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One of the most disturbing things that can happen to a band is the departure of the vocalist and frontman. This inner shock gets even bigger if the band is famous, so there are many disappointed fans and inevitable critics and doubts about the band's future. This thing happened to Maiden, this thing happened to Priest, and ultimately, this thing happened to Aria.
Valeriy Kipelov, the voice of Aria, left the band in 2002, after an argue with the masterminds, bassist Vitaliy Dubinin and guitarist Vladimir Holstinin. Unfortunately, I don't know the details, but one thing is certain - it was one hell of a fight, since Kipelov, guitarist Terentyev and the drummer Manyakin all left (Still, it wasn't that bad, all former and present members of Aria family are in good relation; Kipelov appeared on jubilee Aria XXV years concert. Geoff Tate vs. Queensryche, this isn't). It seemed that the band will split up for good. But, mind you, Aria is bar none the biggest band in Eastern Europe, they couldn't give up so easily. Dubinin and Holstinin had a plan - in with former Master's guitarist Sergey Popov, in with the band's former drummer Maxim Udalov (he drummed on famous Герой aсфальта album), and finally, in with the new vocalist Arthur Berkut. Berkut's promotion was undoubtedly the most controversial decision in this whole story. Why? First of all, fanboys believed that no one, I mean no one could ever be the decent replacement for Kipelov (sounds familiar?). The second reason became clear when this album, Крещение oгнем (Baptism by Fire) was released, in 2003.
I can imagine the state of shock of an unsuspected Aria fan when first time listened to this album. It sounded like nothing Aria ever put out before. Heavier than ever. Mind you, Химера was heavy, but also very, very plodding and dull. This is heavy metal that takes no prisoners; it will blow your fucking head off.
Then there's Berkut. If you like me and most of Russian rock/metal listeners have listened to his most famous work with art/prog rock band Autograph, you'd expect from him some extremely high-pitched vocals, like nightingale on speed. Well, apparently, in the meantime he drank hectoliters of booze and had a tow truck of smokes, because that's how his voice sounds like. On the voice damage scale from 1-10, I'd give him seven (and ten points go to... Lemmy!). Even though this sounds bad, it's actually good. Berkut the Soprano would do no good to this album. Strangely enough, neither would Kipelov. But Berkut the Hoarse Bear fits perfectly to the overall feeling, sound and mood of this album. Once again, Aria is talking business.
This amount and volume of heaviness might have surprised somebody, but not me. With Kipelov’s departure they’ve reached and passed the turning point in their career. Nothing will ever be like it used to, and they knew it.
Crank it up, motherfuckers. It is time to rock and roll.
From the first to the last second of this record, Aria are displaying incredible amount of passion, motivation and something that I would call a will to redeem themselves. For the first time, in Aria's sound you can clearly hear strong influence of heavier side of German late 90's power metal (Primal Fear, Angel Dust, some Rage), and it is really a big change. Once more. The song that proves my words is the brutal opener ''Патриот'' - very similar to Primal Fear's ''Angel in Black'', albeit way better in my mind, but... they are similar enough to draw accusations of plagiarism... Why, Aria, why?!
The trend that Aria starting on Генератор зла - experimentation and incorporating unconventional elements into heavy metal - has continued, but in significantly less extent. After all, this is a traditional heavy/power metal album. Still, hearing the mandolines in the title track and computerized voice effects in ''Битва'' feels like Aria's telling us to expect the unexpected. Still, as I said, don't expect that much of the unexpected. Not on Крещение oгнем.
When released, this album was utterly bashed by both critics and fans for its departure of band's traditional style and most of all, for - absence of Kipelov. Berkut and his performance were greeted with hostility. ''This guy sucks'', ''No Kipelov = no Aria'', ''They're officially dead now'', were the most common comments. When all the hype dwindled, they all realized they were very much wrong and began to appreciate the record and Berkut. It's interesting that the history has repeated itself in 2011, when Berkut left and Mikhail Zhitnyakov joined the band. But, as the Arab wisdom says - the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.
The highlights? ''Колизей'' is a prime example of a perfect heavy metal song. Just listen to that choppy riff, that majestic chorus, that amazing solo, that godly ending. Berkut shines here. You won't, you can't find a single flaw to this song. Top 5 Aria material. ''Твой новый мир'' is very catchy yet damn heavy, just like this album in general. ''Там высоко'' shows us the calmer and poignant side of Крещение oгнем, and ''Белый флаг'' has got a killer set of riffs and solos. Maybe the best way to point out the highlights is this - something for everyone, everything for someone.
