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Величие - не бредовое - 95%

naverhtrad, December 23rd, 2015
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Moroz Records (Simplified edition)

You’ve got to give credit to a band which not only has been alive and kicking arse for over 30 years, but which was formed under a still-highly-repressive communist government, and has managed not only to thrive but to single-handedly spawn pretty much the better and better-known half of Moscow’s heavy, power and thrash scenes (Мастер, Кипелов / Маврин, Страйкъ and Эпидемия all, off the top of my head, have their origins here) over the course of its prolific and consistently-heavy life. Little could Ария have known when they released their debut Delusions of Grandeur (Мания Величия) back in 1985, that their grandeur 30 years in retrospect would turn out to be anything but delusional. Russia’s Iron Maiden? Perhaps not such a bad reputation to have.

The fuzzy, vague garage-band mixing and production values might turn one off at first from Delusions of Grandeur, but that would be a serious mistake. It’s one of those albums in my collection that’s just played so well and so sincerely that I keep going back to it, because there is really a lot going on beneath the surface. Sure, it certainly isn’t wrong to say that Ария were snagging onto the ascendant mood and playing in a style which is very nearly indistinguishable from the New Wave British bands on the other side of the Curtain: Priest, Maiden, Saxon, Rainbow, even occasionally some injections of Overkill-era Motörhead speed. But they put a very distinctly Russian spin on the whole endeavour. It’s not that other bands can’t do wistful, melancholic and vast the way that Ария does on Delusions of Grandeur, but this album in particular blends all three in a way which exudes soul.

One track is particularly illustrative of this. ‘Волонтер’ (‘Volunteer’) is a song which throws long in spectacular fashion, evoking vast evergreen forests, wind-swept steppes and labourious travels on long-forgotten roads, the bleakness of exile and impoverishment – with the instrumentation alone. The opening is even slightly evocative of a Vangelis soundtrack, and the evocative keyboards stay always in the background, always adding that cold and unreachable sense of distance to the ranging melodic sections. That’s not even considering the subject matter of Val Kipelov’s lyrics, which alternate between mournful and outraged, and culminate in an epic (and I don’t use that word lightly) scream: an old veteran who, like Solzhenitsyn’s John Denisovich, was cast out of the army and possibly sent to the gulag for an unspecified crime, possibly desertion. But this is not a ballad. It takes the triumphalism of an Iron Maiden epic and completely subverts it, even as it clearly uses Maiden as a primary point of reference. The drums and prominent bass lay down a stately, steady rhythm, and guitar chords are slammed down with sparing efficacy, before taking a downturn in key and adding a speedy kick, with Kipelov suddenly delivering his lyrics in a conspiratorial rasp. ‘Волонтер’ trails away in a gust of wind and haunting, Vangelis-style keyboard work once again – cold, evanescent, with ominous voices hanging just out of reach and out of comprehension. Here the vague mixing works entirely to the band’s advantage.

Душа, my friends. Soul.

I do use this one track as an illustration of the evocations of the whole album, though ‘Волонтер’ of course is the exemplar. One can get the same impressions from the ranging, high melodic hooks on the arse-kicking ‘Бивни черных скал’, the sincere vocal work of ‘Тореро’ or the somewhat American hard-rock-sounding ballad ‘Мечты’ (which has a deceptively laid-back – but brilliant, for all that – guitar solo). They almost take the whole thing too far on ‘Жизнь задаром’, to an extent where, even though they’re going for heavier and harder riffing, the result sounds jarring. The overblown operatic bombast of the title track, as well, sounds like they’re trying too hard to achieve again what ‘Волонтер’ did organically. But pretty much across the board, you’ve got a heavy metal album which can both leave you awe-stricken at the atmospherics, and also consistently deliver heavy, solid blows. ‘Это рок’, indeed!

A couple of words about the closer. On ‘Позади Америка’, they go completely for broke on the Scorpions influence, and even sound somewhat like early Дивље Јагоде (Eastern European biker-metal par excellence)! True, it is some not-very-coyly-hidden Soviet propaganda. And true, it doesn’t quite fit the tenor of the rest of the album. But it’s a damn catchy song in its own right, with an upbeat tempo, an infectious main riff, and a chorus that you’ll find yourself singing long hours after you’ve finished listening to it, even if your Russian isn’t that great. (Which is, of course, the whole point.)

