Style: Melodic Power/Progressive Metal
Release Date: 29 Mar 2019
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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.