There aren't real sliding on this album, but there are a couple of flaws and weaker spots. ''The Патриот affair'' itself is a big problem and an issue to be discussed. Then, ''Палач'' is good, but isn't nearly as striking as it is in the interpretation of Zhitnyakov (Live in Studio, 2012). The closer, ''Бал у князя тьмы'' lyrically deals with one of the best novels ever, Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, but it musically falls short. It has its moments, but in the end it's just another average heavy metal song. Aria did injustice to this magnificent work of literature. Pity.
All in all, Крещение oгнем served just fine as the beginning of a new era for Aria, and more importantly, it was good enough to overcome and outdo some past efforts and showed that the band's opus is far from being over and out. Though I wouldn't recommend it to someone who begins to explore Aria (keep going from the start, young enthusiast), it is however a safe bet for any traditional/speed metal maniac. Recommended without reservation.
"Christening of fire" was the first Russian metal album I ever bought along side with "Chimera" when I was in Saint Petersburg in 2006 it just blew me away. Nowadays, it is really hard to find a really good heavy metal album in the original sense of it. Heavy, but melodic guitars which play many interesting solos in each song. A dominating and galloping bass guitar that works hand in hand with a tight drumming. A clean and melodic but still manly and charismatic voice. Topics touching the metal scene or historical events. Aria all deliver that in here.
Most people say that the heavy metal genre is like a dinosaur just before the meteor hits. Well, after I've had listened to this album, I couldn't agree at all. This album must not hide behind the legendary albums of the eighties, no, it is even better than a lot of stuff that has been published in that time. After having discovered this band, I listened to most of their album and although I like the old ones like "Hero of asphalt" or "Play with fire", this album is more than on the same level for me and finally one of my favourite heavy metal albums of all time. I wish that Judas Priest or Iron Maiden would be able to create such an amazing effort nowadays to recreate a genre which is not dead at all and could still have a lot more to say.
Now, let's talk about the songs. The fast opener "Patriot" is heavy, fast, melodic and reminds a little bit of Judas Priest, especially because of the drum intro honouring somehow the legendary "Painkiller". I've heard later that the band broke in two parts just before this album. Well, you don't hear that at all. This album is straight, fresh and way better than the overrated average record "Chimera". The split was what the band needed at that time. The band brings in one catchy metal song after the other like the atmospheric hymn "Christening by fire", the amazing single "Coliseum", maybe the best metal single in a whole decade and definitely the highlight of the album with its amazing guitar solos, the galloping sound of the bass reminding of a Steve Harris in his best years, the great chorus and the amazing middle part. This song just gives me goose bumps. It has been a while that I haven't heard an album that opens with three such amazing songs which reach for the heavy metal crown.
"Palach" is then a more epic and experimental song and sounds different but really interesting. Sadly, with this song, there is a little break in the album, because this is the first song that isn't a hundred percent perfect and shows some lengths.
But then it goes back to heavy metal at its best with the faster one "Your new world" which has an amazing chorus. "There highly" is an amazingly sung ballad with nice acoustic elements. That sounds quite ordinary and traditional as a ballad and it is, but it works very well. The band doesn't try to do strange experiments in here, they just do what they always knew to do and it works perfectly. The melodic "Flag of Truce" has also some acoustic and harmonic parts and faster post-chorus that contrasts that style very well.
"Fight" surprises with a weird and experimental ending with nice sound effects and a haunting voice but this song is a little bit weaker than the three once again amazing songs just before it. "Ball at prince of darkness" is a typical and traditional heavy metal song that finishes the album but figures out to be maybe the most ordinary song on the album because there is the famous certain something lacking.
All in all, this album can be considered as a classical and pure heavy metal album, but it sounds fresh, motivated and straight. Surprisingly, the more traditional songs work even better and are more interesting than the two or three longer or experimental songs. Aria needs no orchestra, no folk instruments, no conceptual albums, no pseudo-intellectual 15-minute-prog-songs. Aria needs just to play heavy metal as heavy metal is!
Some people say that the new millennium has seen a kind of renaissance of the heavy metal genre with the reunions of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but here, the split-up sets positive energy free and is to me the most amazing contribution to the new popularity of heavy metal. No matter where you live, try to get this album legally somewhere and spread the word that there is an amazing heavy metal band in the far east that is ready to conquer the world!
Aria (that’s A-P-U-backwards-R to you non-initiates) are certainly the best band eer to come out of Russia, and over the past two years have become somewhat of a favourite band of mine.
CHRISTENING BY FIRE marks a significant turn in Aria’s history, with longtime vocalist Valery Kipelov, guitarist Sergei Terentyev, and drummer Alex Manyakin departing the band after the disappointing 2001 album, CHIMERA, and new members Artur Berkut, Sergey Popov, and Maxim Udalov to fill their respective positions.
