Wednesday, September 25, 2013

HMT reviews Ashes of Ares

Ashes of Ares - Self Titled LP
reviewed by Grownman

Iced Earth's former frontman Matt Barlow has been in and out of the metal scene throughout his career. Ashes of Ares is a reentry point for Barlow. I first heard Barlow's vocals on Iced Earth's covers cd Tribute to the Gods. I loved the album. I think Barlow's voice had a lot to do with it. His work on covers of Kiss songs were top notch and I'm not a huge Kiss fan. I wasn't an Iced Earth fan either before that cd and I really haven't listened to them since. He left, returned and once again left Iced Earth since that album. He's been a police officer and a member of an officer's band during hiatus's. His focus hasn't always been 100% according to some of his critics. I chose to review this album based on good faith and my love for that Tribute to the Gods album.
Ashes of Ares is Matt Barlow. Yes, the band is made up of some well established players. Freddie Vidales also of Iced Earth does a great job as both guitarist and bassist. Nevermore drummer Van Williams hasn't sounded better. But don't be fooled, Barlow is the true focus of the album. Ashes of Ares is the bloomin' Barlow onion. With so many Barlow vocal tracks being dubbed over each other throughout each song how the hell do they plan on playing this live? To coin a phrase, these songs are BARLOW-centric.

Barlow's voice is distinct. It's Paul Stanley in the highs and Gene Simmons/Zack Wylde in the "mean guy"low end parts. When it's great, it's phenomenal. When it's bad, it's laughable. Barlow's forte is in the Paul Stanley register. The lower register really lacks balls and doesn't exhude the ominous nature that the lyrics are trying to represent. For the better of part of listening to this I've found myself wondering when I'll hear one cohesive song in the lot. The album is the equivalent of one actor playing many parts yet looking the same as each character.

A big fault in some of these songs is the songwriting. Soft parts are forced into heavy songs and you're never quite sure where they are really trying to take a message. I just hear a lot of Barlow's vocal theatrics and it gets to be too much.

Musically the band plays some pretty mean heavy metal. "WHAT I AM" starts off with a pretty menacing intro, up there with the best Iced Earth songs and then launches into a hybrid of Zack Wylde singing over Paul Stanley parts that completely requires me to extend my disbelief that this isn't just merely a stage for Barlow's vocal acrobats to be put on display. Vocals for vocals sake get tired really quick.

The 80's hair metal lyrics are hard to get past as well. I hear the words "Wings of Warrior", "Crimson Eyes" and my mind starts to go places outside of the landscape of enjoying anything this album has to offer. The bonus track is the acoustic version of "The Answer". Sadly it's too late to redeem itself as Barlow's voice sounds like sour milk as he performs his "I'm trying to sound genuine as I sing the awful lyrics of this song in my best try at a David Coverdale impression". Jack Black's Dio Impersonation sounds more legit.

Overall I'm disappointed with this cd. Maybe it's trying too hard to be something it's not. The musicianship is top notch. If they set out to create a really heavy and modern sounding album, I think they may have succeeded. If they set out to showcase Barlow's range, I'm not sure layering different octaves and harmonies of his voice in almost every song accomplishes that. If they spent as much time crafting well written songs as they did playing with the vocal tracks maybe this would be a much better showing for three guys who've known success with their alternate bands.

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