Thursday, October 23, 2014

Album review—Aries: Rise (2014)

Album: Rise
Artist: Aries
Year: 2014
Genre: Metal
Total tracks: 12
Rating: 10 of 10

Traditional metal is making a comeback in the U.S., and it appears that Washington, D.C. is a hotbed of up-and-coming talent that is taking the genre back to its roots. D.C.-based outlet Aries is among one of these bands; their second album, Rise, paying tribute to the straight-up hard rock sounds of the '80s metal that wasn't drowned out in hairspray. But before you dismiss them as a throwback, this heavy quartet is bringing enough to the table to separate them from any copycat band catering to '80s nostalgia. The bands of nowadays have this uncanny knack of taking the traditional metal sounds and bringing them into the modern day without making themselves sound dated, gimmicky, or contrived. Aries is no exception.

“Rise”: Lives up to its name; starts off slow but builds up and has an anthemic feel; that sort of “raise your fists” quality to it. Once the music gets going, it really takes off! The lyrics match the emotion of the song: “stand tall, stand proud...I'll stand my ground, my time is's time to rise!”. Between Sean Rhodes' speedy yet melodic guitar playing, and Rob Bradley's aggressive vocals coupled with out-of-this-world high notes, this is a fitting kick-off to the album and leaves the listener anticipating what is to come.

“Beware the Gun”: Some crunchy guitar riffs start off this track, along with some quick-paced drumming from Andy Ham and some more killer vocals. The guitars on this song move so fast I have to wonder if Sean's fingers are going to fall off! This is a tune that is great for headbanging along to, and will probably start a mosh pit at live shows.

“The Road (One Way)”: This track was one of my favorites upon hearing some of the first few tracks, and it still stands out. It's a catchy tune that would make a great radio single or work perfectly for a video. The guitars and vocals both soar and complement each other nicely, while the drums shuffle between the two to keep everything nice and balanced. It's got all the great components of a classic metal song: catchy hooks, glass-shattering vocals, and a ripping guitar solos. What more do you need?

“When the World Needs a Hero”: Another song that was released to the listening public before the album's release, this is also a killer track, but in the opposite direction: the quintessential “metal ballad”, but it isn't a cheesy love song or clichéd “message song”. A song that shows that Aries can be just as bad-ass when they are winding down as when they are going at full-throttle heaviness.

“Mask of Sorrows”: This song also showcases the mellow side of Aries, with some lovely acoustic guitars (with a touch of flamenco-inspired playing), tambourines, and a foot-tapping beat that reminds the listener of early Guns 'n' Roses ballads like “Patience” (to give an example). This song also has a good sing-along chorus that could get the crowd clapping along at live gigs.

“Wasting Dreams”: An awesome tune that starts off with melodic guitar harmony; this song is a sort of ballad too, but more mid-tempo than the other two songs. The guitars pick up and get heavier towards the middle of the song, giving way to a killer solo. You can really feel the emotion in Rob's vocal delivery on this track.

“Silence”: A mid-tempo tune that starts picking up right as you start to think this is going to be another ballad. This song is less reminiscent of the classic '80s metal as it is of the more melodic '90s rock, which is a cool thing in itself. “Living in lies, loving in silence”; I love that line.

“Dogs of War”: This was my favorite songs of the 3 tunes that were released early, and I have to say that it's still one of the top favorites for me. It just has all the components of a straight-up metal tune that I love: the fierce guitar playing, the pounding drums, and the take-no-prisoners vocal approach. Can I use “balls-out” as a descriptive term for this song? Because that's what it is: it's in-your-face, unapologetic, and rocks your ass off. I don't know any other way to say it. “I'll take what is mine; I'm never satisfied”...I think that sums it up quite nicely!

“Trial by Fire”: Rob shows off his lower range here, which shines just as much as his upper registry. The song shifts from mid-tempo and mellow to dark and heavy almost unexpectedly, but the mind-bending guitar riffs remain consistent. This is another song I'd cite as a stand-out track.

“Cold”: This song charges through the gate as a heavy track; the thundering drums and ripping guitars leave no question of that, and then the vocals unleash themselves upon the listener to leave no doubt that this is going to be a rocker from beginning to end. This song would make a great opener at live shows so it can rouse the crowd into letting loose at the get-go.

“Angel of Mercy”: Another no-holds-barred assault on the senses, the riffing on this track is just insane! Sean is definitely channeling his inner Eddie Van Halen on this one. The music winds down a bit to bring the vocals in, but then they become just as aggressive as the rest of it. Where the previous song makes a great live show opener, I can easily imagine this song being as equally good for closing out shows. It's got the sing-along factor, it's heavy enough to headbang to, but also has its softer moments for winding down and readying the crowd for the end of the show.

“Cradle to the Grave”: A fitting album closer, the lilting acoustic guitars pick you up and carry you away...then the music thunders in to a dark, almost symphonic heaviness. This song clocks in at nearly 9 minutes, and it's an epic in every sense of the word. It definitely shows Aries' more progressive side while still keeping it firmly rooted in heavy metal. There are fast guitars, but they are melodic and virtuostic at the same time. Rob's vocals are at times almost operatic, while also channeling emotion in a way very similar to Tool's Maynard James Keenan. As a fan of epics and of symphonic metal, this song easily wins hands-down as being my favorite on the album.

Overall opinion: If you are one of those metal fans who are convinced that all the good music migrated to Europe and that Americans just don't do good old-fashioned metal anymore, you may want to give Aries a listen and reconsider your opinion. Their music hearkens back to so much of that amazing old-school sensibility. Sean Rhodes' guitar playing is like a perfect blend of Steve Vai, George Lynch, and Yngwie Malmsteen (to name a few), yet something entirely separate from them. Rob Bradley, as a vocalist, sounds like a cross between Rob Halford and Axl Rose; yet that description still doesn't do enough justice to how unique his voice sounds. So while Aries has a sound that is vaguely familiar to something you've heard before, it's also at the same time like nothing else out there. They have managed to take all those old influences, spin them together, and churn them back out in their own unique style, without compromising any of the elements that made those bands great, or compromising what makes Aries an entity of their own. If you're looking for some in-your-face metal that is not the guttural vocals that seems to dominate the American hard rock/metal scene these days, or if you're looking for bands that have the same musical sensibility as those bands from back in the day, look to the stars and you'll find that Aries is your sign!

For more information about Aries, visit their website or Facebook page.
To hear more music from Aries, visit their ReverbNation page or YouTube channel.
Special thanks to Rob Bradley and Aries.

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