without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
In the land of swords, battles, and magic, there was an increasing amount of blight and a frighteningly high danger of extinction in the near future. Warriors were growing half-hearted, swords were slowing being replaced by knives, guns, and fists, and magic was slowly dying out. If something didn't happen soon, the world would be completely transformed into a mundane land of uninspired banalities. But what could be done to save it from extinction? The few remaining interested denizens were desperate, looking for something, anything, to bring life back to their land.
Enter Crest of the Martyrs. Sure, it wasn't exactly the only USPM at the time; Virgin Steele put out albums in the mid 90's up through 2000, and Wizard, who are basically a clone of Manowar, were still going strong, but other than that it was pretty barren. In fact, I don't think I can come up with even one other really good power metal album from 2003; 2001 had Wizard's Head of the Deceiver, and 2002 had Blind Guardian's A Night at the Opera; 2003 had only Crest of the Martyrs. Taking heavy influence from Omen and infusing it with a slice of modern epic metal a la Battleroar, Twisted Tower Dire hold the banner of USPM higher than anyone else at the time.
While I cite Battleroar's brand of Manilla Road worship, it's really a case of convergent evolution here, as Twisted Tower Dire actually predate most of those bands, putting out material as early as the mid 90's. The difference with Twisted Tower Dire is that they actually have melodic sensibilities and understand how to write a good song. The songs here are simple in structure, with solid, catchy riffs, blazing solos, and a charismatic vocalist. While Tony Taylor might not be quite on the level of, say, J.D. Kimball, he definitely holds his own here, with a slightly nasal tone and a rasp that makes him sound like a battle-hardened warrior telling tales of battle and glory (which he does). The album captures an epic atmosphere with its simple, repetitive, meaty riffs, stylistically similar to Manowar, although the soloing, song structures, and vocals are different enough that you wouldn't think of Manowar automatically upon hearing them; there is a certain degree of subtlety here, despite the straightforward, in-your-face delivery.
Now, praises aside, the album is hardly flawless. In spite of a deliciously meaty production, practically unheard of in 2003, the album drops off in quality a bit after the first five songs; it's not a drastic change, as the songs are stylistically and aesthetically almost identical to the rest of the album, but the riffs begin to get a bit more lackluster, the choruses less inspired, and the songs overall just a bit lacking. For example, the main riff of "Fight to be Free" is good, but the prechorus is decent at best, and the chorus feels as though it's missing something; despite the fact that it's no more repetitive than most of the other songs, it feels as though it's overlong. "Transfixed" has a similar feeling, as if the riffs are being overused and the song is overlong, despite the fact that it's a mere three minutes long. It's not bad, it's just not as gripping as the first half of the album. "By My Hand" is even worse, with the riffs barely keeping my attention; there are some good solos, but overall it's not a very good song. These three just don't have the catchiness and conviction of the glorious anthem that is "Axes and Honor" or driving force of "At Night".
Luckily, the album picks up again with "Guardian Bloodline" which has a fantastic main riff and a catchy, warm, almost euro-power chorus; not the shitty side of euro-power, though; I'm talking something you might find in Iron Savior's Battering Ram or Gamma Ray's Powerplant. Finally, we have "The Reflecting Pool", which is quite possibly the best song on the album, with a sugary, arcane opening that evokes the sword of sorcery of something like Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara, or perhaps Dungeons and Dragons, and then opens into what's probably the best riff on the album and doesn't let up for seven and a half minutes. Excellent soloing, riffing, and vocals, this song has a slightly darker feel than the rest of the album, as if Tony Taylor is encountering something deadly and he's being warned of its harm. However, this song also represents pretty much everything good about the album; if every song was this good, it would be in my top ten favorite albums of all time.
If you like modern power metal or USPM, and you want something a little better, a little heavier, a little more consistent, check out this album, I guarantee you'll find something good here.
Twisted Tower Dire is one of the best American bands in ages, with their classic mentality and songwriting and unbeatable pep and fire. It really says something when you can take a style that’s been around for decades and make an album in that style that actually remains relevant, integral and vital to the scene, without deviating too much from the standard formula. Disagree if you might, but you’ll still be naught but another poser for Twisted Tower Dire to annihilate with the giant metal axe of metaphorical nature that is Crest of the Martyrs.
The formula here is nothing new, as I said. It borrows from the classic pool of Iron Maiden and also the original American metal barbarians, Omen and melds them together with a slick Piet Sielck production and a heavy dose of electric energy and commanding riffs for something that is just hugely gratifying. Nothing gets me pumped up quite like this album can. It’s just such an energetic experience, so fueled with metallic passion that I can’t help but love it, even despite its obvious shortcomings in originality.
