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Lord of Earth and Heaven's Heir is an album from one of the best 2nd or 3rd string acts that put together an amazing album. Usually the standard 1st string Stratovarius, Helloween, or Hammerfall albums would take hold of the greatest power/speed metal albums, but on the contrary, Human Fortress puts together an album of such caliber that even the 1st string acts can take some instructional notes from. Part of the reason this album stands out above many other lesser known band is Jioti's passionate performance displayed through these 11 tracks. Lord of Earth and Heaven's Heir has a typical take lyrically and musically from the speed/power metal department, but the execution of it is just so well done.
The opener track is a great start off for what to expect with the material. The guitars have a light riff feel to them with a keyboard synth sound that complements the guitars with an added strength. The drums fill their with the double bass presence while the vocalist soars through various high notes and higher notes. Dragon's Lair reveals the formula that makes this album work; catchy choruses and melodic hooks. Under Black Age Toil follows the same pattern but with a more emotional tone in the vocals. Lord o Earth and Heaven's Heir has a great chorus and a soft interlude/ spoken word section in the middle of the track that adds some depth to the feeling in the lyrics. Divine Astronomy kicks off again with a catchy chorus (had me singing this for months) and follows through with interesting lyrics and enough power in it to make this one a highlight of the album. The album does not fall off at any time, but follows the same formula of choruses/hooks with different melodies for the remainder of the songs. Forgive and Forget is the ballad of the album about forgiveness, which does not fall into the category of bland and emotionless, which is an added bonus to the album. The Little Flame is a great closer that does not leave an impression like something is lacking in the album.
The lyrics tend towards fantasy stylized combat or a call to being noble with some tinges of philosophy added within a few of the tracks. To some the lyrics can appear hokey, but with an honest attempt to enjoy the album, you will find many power statements that add to the listening experience. IMO, the lyrics are well written when related to other acts of this genre. Catchy, but still full of emotion, Lord of Earth and Heaven's Heir remains one of the best albums from an unknown 2nd or 3rd string act in the power/speed metal genre.
I had been looking for this band for quite some time (read: years) and I had to download it because I hadn’t been able to get it. When I listened to it at the very beginning I was a little disappointed. Perhaps because I had been listening to Dream Evil, Metallium which are of course heavier by all means I felt this one too light and didn’t hit me at first.
Thankfully, during the course of these past weeks I re-visited it quite frequently. I was so idiot! I disregarded it because it was not heavy enough but then again, since I consider myself a good music listener I had to punch myself for being rush in judging an album. When I re-read ‘epic-medieval melodic metal’ then like a lightning it struck me.
This album goes very much like Hammerfall ‘Glory to the brave’ if I dare to say. The other guys beautifully appointed the fact that they do not go as symphonic as Rhapsody or Dark Moor and it can’t be said more right. The ‘orchestral’ arrangements are very light and actually the guitars as well. The main difference with Hammerfall is that they are more guitar driven whereas Human Fortress is more focused on atmosphere and melody. Certainly ‘atmosphere’ is an overrated term lately but in this case they try and success at transmitting this medieval vibe.
You might be thinking that I am pushing the comparison too far but the fact is that the bands share similarities. The speed is another aspect. Hammerfall might have some faster tracks but the mid tempo, the riffing style is very much similar but less prominent on Human Fortress. The vocals are similar to Joacim Cans as well: very melodic and very emotional. Joacim has a higher pitch and Joti here focuses more on melody and epic vibe more than metallic style.
Ok, perhaps this will give you an idea how the band sounds a little bit. In regards to the songs we have mostly mid tempo tracks, fast tracks (although not as fast as Blind Guardian or Gamma Ray) and very emotional ballads. One more interesting aspect is that they interlude the fast tracks with really calm passages. I find it really hard to get power metal elements here. Power metal is fast by nature and sung in the higher registers (almost tenor-esque) and this guy is clearly not that kind of singer. The music does not rely on speed either so I disagree on that department.
The keyboards, although the guitars are not so powerful, do not overwhelm the entire sound. That is actually very interesting because if you think of today’s Helloween which rely so much on keyboards for my taste, this band does not over sugar the songs. Some songs are in fact keyboard driven but the most metal songs do not get overpowered by the keyboards.
‘In the dragons’ lair begins in typical Hammerfall fashion. It is fast, powerful, and melodic as hell and an awesome track to start. It basically gives you an idea what the album is all about. If you listen carefully you will barely notice the keyboard which is basically the way this is supposed to be done.
