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Normally I’d be quite skeptical of a single with a cover song as the title track, especially given the track record of ones put out by some of the older guard in heavy metal. But “Walking In The Air” is an exceptional case not merely because it’s an unconventional choice for a song to be converted into the metal medium, but also because of the b-sides provided. Apparently the rehearsal, composing, and recording sessions that spawned the famed “Oceanborn” album bore even more fruit than some might have guessed.
Although originally a children’s song, “Walking In The Air” has a very beautiful and somber melody that is actually quite conducive to a gothic makeover, particularly one with a lot of keyboard sounds to synthesize an orchestra backing up the arrangement. Changing the vocalist from a child with an immature range to a fully blossomed soprano voice has an effect that renders the content in a much more universal sense, making it ambiguous enough for the lyrics to mean anything that relates to whoever is hearing it. For the most part it stays subdued and keyboard oriented, but there is a nice little guitar solo that gives it a little flavoring and a nice hard edged ending to please those who need some power chords with their ballads.
But the real metallic beef and potatoes come with the b-sides, of which “Nightquest” is the star attraction. There are plenty of operatic vocal trappings, Baroque harpsichord majesty and Meatloaf sounding piano additives, but the riffs here are just pure, unadulterated NWOBHM brilliance. This is the sort of stuff that was brought down from Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Riot and Judas Priest and given an extra shot of attitude thanks to a newfound sense of stylistic freedom that came about in the early 80s. Although very different in sound, that same progressive spirit is manifest here.
“Tutankhamen” leaves the hard hitting, classic NWOBHM forum for something much more epic and actually not all that far removed from mid-80s Dio. Again, this is only in a general songwriting sense, as the voice and the keyboard work surrounding it drastically alter the essence of the whole into something quite different. The melodic material in the synthesized flute and guitars is a bit more movie soundtrack oriented and westernized, but there is a definite commonality to songs such as Rainbow’s “Gates Of Babylon” and Dio’s “Egypt (The Chains Are On)”, along with a host of other older metal songs that were dabbling with eastern musical influences.
Although extremely rare today, this single was something of a treasure chest of insight into the early workings of this band, and how many interesting ideas came out of the transitional period between the folksy and somewhat green “Angels Fall First” and the revolutionary piece of neo-classical, operatic power metal “Oceanborn”. There are newer editions of “Oceanborn” that do contain “Nightquest”, and “Tutankhaman” did appear on a couple of different releases, but this was the debut of these two hidden gems. They are definitely worth seeking out, in addition to the songs that made it onto the original release of the band’s 1998 classic.