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Classy redemption and resurrection - 87%

TitaniumNK, October 8th, 2012

One of the most disturbing things that can happen to a band is the departure of the vocalist and frontman. This inner shock gets even bigger if the band is famous, so there are many disappointed fans and inevitable critics and doubts about the band's future. This thing happened to Maiden, this thing happened to Priest, and ultimately, this thing happened to Aria.

Valeriy Kipelov, the voice of Aria, left the band in 2002, after an argue with the masterminds, bassist Vitaliy Dubinin and guitarist Vladimir Holstinin. Unfortunately, I don't know the details, but one thing is certain - it was one hell of a fight, since Kipelov, guitarist Terentyev and the drummer Manyakin all left (Still, it wasn't that bad, all former and present members of Aria family are in good relation; Kipelov appeared on jubilee Aria XXV years concert. Geoff Tate vs. Queensryche, this isn't). It seemed that the band will split up for good. But, mind you, Aria is bar none the biggest band in Eastern Europe, they couldn't give up so easily. Dubinin and Holstinin had a plan - in with former Master's guitarist Sergey Popov, in with the band's former drummer Maxim Udalov (he drummed on famous Герой aсфальта album), and finally, in with the new vocalist Arthur Berkut. Berkut's promotion was undoubtedly the most controversial decision in this whole story. Why? First of all, fanboys believed that no one, I mean no one could ever be the decent replacement for Kipelov (sounds familiar?). The second reason became clear when this album, Крещение oгнем (Baptism by Fire) was released, in 2003.

I can imagine the state of shock of an unsuspected Aria fan when first time listened to this album. It sounded like nothing Aria ever put out before. Heavier than ever. Mind you, Химера was heavy, but also very, very plodding and dull. This is heavy metal that takes no prisoners; it will blow your fucking head off.

Then there's Berkut. If you like me and most of Russian rock/metal listeners have listened to his most famous work with art/prog rock band Autograph, you'd expect from him some extremely high-pitched vocals, like nightingale on speed. Well, apparently, in the meantime he drank hectoliters of booze and had a tow truck of smokes, because that's how his voice sounds like. On the voice damage scale from 1-10, I'd give him seven (and ten points go to... Lemmy!). Even though this sounds bad, it's actually good. Berkut the Soprano would do no good to this album. Strangely enough, neither would Kipelov. But Berkut the Hoarse Bear fits perfectly to the overall feeling, sound and mood of this album. Once again, Aria is talking business.

This amount and volume of heaviness might have surprised somebody, but not me. With Kipelov’s departure they’ve reached and passed the turning point in their career. Nothing will ever be like it used to, and they knew it.

Crank it up, motherfuckers. It is time to rock and roll.

From the first to the last second of this record, Aria are displaying incredible amount of passion, motivation and something that I would call a will to redeem themselves. For the first time, in Aria's sound you can clearly hear strong influence of heavier side of German late 90's power metal (Primal Fear, Angel Dust, some Rage), and it is really a big change. Once more. The song that proves my words is the brutal opener ''Патриот'' - very similar to Primal Fear's ''Angel in Black'', albeit way better in my mind, but... they are similar enough to draw accusations of plagiarism... Why, Aria, why?!

The trend that Aria starting on Генератор зла - experimentation and incorporating unconventional elements into heavy metal - has continued, but in significantly less extent. After all, this is a traditional heavy/power metal album. Still, hearing the mandolines in the title track and computerized voice effects in ''Битва'' feels like Aria's telling us to expect the unexpected. Still, as I said, don't expect that much of the unexpected. Not on Крещение oгнем.

When released, this album was utterly bashed by both critics and fans for its departure of band's traditional style and most of all, for - absence of Kipelov. Berkut and his performance were greeted with hostility. ''This guy sucks'', ''No Kipelov = no Aria'', ''They're officially dead now'', were the most common comments. When all the hype dwindled, they all realized they were very much wrong and began to appreciate the record and Berkut. It's interesting that the history has repeated itself in 2011, when Berkut left and Mikhail Zhitnyakov joined the band. But, as the Arab wisdom says - the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

The highlights? ''Колизей'' is a prime example of a perfect heavy metal song. Just listen to that choppy riff, that majestic chorus, that amazing solo, that godly ending. Berkut shines here. You won't, you can't find a single flaw to this song. Top 5 Aria material. ''Твой новый мир'' is very catchy yet damn heavy, just like this album in general. ''Там высоко'' shows us the calmer and poignant side of Крещение oгнем, and ''Белый флаг'' has got a killer set of riffs and solos. Maybe the best way to point out the highlights is this - something for everyone, everything for someone.

There aren't real sliding on this album, but there are a couple of flaws and weaker spots. ''The Патриот affair'' itself is a big problem and an issue to be discussed. Then, ''Палач'' is good, but isn't nearly as striking as it is in the interpretation of Zhitnyakov (Live in Studio, 2012). The closer, ''Бал у князя тьмы'' lyrically deals with one of the best novels ever, Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, but it musically falls short. It has its moments, but in the end it's just another average heavy metal song. Aria did injustice to this magnificent work of literature. Pity.

All in all, Крещение oгнем served just fine as the beginning of a new era for Aria, and more importantly, it was good enough to overcome and outdo some past efforts and showed that the band's opus is far from being over and out. Though I wouldn't recommend it to someone who begins to explore Aria (keep going from the start, young enthusiast), it is however a safe bet for any traditional/speed metal maniac. Recommended without reservation.