Friday, 4 October 2019

Azrael - Azrael (2019)



Country: Spain
Style: Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Oct 2019
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Sometimes it pays to do your homework first. I discovered Azrael labelled as a speed metal band from Spain, which sounded exactly like what I wanted this early morning, especially as their name was surely sourced from the Crimson Glory song of the same name. And hey, this is a self-titled album so surely it's their debut, right?

Well, almost all of that is completely wrong. They are indeed from Spain but they've been around since 1991 and this is their eighth album. They started out playing speed metal but they've slowed down over time and now play heavy metal with a power metal edge. So this isn't remotely what I expected it to be. Fortunately, they're still a pretty good band, so happy discovery!

One thing I'll call out quickly is that the production here is excellent. I could easily hear all six band members in the eight songs on offer, though the bass is used primarily for texture. It isn't hard to hear the keyboards, which hang around each song like an aura. There's plenty of chugging rhythm guitar while the lead is soloing. And the voice of Marc Riera grounds this as power metal even when the musicians who play behind him up their tempo.

Frankly, until the final track, En Tu Propio Terreno, I'd suggest that it's hard to imagine that Azrael used to play speed metal. That song makes their origins clear, even if they hold back the reins and play more for tone more than speed. Especially before that song, the band play like a trained horse being led through a dressage routine than a wild one let out to just gallop for the sheer hell of it.

While that's surely my favourite song here, it's still power metal at heart; it's just a faster and heavier power metal song than those that precede it. I got a Helloween vibe from this one, especially through Mario G. M.'s solos which are warm and pleasant at whatever speed they play. The next fastest is probably Camino Incierto; that's power metal through and through and I think it would remain so even if the atmospheric keyboard layer was stripped away.

I appreciated how down to business it stayed. There are no intro tracks or interludes and none of the songs extend wildly: The shortest, Falsa Fé, is over three and a half minutes and the longest, En Tu Propio Terreno, stays under six. They're all self-contained and willing to do their thing and move on to the next. There are no ballads either, even if Hoy por Fin and Me Quema start out like they're going to be. Every track kicks ass, even with everything built on melodies, even the riffs and the solos. Nothing here outstays its welcome.

While I've always enjoyed the European style of power metal that grew out of Keeper of the Seven Keys, I've been away from it long enough that I couldn't tell you which bands Azrael most resemble. Clearly there's some Helloween in here and the band claim Symphony X as an influence, but I'm thinking more of Stratovarius with less intricate keyboards. They're not as epic as Rhapsody but more varied than Sabaton. They're heavier than Sonata Arctica but softer than Blind Guardian. They're more consistently metal than Avantasia but less than Iced Earth. OK, maybe I'm remembering more than I thought!

The core of the band has been together from the beginning. Half the members are co-founders and Mario G. M. joined them soon afterwards in 1993. It's in vocalists and keyboard players that they've been less successful, but Riera has been with them now since 2009 and he sang for Absolom with two founders of Azrael, so everyone clearly knows each other well. They're obviously very comfortable with each other. enough to know exactly who should shine at any particular moment.

If there's a flaw, it's that it's hard to call out favourites. Everything is played not only with a consistent tone and style but with consistent quality too. En Tu Propio Terreno grabbed me immediately as the track least like its peers, with only Camino Incierto close, but False Fé grew on me by my second time through. In short, every track here is good but little is spectacular. I'm getting interested in those seven prior albums though.

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