mind Transfer and then Black Pharaoh II ups the ante yet again. Three times. Midway through, the band add a solo onto the riff and it seems as delicate as the foam on top of a tsunami wave that's already above us and ready to crash down. However, Black Pharaoh II also features an amazing section where the drums get all jaunty midway and rework the perspective of the riffage magnificently.

The first time the riffs really calm down is for Trip, which is the odd man out on this album for a few reasons, not least that it's a lot quieter and subdued in the mix. It's also the one track that's more psychedelic than it is doomy, perhaps appropriately given its title.

And then there's Galeón de Manila, the inexplicable final track, which takes longer to end than the third Lord of the Rings movie. Fundamentally, it's a five minute song with a two minute intro and, without any attempt to kid, a nine minute outro. There are bands who spend their careers building up their skillset until they can finally write a nine minute epic and Tortuga throw a nine minute outro onto this song like it's nothing, which it mostly is.

It made me wonder if the album was written live and recorded chronologically because this outro is the sort of thing that probably felt like a great idea during the trip of the previous track. If the band had cut ten whole minutes of soft but escalating pulses out of this one, they'd still have racked up a respectable three quarters of an hour, all of which would have had purpose. I have no idea why they went nuts at the end here.

Ignoring that, this is a solid album. It's as simple and straight forward as psychedelic music ever gets, anchored by cavernous riffs and hindered by few words. I like it, though I like its bass guitar even more.

Tom Keifer Band - Rise (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 13 Sep 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

It may not be trendy to admit it, but I didn't dislike the hair metal era, as cheesy as it got, and there were some seriously good bands hiding behind all the make-up and spandex. One of my favourites was Cinderella, who were a lot deeper than their airplay suggested. Whether they ever actually split up or just stopped doing anything for long periods of time, such as when lead vocalist Tom Keifer suffered paralysis of the left vocal cord, is debatable, but they haven't released a studio album since 1994's Still Climbing.

Certainly, Keifer has continued on as a solo artist, releasing a solo album, The Way Life Goes, in 2013 to consistent acclaim and adding this second last September, credited not to Tom Keifer but to the Tom Keifer Band. I planned to review it during Name November but I ran out of slots on the calendar and left it until now. Looking back, it's far better and far more consistent than the Neil Young album, so it's a good choice for a final January catch-up.

Cinderella were always more overtly rooted in the blues than many other hair metal bands and that's apparent here, but Keifer draws from wider sources to vary this eleven tracker, perhaps because it clearly draws from the Rolling Stones a great deal, Keifer really trying to emulate Mick Jagger on Waiting for the Demons and especially Taste for the Pain, quieter rock songs with a Stones vibe to them.

On the stormer of an opening track, Touching the Divine, Keifer sounds a lot more like Brian Johnson, that memorable scream as in your face as ever. The band don't sound like AC/DC much but there is a strong similarity in how the finalés to many songs here layer, with lead and backing vocals duelling with a guitar solo and everyone involved bringing added emphasis to what they do. Check out the end of Untitled to see what I mean, then go back to For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).

While the first couple of tracks are up front rockers, just as metal as they are rock, Waiting on the Demons shows that Keifer is going to play with the boundaries of the genre. It emulates the Stones approach to balladry with an emotional, swaggering lead vocal over acoustic guitar. The slide solo guitar in the middle is a delight. It's also telling that the album wraps with what can only be described as country rock in You Believe in Me. Hey, the band is listed as being based in Nashville.

Perhaps the oddest track here is Untitled, because it somehow features both an eastern and a southern vibe to it, like an Egyptian band resident in the blues bars of Alabama. The slide guitar shines again too and I should add a note that I'm not sure who to credit for a lot of what goes on here. Is that Keifer himself, given that he's certainly playing guitar as well as singing on this album, or is it Tony Higbee? I have no idea.

