Friday, October 18, 2013

Black Soul Horde - Tales Of The Ancient Ones (2013)

What do you do when your side project is just as good as your main band? Such was the conundrum faced by Jim Kotsis and John Tsiakopoulos, when their newly found Black Soul Horde was coming together. Combining their love of classic heavy metal, the new wave of British heavy metal, and modern melodic metal, this now rounded out five piece are not the embodiment of their artwork. The black figure that stands on the mountaintop might indicate, to the uninitiated masses, that you have stumbled onto the latest folk metal powerhouse from Greece. Alas, friends, this isn't another folk hopeful; but a driving force in the next wave of heavy metal. In the cyclical world of music, everything is bound to come back at some point down the line. Whether you embrace it or ignore it is up to you. Kotsis and Tsiakopoulos have chosen the former, adopting the sound of the many bands that came before them without resulting to mindless hero worship and recycled riffing. As a result, their debut album is a breath of fresh air, with a familiar smell. Young or old, "Tales Of The Ancient Ones" is a battle cry for the very origins of the genre.

It isn't a stretch to hear a lot of classic metal sounds on "Let The Valkyrs Ride," which would seem to be the natural intention. From the driving riffs to the battery of drums that flank them, it takes you back to a different point on the metal timeline. The drums gallop ahead, like a horse into battle. But this isn't a contrived take on folk metal; vocalist Kotsis wails over the top of it all, his voice capturing the old meets new ideology. He pushes his vocal limits at times, hitting the high side of his register. But his counterpart, guitarist Tsiakopoulos never seems to reach the end of his talents. The speed and accuracy in the opening to "Reborn In Fire And Blood" is not to be trifled with. Joining in lock step with his rhythm section, Tsiakopoulos sets the tone. That tone, break neck and intense, is mirrored in everything the band does here. You may not find miles of depth here, but what they lack in subtlety, they more than make up in chemistry. Tracks like "Hour Of The Dragon" are the prime example of a band in their comfort zone. Additional vocal harmonies do wonders for Kotsis, while the rhythm section of drummer Jim Zafiropoulos and bassist Stelios Dogas flex their collected muscles time and time again. Perhaps the most fitting piece of nostalgia comes in the form of "Demonon Tagmata" which combines all of the things we loved about metal in the formative days; you can hear Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest here, reaching out from the past, surrounded by wave after wave of catchy riffs and memorable hooks.

More than any other, though, "Ancestor Of The Ancient Gods" is a song that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Kotsis hits a groove both vocally and lyrically, adopting a more dynamic melodic style that would surely incite more than a few lighters to go up. Make no mistake; there is not a ballad anywhere it sight. Instead they balance melody and driving riffs in one arching track. If one must find any fault here, it is in the length of the track, clocking in over six minutes long. By no means is it padded out with filler, but Black Soul Horde operate most efficiently in shorter bursts, like the one on "Horns Of War (Evermore)." The energy hits a high, and the band throws caution to the wind in favor of another driving anthem. Kotsis, despite a shaky beginning, has seen his voice grow over the course of the album, now commanding the room like never before. As a result, Tsiakopoulos has the freedom to unleash a flurry of deft fretwork. I would be remiss in failing to mention rhythm guitarist Costas Papaspyrou, who holds down the fort when his counterpart goes wandering. There is a great deal of Ozzy Osbourne influence to be found on "Coming Home (Call Of Gaia)," a real platform for Dogas to work some much deserved bass magic. His work, along with the dueling guitars, are just as expressive and rich as the vocal lines. That notion is the real victory of the latter half of the album, especially the finale track, "The Light." It leaves a lasting impression, an epic portrait of a band who knows exactly what they are, and what they can do. One last dazzling melodic passage and you cruise to a dramatic finish.

Most of us aren't fortunate or talents enough to have one band that people would want to hear. Kotsis and Tsiakopoulos, thanks to their talents and drive, now have two. There are a lot of different elements at play on this album, most of which would sound familiar to anyone who has delved into the history of metal. But their familiarity doesn't mean they are overused, or even past their prime. Black Soul Horde have taken hints from the past, and used them to piece together the puzzles of the modern age. For every bit of influence you hear in the riffs, in the varied and balanced vocals, you hear just as much of the new school of musical thought. That isn't to say that this is a perfect blend of the two, or the best you'll hear from this band. There are kinks to be worked out here and there, mainly in the evenness of the mix; balance isn't true balance if the levels aren't spot on. But outside of that, you have an album that is catchy, high octane, and ready to roll. Throw out the artwork, throw out the name; Black Soul Horde is modern classic metal without a hint of irony or cliche. And that is a recipe for success.


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