The band as a whole function excellently, sounding like a pack of sword-wielding knights ready to pillage an enemy castle, take their women and slay the dragon at the end of it all. Tony Taylor has a great voice, sounding every bit the part of the brave crusader with his gritty wail and excellent sense of melody, and the riffs are often crunchy enough to send even the most reserved of metal fans into a fucking frenzy. Damn are they good.
The songs on Crest of the Martyrs are hooky, tough, smart and replayable, powering out with a monster conviction that sounds like the work of pros. “At Night” blazes through the speakers first with a hammering riff and a sing-along chorus that has to be played at max volume to get the full effect, and it’s followed up with awesome slabs of steel like the mid-paced majestic stomper “Axes & Honor” and the absolutely excellent “By My Hand,” both of which have riffs good enough for ten bands. Or how about “Infinitum,” which packs some deliciously good guitar chugging behind the choir-chanted chorus? Just ace. There are some speedy cuts, too, like the Power Metal romp of “To be a Champion” and the sailing “Fight to be Free,” as well as “Some Other Time, Some Other Place,” which ought to be an Iron Savior song, it’s that German. They’re all very good, rest assured.
The second half of the album gets a little more varied, with “Transfixed” being just under three minutes and also having one of the album’s best themes. It’s a mini-epic, a storming-the-gates scorcher that has the dynamic of a longer song fitted into a much shorter mode. Slough Feg are good at it, and it turns out Twisted Tower Dire are, too. I always thought it would be kind of cool to have a band wholly based on this kind of thing; these super-short mini epics. No longer songs at all; just a bunch of one and two-minute scorchers with enough pomp for three or four other songs crammed in. That would be pretty kickass.
“Guardian Bloodline” has some really brilliant hooks and a big chorus that manages to sound totally honest and sincere in its brevity, and then we kick into “The Reflecting Pool,” which is the album’s big epic, with its Maidenesque riff patterns and monster shout along chorus. It’s really a great way to end a great album, even though the album still has some bonus tracks left to bite into - "The Witch's Eyes" is a remake of one of their old songs, and the band even had the good taste to cover Tarot's "Wings of Darkness" with as much gusto as they had on the regular songs. Kickass.
So Twisted Tower Dire smoke. And you'd have to be smoking something to pass this awesome collection of kickass metal anthems up. Go get it.
Knowing what a competent and consistent band Twisted Tower Dire is (I’ve heard all their previous albums) I naturally expected their 2003 release, Crest of Martyrs, to be at least decent, but nothing could prepare me for the monumental album I was about to experience. It’s a pleasant thing, to believe you’ve heard everything metal has to offer, only to be proven wrong again and again. We’re basically dealing with modern US power metal here. The mood and atmosphere is of a serious nature (as is common in the great land across the sea), but not Tad Morose, Manticora or Evergrey-serious. More like Iron Savior and Firewind. The most obvious comparison is Iron Savior due to the fact that Piet Sielck has produced, and influenced, both bands. To be honest though, I could make a dozen other comparisons, and each of them would be just as correct. Just think of it as the US power metal counterpart (quality-wise) of Gamma Rays excellent Somewhere out in Space. Or (consistently-wise) of Hollow’s amazing Architect of the Mind.
Much like Somewhere out in Space, Crest of the Martyrs is very accessible and easy to like. I got instantly hooked and singled out songs like ‘At Night’, ‘Axes & Honor’, ‘Fight to be Free’, ‘By My Hand and ‘The Forgotten Pools' as favorites but the more I listened, the more I realized that all eleven songs are great. There’s nothing fancy going on in the songwriting department as the band doesn't waste any time in getting to the point. The songs are straightforward and have a great flow to them using the classic verse-bridge-refrain structure, augmented by the occasional well played and fitting solo. The vocals are well-rounded, melodic, occasionally soaring and intense, and always catchy. The guitars are heavy and the riffs varied. Bland description maybe, but all of the instruments stand out, which makes it hard for me to point out highlights.
There are plenty of great moments to be found, which is important for an album's staying power. Examples: the fun base-guitar intro in ‘Some Other Place’, the steady pace and majestic refrain in ‘Axes & Honor’, the beefy guitar-chops in ‘Infinitum’, the addictive Helstar-ish gallop in 'Guardian Bloodline', the neck-breaking guitar-crunches and massive backing vocals in ‘By My Hand’ and the atmospheric guitar intros in ‘The Forgotten Pools’ and ‘The Witches Eyes’, etc. the list goes on.