Similarly, whose is that soulful backing vocal that really elevates the end of the stellar title track and pops out to be noticed at odd points in Touching the Divine, among others? Is that Keifer's wife, Savannah, credited on vocals, percussion and piano, or is it Kendra Chantelle, on vocals and percussion? I have no idea here either, but whoever it is sounds rather like Joss Stone, which isn't a bad thing at all.

As is entirely appropriate for someone who didn't just front Cinderella but wrote most of their songs, this is both an immediate album, full of strong riffs and stronger hooks, and a deep one, worthy of exploring over multiple listens. I thought about giving it a solid 7/10 for now with the knowledge that I might need to up it to an 8/10 after a few more listens, but I kept it playing while I pondered on that and decided to go straight to an 8/10. I think Keifer is getting better than ever.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Stabbing Westward - Dead & Gone (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Industrial Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 3 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia

2019's trend of bands crawling out of the woodwork with their first release in forever is apparently set to continue. Stabbing Westward were darlings in the nineties, landing heavy rotation with their Wither Blister Burn & Peel album in 1995; touring with the likes of Killing Joke, the Cult and Depeche Mode; and making the soundtracks of movies like Mortal Kombat, The Faculty and Johnny Mnemonic, as well as a True Blood season finalé. However, their fourth, self-titled, album didn't reach the studio's expected sales and so they split up in 2002. This is their first release in nineteen years.

I was born in 1971 so I'm a child of the eighties rather than the nineties, and the latter is when a lot of the alternative music crossing the Atlantic from the US prompted me to drift away from the scene. I'm much happier with Stabbing Westward and other major nineties bands returning with new vibrant music in the twenties outside the mainstream, meaning that they can do what they do and do it well without it swamping everyone doing something else.

While many fans who saw Stabbing Westward reform in 2016 for their thirtieth anniversary with two of the three founder members on board, surely wanted a full album, they're still happily welcoming this skimpy EP as something more than nothing. It includes three new tracks and two remixes, so it's a tease as much as a release. However, the three new tracks are pretty good, mixing the dance beats and industrial crunch they're known for with good hooks and the usual angsty lyrics. "I failed to realize I'd found everything in you," is just the first line of the first song.

Whatever you think of industrial pop music, the tempo escalation from verse to chorus in Dead and Gone is a statement of intent. The band are back and they're feeling it. This is urgent stuff and, dare I say it, deserves a pit to erupt at gigs because it's that sort of moment. This song reminds more of Depeche Mode than Rammstein, but it's a lot heavier than the former and has a chorus more comparable to the latter.

Cold continues the angst with a song about unrequited passion that kicks off with a surprising eastern flavour. That works really well and ably compares the emotional desolation of a failed "I love you" moment with a geographical desolation, all sand and wind and emptiness. It's catchy as all get out too, a worthy candidate for serious airplay, but it doesn't ditch that heaviness for commerciality.

Crawl is where the band turn the heaviness down a notch. It's a slower song that uses the power more for emotional weight than urgency. In its place is a clockwork riff that nods to the surprising niches they're finding of late. I see that they were a big hit at Dark Side of the Con and rolled over into the organiser's other event, Steampunk Con in New Jersey, alongside Victor Sierra, Rasputina and others. We live in interesting times.

I'm a lot less fond of the remixes, one of Dead and Gone and one of Cold, feeling that the glitchy manipulation only serves to remove most of the urgency from the original songs. So the Cold remix has a more overt dance beat? Shrug.

I'd give the three original songs a 7/10, because they all find that magic balance point between power and commerciality. Stabbing Westward are really back, not just throwing something new out for the cash. This feels like the band is a priority again and they have something to say. Frankly, that's a higher rating than I expected to give, but I'm happy to be surprised with a good set of songs. That said, those three songs only rack up a dozen minutes and I'd be feeling generous if I gave the remixes a 5/10, so let's split the difference and give the EP as a whole a 6/10.