‘Under black age toil’ is slower and vocal driven. The tone used here is a little raspier during the verses but the background vocals in the chorus are a standout. The guitar riff is infectious and vicious. This is a great track with great vocals and an awesome end. The title track, for a change is very much Stratovarius fashion. Double bass drums but mid tempo with cool keyboard, Gregorian chants at the beginning and spoken parts. Surprisingly, and running only at 6min. provides lots of twists, calm passages and en epic atmosphere like few bands I have listened achieving.
‘Divine Astronomy’ is another double bass fast track. In this case I am not too bonded to the vocals; especially in the chorus which I think are a little too high for the singer but even so its catchiness is worth mentioning. ‘Forgive & forget’ is basically the mandatory ballad is a unique emotional cut with only vocals and keyboards. The song could be boring at some points but then you have to focus on the emotional vibe it transmits to appreciate it.
Just in case you are wondering about the riffs in particular they are NOT complex or heavy at all. They are really light, simple and effective for the recording’s purpose. After track 4 basically you will listen to the same thing over and over which somewhat drags the album a little. Track 6 is just an instrumental with classic guitars yet effective thou I do not see the purpose since every song has this kind of interludes.
As for the last track it is a mid tempo track and I would say the heaviest of the album. The vocals are done in a creepier way so to speak. The riffs are rather simpler than the first tracks. I’d say being the last one is not catchy at all, very epic and yet it lacks, for me, some punch or perhaps speed that would be appreciated to end this album. The final guitar rhythm section at mark 5:30min is what makes the song enjoyable although it is really simple but the melody is very effective.
By the way, if you wonder who Michael Bormann is, he was the awesome singer from the band Jaded Heart, and so far I firmly believe the BEST hard rock singer of all time.
In the end this is a solid effort yet not heavy at all. This is the perfect way to play and listen to medieval epic metal but yet it has its flaws but as for a light heavy metal album it is a nice and enjoyable experience.
Germany has been at the forefront of many musical Renaissances of sorts, producing such significant historical composers as J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelsson, Bruckner and Strauss. In more recent years, they produced such pioneering metal outfits as Helloween, Accept, Freedom Call, Blind Guardian, and many others. Human Fortress pretty much represents a sort of outlier amongst the various 2nd tier of the power/epic metal rebirth of the late 90s. "Lord of Earth and Heaven's Heir" represents the beginning of what will hopefully be a long career for these six Hannover residents.
Unlike bands such as Freedom Call and Gamma Ray, Human Fortress does not live mostly by speed. They do have some extremely fast tracks such as "Divine Astronony" and "Light Beyond Horizon", and drummer Apostolos Zaios ranks among my top 10 favorites for the genre. But they have a solid collection of more mid-tempo rockers such as "Black Age Toil" and "A stroke of Fate", although "Amberdawn'' takes my pick for the most exciting mid-tempo rocker due to the catchy organ part and Torsten Wolf's insanely dramatic guitar solo.
Although these guys do take alot of influences from the pre-modern era of music, particularly the Renaissance, they do not go the dense symphonic route that bands like Dark Moor and Rhapsody go. Dirk Marquard's keyboard parts are quite charming, but they give the feel of a smaller ensemble that one would observe at the dinner party. His harp/oboe sounds on the title track, his piano work on "Forgive and Forget", his synth lead work on "The Dragon's Lair" and his organ work on "Amberdawn are some of the highlights of this album.
One rather interesting bonus on this album is the bass playing of Pablo Tammen, which is highly active. His raunchy tone is a tiny bit reminiscent of Steve Harris, although his style focuses more on speed and less on two and three note chord hits. "Light Beyond Horizon", "Little Flame" and "Damned to Bedlam" feature some of Pablo's more active bass work.
Although the musicians in this fold are highly skilled at what they do, the true face of this band and the reason why they stand above many of the others is vocalist Jioti Parcharidis. This guy has a very powerful voice, yet somehow when he sings it almost sounds like there is an ominous whisper behind the various high end wails. Stand out vocal performances on this album include "Black Age Toil", "A Stroke of Fate", "Amberdawn", and "Little Flame". Although many complain about "Forgive and Forget", I don't particularly find anything wrong with this rather somber ballad, and it does showcase Jioti's lower range quite well.
In conclusion, this is a great album loaded with treats for fans of power metal, and also some appeal towards the traditional crowd, particularly in the slower tracks. There isn't really a bad song on here. This comes highly recommended from someone who himself regularly listens to it, though it does occasionally get shelved for new releases.