I’ve been listening to metal for a long time now, thousands of albums all in all, yet I can’t point at an album with fewer weaknesses than this one. It doesn’t have the best collection of songs I’ve ever heard, but it’s so bloody well-made on all levels and consistent, it’s hard to ever get bored. It’s like a vortex of perfectly streamlined songwriting and musicianship. True, it doesn’t have the originality of a Tad Morose album or the (instrumental) creativity of Lost Horizon’s debut but it’s insanely catchy and fun to listen to and the truth is, music doesn’t have to be unique or creative to be great, just consistent and varied, and Crest of the Martyrs is unbeatable in that regard. Though I’ve made no hints otherwise, Crest of Martyrs is not generic in the least – the band avoids that word with grace and consequently, Crest of the Martyrs stands in stark contrast to the growing pile of crap extruded by some of today’s leading power metal bands. It’s the best US power metal album since Iced Earth’s Burnt Offerings and its statement is obvious: This is what heavy fucking metal is supposed to sound like!
Oh, yeah. Another fine heavy power metal release for 2003. It seems like the United States bands are really dominating the top of my list so far this year with Cage, Agent Steel, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, and now Twisted Tower Dire coming along with some of their best work to date.
Formed in 1995, it was 4 years before the band cut their debut full-length, CURSE OF THE TWISTED TOWER for Miskatonic Records, with the follow-up, THE ISLE OF HYDRA coming two years later. CREST OF THE MARTYRS is the third release by the Virginia-based US Power Metallers, and their first with their new label, Remedy Records.
When I finally got my hands on this eagerly anticipated release by one of the best USPM bands, I first notice 3 things:
1).The old Twisted Tower Dire “Tree” logo is gone, replaced by straightforward lettering. Why, oh why did you do this? The old TTD logo was among the best ever, IMO.
2). Artwork done by Derek Riggs. Oh hell yes.
3). Produced by Iron Savior mastermind Piet Sielck. You really can’t go wrong with that, either.
Forgoing any form of gratuitous introductory track (almost a refreshing change of pace anymore), “At Night” runs right over with a blast of classic traditional metal in the Priest/Saxon/Maiden school. Oh, yeah...I’m digging this already. The production has really stepped up since the previous album. In fact, I’m finding it almost too glossy in some places, though this is not a huge issue. Vocalist Tony Taylor must have been training his voice, improving both his power and range. This, too, fits the clearer production, lthough his performance is still very good, I personally prefer an untrained style with more of an edge.
Piet Sielck’s interventions with the album are really apparent on the next track, “Some Other Time, Some Other Place.” This one is a total speed metal ripper; a quick 3-minute track with some cool basslines by Jim Hunter and a total over-the-top Iron Savior-ish chorus. Did I mention that Piet also contributed backing vocals to the album? “Axes and Honor” is exactly what I imagine when I think of Twisted Tower Dire. Mid-paced USPM with a marching lead riff and an epic middle instrumental passage. “To be a Champion” is one of my favourites on the entire album. More speed metal here, but with a bit of Euro flair that Hammerfall hasn’t had since GLORY TO THE BRAVE. I love the solo around the 2:15 mark that carries for nearly 20 seconds. Speaking of Hammerfall, Tony Taylor should have been picked by Bill Tsamis to record the last Warlord album instead of Joacim.
Well, we’re almost halfway through the album, and we’re 4 for 4 with great tunes. My only complaint so far is the overuse of “Iron Savior Backing Vocals” on nearly every track so far. It’s good for Iron Savior, and it’s cool used occasionally, but GIVE IT A REST already! Personally, I think it sounds more like artificial filler than an integral part of the sound.
The last half of the album easily as strong as the first, if not better. Twisted Tower Dire settles down a bit from the speed metal into their own familiar USPM style. We’ve got some TTD classics here, like “Fight to be Free,” “By My Hand,” and “Guardian Bloodline.” Closing out the album is the 7-minute “The Reflecting Pool,” and damn does this one rule. Easily the best on the album, it starts off almost as a ballad before laying down the force. Yup, this rules!
Oh, yeah, we also get a bonus track with a new recording of “The Witch’s Eyes,” from TTD’s cult first album, THE CURSE OF THE TWISTED TOWER. The original version is my favourite Twisted Tower Dire song, and the new version absolutely destroys. This one’s definitely a winner!
Twisted Tower Dire return with a third effort that I feel is their best work to date. This one will certainly end up ranking high on my top 10 list come year’s end. True metal fans do not miss this gem from one of the best underground United States Power Metal bands.
(originally written by me for www.metal-rules.com, August, 2003)