Avalanch - El secreto (2020)

Country: Spain
Style: Melodic Power/Progressive Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 29 Mar 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Metal Archives | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I've been collating various end of year lists to see how they gel with mine and to see what I missed. One particularly interesting one I found was a top sixty Spanish metal albums (meaning from Spain rather than Spanish language) apparently across all subgenres from the Headbangers Latino America website. I've reviewed four of those, from Azrael (#32), Mind Driller (#28), Salduie (#15) and Eternal Storm (#2), so I knew I should take a listen to number #1, which is this album, El Secreto (The Secret in the English language version) by Avalanch, who hail from northern Spain. Hey, any album that can beat out Eternal Storm must be a fantastic album indeed!

They're new to me but they've been around for a very long time. They appear to have started out as Speed Demons as far back as 1988. The changed their name to Avalancha a year later but switched again to Avalanch when they put out their debut album, La llama eterna (which is The Eternal Flame, not The Eternal Llama) in 1997. They've been busy ever since, El Secreto being their thirteenth studio album. The line-up is mostly new, though, as nobody pre-dates 2016 except lead guitarist Alberto Rionda, who was a founding member.

If I tell you that that line-up includes musicians who have played for Rage, Gamma Ray, Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Axel Rudi Pell, Tony MacAlpine, Tarja, Mägo de Oz and Jeff Scott Soto, then you've probably figured out that they play a sort of virtuosic power metal with progressive edges. I should add that most of those credits were racked up by drummer Mike Terrana, who has played for all but two of those and at least as many more, though guitarist Jorge Salán played with Mägo de Oz and Jeff Scott Soto and bassist Dirk Schlächter also played for Gamma Ray. Terrana is clearly a busy man.

It's strong from moment one, El oráculo opening with a serious bombast and technical aplomb, staccato drumming segueing into riffs. It's very patient, knowing how much power it carries, especially with a keyboard swell behind it, and it delays upping the tempo until it's good and ready. When it does, it's a delight and above all the stellar musicianship, the voice of Israel Ramos soars. He sounds excellent on the English language version but he's a little more natural and unrestrained in his native Spanish.

If El oráculo is an intricate and powerful and seemingly effortless opener, Demiurgus continues that trend. It's crunchy and powerful but delicate when it wants to be and it's endowed with serious class. We start to understand why Avalanch are topping an end of year poll, though I'm sadly not seeing El Secreto on any of the others I'm looking at, in either language, and it has to be said that, when Korn and Slipknot both make four of those lists, it's not difficult to see that many compilers don't have much musical depth and spring for the popular crap. Eternal Storm did make one list, at least, but critics do seem to set their horizons wider the heavier the music gets.

Just to mix things up completely, El Caduceo is a ballad for a while but it combines an elegant power metal style with the layered harmonies and sheer playfulness of Queen. It has a fantastic intro and, when it heavies up a minute in with riffs that sound like Dream Theater covering Led Zeppelin, it's as tasty. I have to praise the backing vocals here, as if to keep up the trend of each song showcasing one of the musicians briefly: El oráculo had a great run on the drums, Demiurgus passed the baton to the guitarists and Katarsis hands it on to the keyboard player.

I have to say that this is a grower of an album. The first time I listened through, I was impressed but none of the songs stood out. I was catching a section here or there instead: the instrumental midsection from Luna nueva, the exquisite intro to Alma vieja, the end of El peregrino. The second time through highlighted that the reason is because they're all so consistently strong. It's one of those albums where every damn song is a highlight and those are precious albums indeed.

By the fourth or fifth time through, this had become a favourite and I knew that I had to go back to Eternal Storm to see how that 9/10 from me squares up against the 9/10 this one was going to get too. The Dream Theater album last year went for shorter, catchier songs without losing the intricacies of prog metal. I mostly wasn't impressed but I now realise that this is what I want from that sort of approach. Now where's the opening slot for Avalanch on the next Iron Maiden tour?

