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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!