I had two things in mind when coming into this, which counts as the tenth Avalanch studio album. I miscounted when reviewing their prior effort, El secreto, because some of the thirteen I'd seen at that point are actually re-recordings of previous albums. One is that that album was a real gem, a rare 9/10 from me that was also the Spanish Album of the Year at the Headbangers Latino America site. It was my first by them but certainly not the last and I've eagerly awaited this follow-up. The other is that Avalanch seem to have a constantly shifting line-up, centred around guitarist Alberto Rionda, and there have been quite a few changes since the previous album.
In fact, there have been enough changes that they could well affect the sound of the band, so they would seem to be worth detailing here. Last time out Jorge Salán was a second guitarist, but he's no longer in the band, his only contribution here being a guitar solo on Ceniza, and there's no new second guitarist. Another departure is Israel Ramos on lead vocals, though he still sings Confianza ciega here. However, there's a replacement in José Pardial, who clearly saw Sentido and a ballad, Más allá de las tinieblas, as showcase opportunities to demonstrate his range. Also gone is bassist Dirk Schlächter, with Nando Campos replacing him.
And here's where I change "could well affect the sound of the band" to "absolutely does so", as the three changes all make a difference. Pardial has a lower and softer voice than Ramos, so the songs have a different feel in his hands. He mostly sings clean and pure, as you might expect for a power metal band with progressive leanings, but he turns on the vocal fry for emphasis as needed, most examples being on the quieter, more vocally oriented songs, like the showcase pieces I mentioned above. He has an impressive range and he sounds great, but also notably different to Ramos, with that comparison obvious in the latter's song, Confianza Ciega, directly following Sentida here. It's unsurprisingly the closest thing to El secreto here.
I'm sure the guitar sound has been driven by Rionda ever since Avalanch was formed, so what this album does on that front isn't wildly different from El secreto. However, without a second guitar, it feels a little thinner and less substantial. I'd also suggest that, once we get past the opener, which has a deep back end, the bass is a little lower in the mix and that serves to emphasise that change in guitars. Again, Rionda sounds great and I don't see fans walking away from the band because of this shift, but a direct comparison of the two albums leaves this one firmly behind its predecessor.
El secreto was a 9/10 and a Spanish Album of the Year. This is a 7/10 that occasionally reaches up to an 8/10. That means that it's good stuff and it's recommended, sometimes highly so, but I doubt it will pick up any awards as we move into 2024. It's telling that Confianza Ciega and Ceniza, a pair of kinda sorta throwbacks to the previous incarnation of Avalanch, are my highlights here, and I think I'd give the edge to the latter, perhaps meaning that the depth of guitar sound is more important to me than the change in vocalist.
Other strong selections would include Cuatro elementos, with elegant melodies over a far heavier backdrop and some stellar guitarwork from Rionda, and Tumbas y Reyes, because of its sheer drive and its hints at something much heavier than I've heard from Avalanch. The underpinning riffs are excellent and help build a darker tone, but it's Pardial's vocal that sells it to me. He relies more on his lower register, but soars out of it with style, but he also delivers a brief moment of harsh voice for contrast. It's only a single phrase, so this is hardly Avalanch moving into extreme metal, but it's thoroughly effective and it resonates. The title track after it feels even softer in comparison, even with a decent crunch to it.
And so I'm happy Avalanch are back and only four years after El secreto, given that album arrived after an eight year gap. I'm not entirely sold on the changes but the two new members have been in place for mere months, so I'm looking forward to them settling in over the next couple of years and being more sure of their new sound on the next album. This is good stuff, but the edges hint at something better to come.