It is obvious to me that new blood in the band has kindled a new fire in songwriters Holstinin and Dubinin as they churn out some of the best melodic heavy metal that the band has released in eight years.
“Patriot” kicks off the album (Literally. I can’t help but think “Painkiller!” in the drum intro) with all the classic Aria sound. The speed and melody are here, but I’m noticing that the guitar tone is sounding a lot heavier than before. Artur Berkut is certainly no Kipelov, but his vocals are much the same style, and more than adequate for Aria’s sound.
“Christening By Fire” is not as fast as the opener, but makes up for it with a catchy, though simplistic chorus, and a nice extended melodic middle passage. I’m noticing here that there does not seem to be as strong chemistry between Vladimir Holstinin and Sergey Popov as there was between the legendary duo of Holstinin and Sergei Mavrin. I’m not saying that they are not compatible, rather that the guitarwork is not as tight as it could be.
“Coliseum” is the single from the album, and it is the ultimate in catchiness. This is just an all-around great tune with some choppy, heavy riffing, and Berkut’s voice sounding his best on the entire album. Damn, I’m really headbanging here and trying to sing along, though I don’t know a single word that they are saying. One more thing, bonus points to Aria and their label, Moroz, for putting out the video for “Coliseum” on the enhanced pressing. While the video is nothing special in itself, it is a nice move, and neat to have.
“Hangman” really does nothing for me besides weigh the album down for nearly 9 minutes. Well, we do get some interesting and speedier parts from about 5:30 to 7:00, but the rest of the song is slow and uninteresting.
“Your New World” makes up for the previous track, however, with a totally heavy riff like Cage and Agent Steel would write. I love the punch in this track, but some of the melodies are rather familiar.
“There Highly” is the gratuitous ballad of the disc, but as far as ballads go, it is tolerable.
“Flag of Truce” has some great speed metal (Though wtf is up with the crazy wolf-howl in the opening?). Some of the momentum is taken away by alternating fast/slow passages, but the guitarwork is full and catchy.
“Fight” could have been a very good song in the classic Aria fashion, if it were not for some silly experimentation. Crappy electronic vocal effects and silly distortion effects take away from a song that would have fit right in on BLOOD FOR BLOOD.
“Ball at Prince of Darkness” isn’t even worth mentioning, an uninspired closer.
Although I went into this album secretly hoping for another BLOOD FOR BLOOD, I am not disappointed with CHRISTENING BY FIRE. Although there are some crappy tracks, the rest of the album is classic Aria. While it is not as good as the golden era from HERO OF ASPHALT through BLOOD FOR BLOOD, Aria have successfully rebounded with their best album since the excellent NIGHT IS SHORTER THAN DAY.
(originally written by me for www.metal-rules.com, September, 2003)
After hearing Aria’s latest single “Kolizei”, I was really excited to hear the new album and expected a return to the early glory days of Aria. Even the album cover was making my mouth water!
After listening to the album a few times, it’s clear that the glory days are probably left in the past. One of the biggest drawbacks of the new Aria is the vocalist. Berkut’s voice worked quite well for the single and is not entirely horrible, but his weakness really shows on half the songs and Kipelov’s vocal chords are dearly missed. Obviously, the vocals aren’t the only negative thing about this album. The songs aren’t as captivating or memorable as Aria’s earlier material. I am glad for one thing, this is MUCH better than Chimera, which deserves to be eradicated from the band’s catalogue.
During the past five years, Aria has been edging further away from the Maiden-esque sound that was quite prevalent on the first 6 albums. It’s good that they are trying to find a sound of their own, but I don’t think that they are having too much success. The guitar tone on a lot of songs on Christening by Fire is thrashier and “heavier” than previously heard on their albums. Aria is also experimenting with some new sound effects that aren’t very wholesome but are still tolerable. Track 8, “Bitva” is a prime example of what I am talking about.
Now, you’re thinking, “Is there anything favorable about this album?” Yes. There are 2.5 great songs hidden amongst the 9 tracks. The aforementioned single – “Kolizei” and the sixth' track “Tam Visoko” (loosely translated as “High Above”) are the highlights of the album. I would give my left nut to hear Kipelov sing “Tam Visoko”, but again, Berkut does an ok job. No, the “.5” is not forgotten. The last song on this album could have been amazing. It had so much potential that it hurts. It could have been another epic like Blood for Blood or Night is Shorter than Day. The lyricist decided to yet again write about Bulgakov’s great novel “Master and Margarita”. Parts of the song just do not seem to match the lyrical content too well and vocal arrangement just doesn’t cut it most of the time. Oh well.
Synopsis: Potentially good album ruined by riffs that are too familiar, weak vocals and other foreign elements. I still have hope for this band, but in the mean time I am going to check out Kipelov’s side project.