There's clearly a lot of great music coming out of Spain. In addition to the bands I did review last year from the Headbangers Latino America list, none of whose inclusion I can argue with, I'd highly recommend Sechem (technically released at the very end of 2018) and Mileth, as well as rock bands Pölisong and Moon Cresta, all of whom got a 7/10 from me in 2019. Like Eternal Storm though, this is clearly above them and I can only be happy that I have twelve prior Avalanch albums to catch up on, even if none of them featured this exact line-up. Life is good.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Armadura - Nuevas tierras (2020)

Country: Bolivia
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 7 Jan 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Tumblr | Twitter | YouTube

Let's notch off another country on the growing map of bands reviewed here at Apocalypse Later, because Armadura hail from El Alto, right next to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. They play heavy metal rather than folk metal, but JC Mamami provides a folk element by adding a variety of wind instruments as an enticing backdrop and as a frequent alternating solo with the more expected guitars. And the intro that kicks off the album, Qhantati, is about as close to the sound an Andean Danny Elfman might create as I've ever heard.

Armadura aren't new, having been around since 2005 and still featuring four original members within their six-man line-up. Drummer Chelo Borda joined in 2009, ahead of their debut album, Premonición two years later. Mamani is the new fish, having joined in 2015 before their follow-up, AJAYU, a historical concept album about an indigenous revolution led by Túpac Katari in colonial Bolivia. This is album number three and it sounds very good to me even when Mamani isn't bringing that extra folk element to proceedings.

The first regular song is Elegia heroica, an appropriately bombastic title for a song that highlights that Armadura's heavy metal comes with more than a little taste of power metal too. The back end is crisp, Borda providing a tight beat and Marco Sanchez Martinez getting a lot more opportunity on his bass than most metal bassists dream of. They make this upbeat and the flutes add a spiritual edge.

In between, the instruments we tend to think of most with heavy metal do a solid job too. The vocalist is Boris Mendez Cossio, who used to shifted from drums to just vocals in 2008 and he has a strong voice, albeit not one that dominates the way we might expect for heavy/power metal or for the symphonic metal that Destino dips its toes into. He's happy to support the songs and leave the fancier moments to the twin guitarists, Ivan Mendez Cossio, surely some relation, and Franz Thamez Rossel.

I liked the album from the beginning, but it takes a while to really warm up for me. Extinción and Imperio feel like filler, until Martinez starts showing off with a big bass run in the latter before handing over to one of Mamani's flutes. The flourishes of these two and their interplay at the end give the song much more of an impact than what's gone before. It certainly ends much better than it begins.

Martinez gets to introduce the title track with another cool bass run and there's a bombast here that fits the band really well, with a nice keyboard swell and a neatly teasing riff building into a catchy chorus. And it's here that things really start to work for me with every one of the six musicians doing interesting things and passing the focus back and forth between them. From here the songs find a host of impressive new sounds.

La senda del guerrero has a neat groove that reminds of a metal take on Kate Bush's Mother Stands for Comfort. Del norte replaces the metronome drums of that song with a more tribal approach, which is fascinating when mixed with a jazzy piano; it also adds a conversational vocal midway like Armadura are playing in a café. Fruto Ancestral (Mamá Jatha) is as close as they get to folk metal, courtesy of a fantastic guest female voice, prominent flutes and what sounds like a ritual opening dance. Destino starts out all symphonic.

While the best songs are clumped in the middle of the album, the interesting sounds continue to the end. Valor may feature the best guitar solo anywhere on the album but it's the way that the flutes chug and riff as well as solo that grabbed me. Sendero eterno kicks off with elegaic piano and seamlessly adds guitar and then flute over the top. Lago sagrado starts out industrial goth and progresses to swirling prog keyboards.

There's a lot here to unpack once it gets going and it surely highlights why Armadura have been doing so well in Bolivia, landing all sorts of gigs that seem particularly unlikely for a metal band: the launch of the live launch of the first Bolivian satellite, the anniversary of the US embassy and the passing through of the Dakar rally. It sounds like they're not just a solid metal band but a cultural phenomenon in Bolivia. All power to them!