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Angel Dust surprised everyone with this release, seeing as it is nothing like the stuff they were doing in the '80s, rather taking on a Prog/Power approach that wasn't all too common back in 1998. Comparisons could be made to a slightly thrashier Symphony X, with similar riff patterns and a similar guitar tone, but that's a bit of a stretch, since the material here is so diverse.
There is a charming sense of youthful creativity at work here, as Frank Bankowski and Dirk Assmuth obviously had a lot of pent-up ideas to let loose after reuniting their band. It almost becomes a detractor, as longer songs like "When I Die" or "Behind the Mirror" are very, very loosely constructed and filled with a lot of proggy noodling that the band would soon abandon on subsequent releases. But mostly these are great songs all the same, and this progressive slant only serves to make them even more colorful and entertaining.
The songwriting on the shorter tracks is much more focused and kinetic, with a lot of addictive, catchy, heavy riffs and a bombastic, energetic vocal performance from newly recruited screamer Dirk Thurisch, who is definitely one of the best things about this album and Angel Dust's later albums as a whole. He has a clean voice, but he also has a great ear for melody and he doesn't sound like he's got his balls caught in a vice. There are really no comparisons to be made here, as he doesn't sound like anyone else. His gruff, aggressive snarl can segue instantly into a smooth, melodic croon, and he has an awesome, unique style that you won't be able to get out of your head.
Standout tracks are a bit hard to name, as almost every song here is good. The track listing is well done, with fast and heavy songs like the stomping, hooky title track and the fiery "No More Faith" slowly building up a storm to the epic, sprawling "When I Die" and the real winner here, the melodic thunderstorm of "Where the Wind Blows." The Rainbow cover is out of place, though, and should have been stuck at the end of the album instead of in between the mesh of colossal Prog epics that the band surrounded it with. This album is not Angel Dust's best, but it is an extremely fun listen and a great display of the virtuosity of the new, superior Angel Dust. Recommended.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Though Bleed makes more of an initial bang and is an outstanding album in its own right, Angel Dust’s best effort is actually the lesser known Border of Reality from 1998. A comeback album after a ten year hiatus, Border of Reality marked a change for the band as they abandoned the thrash and turned towards power metal. To this date, no other band sounds quite like Angel Dust, which holds true for Border of Reality especially. It’s unique even for Angel Dust – primarily known for being a full on power metal band - because the band borrows freely from the power-progressive realm and have never sounded as epic and ambitious, before or after. Later albums showed the band abandoning some of the ideas present here, to focus more on a straightforward brand of power metal.
The production is as excellent as on their other (newer) albums. All the instruments are clearly audible and properly mixed. The guitars have a smooth and warm yet heavy sound to them; not raw in any way, yet powerful like hell. What sets apart Border of Reality from the rest is the quality of the songwriting. Although the band has an uncanny ability to produce world-class songs such as ‘Bleed’ for instance, consistency has always been a problem, but not here as my score indicates. There are no weak songs to be found, and it’s exceptionally well-written as demonstrated some of the more grandiose compositions such as ‘When I Die’, ‘Behind the Mirror’ and ‘Coming Home’ - three carefully constructed songs, written with a great sense of melody and pace. Faster cuts such as ‘Border of Reality’ and ‘Spotlight Kid’ mix things up but for the most part it’s a mid-paced affair, which is a good idea considering the epic feel the band is going for.
The rhythm guitar is as strong as usual and you can find some of the strongest leads here on an Angel Dust album. They don’t make much noise in the beginning and are quite short and few, but starting with ‘Nightmare’ Bernd Aufermann unleashes his creative powers. Noteworthy are the solos in, ‘When I Die’, ‘Where the Wind Blows’, ‘Spotlight Kid’ and especially ‘Behind the Mirror’ and ‘Coming Home’ – all of these totally ripping in a melodious way. Keyboards play a larger role here than on any other Angel Dust album even though they’re fairly anonymous. Their presence is clear on tracks like ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Where the Wind Blows’, but when I took the time to analyze the album, I was surprised at how much keyboard there actually is. The keyboard is mostly used to augment melodies already started by another instrument and it’s done in such a subtle and effective way that it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
Flowing, melodic and insanely catchy, the vocal melodies are the biggest highlight of the album and largely contribute to its excellence. Dirk Thurisch possesses one of the finest voices in metal in my opinion and is in many ways integral to the band’s sound. He does his best work here, providing some of the most heartfelt and engaging vocals I’ve heard to date. It may be exaggerating things a bit, but the question now that he’s left the band is if they’ll ever be able to reach the same heights.
Great albums have a tendency to inspire and touch on a host of feelings in the listener. Border of Reality succeeds in that regard. When people talk about great comebacks, this expertly written album in the power-progressive mold, should be high up on people’s lists. Truly monumental and a must have.
Highlights: ‘Border of Reality’, ‘When I Die’, ‘Where the Wind Blows’, ‘Behind the Mirror’ and ‘Coming Home’.