Highly, highly recommended album. For fans of Russian metal, this one’s an indispensable classic.

19 / 20

Russian metal debut matches the best of the West - 75%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, May 22nd, 2015

This debut album - the Russian name means "Megalomania" in English - by Russian band Ariya is not bad at all: sure, there are strong influences from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden among others, especially in the singing and some of the music, but the songs are well written and played. Sometimes the music even surpasses the originals in style, subject matter and inspiration! Most songs have distinct toe-tapping melodies and lead guitar solos that rip up the fretboard and almost set it alight. As the album continues, there are inevitable moments where it falls into poodle-rock territory and the arrival of synthesiser on some tracks does put the fear of schmaltz polish into a self-respecting metal-head’s soul, but apart from one song in the middle, most tracks are not long and the musicians keep everything restrained. By the time the last couple of tracks are on the horizon, the early fire has long since settled into warm-hearth mode and only occasional sparks of lead guitar riffing give any indication of what these guys are capable of.

For what's basically a home recording – the band members recorded this album in their own studio/s, and one has to bear in mind the political / social context in which Ariya were writing, recording and performing where Western cultural influences were at best frowned upon and actively discouraged by government authorities; even Soviet rock bands that were active in the 1970s often could not release their material until the 1990s, after the Soviet regime had fallen – the production is not bad though it’s basic. Indeed the lack of polish adds a much-needed tough quality to the songs, especially those songs coming later in the album that aspire to the operatic (the title track) and the overblown (“Mechty”).

It’s a bit of a shame that at the time the band did not have a very clear musical identity of its own: the guys slip from Judas Priest through Iron Maiden and the Scorpions and back again, and sometimes I even hear 1980s Queen. I have heard one other recording from Ariya and it seems significant that, like this debut, it starts with a track most like Judas Priest and then goes into something more like generic melodic hard rock with no clear identity: get people's attention with whatever sounds most current and which is well regarded by metal fans in the West, and use that to interest people in your own material. But given the difficult conditions in which Ariya were operating, where even acquiring musical instruments and decent recording equipment was hard, much less being able to perform music with lyrics that did not fit official Soviet propaganda norms, the fact that this band was able to match the best metal bands the West had to offer is nothing short of amazing.

Aria kicking ass: The beginning - 98%

TitaniumNK, November 27th, 2011

The debut album of the Russian heavy metal legends, Aria, is one of the most unique albums I have ever heard. Also, it is probably the most important album for the Eastern European metal scene, because this is first true heavy metal album in Russia (ex-USSR) ever made. This already is a great achievement, since Soviet Union was very isolated from the rest of the world in therms of popular music (and pretty much everything else) and the conditions to play heavy music were very bad. Luckily, it only reflected and contributed to originality of this amazing album.

All band members put up good performance: Valeriy Kipelov delivers strong vocal performance (although he would improve a lot in the future), Vladimir Holstinin plays both solo and rhythm guitars (you can even hear dual solo sections), Alik Granovskiy is very innovative on bass, same can’t be said for Alexander Lyvov on drums; his playing is fairly simple and the bad production makes it even more dull. Last, but not the least, Kiril Pokrovskiy is very solid on keyboards, providing some great atmospheric playing, especially on ingenious ’’Volunteer’’.

Production is quite bad, it sounds very dated and blur. Even though the band members were obviously rich, since they recorded this album in their own studio, you just couldn’t have a well produced, mixed and mastered album in Russia in those years. The technical backwardness is evident. Nonetheless, this album sounds like typical ’80s album, and this awkward production makes it sound very surreal and dreamy. The songs have the same mood, so after all, production turned out to be huge value, rather than huge flaw.

The songwriting is truly amazing. Aria obviously was heavily influenced by bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, even Black Sabbath, but they managed to do one thing that most of the bands aren’t able to. They made a perfect blend of their influences and actually surpassed all of them, both in therms of quality and originality. That’s right, they managed to be very original by copying their idols. Truly incredible, and it doesn’t happen very often at all. As for the songs, you have amazing mix of crushing heavy metal and mellow rock chorus in ’’This is Doom’’, the proto-speed metal in ’’Torero’’, typical ’80s anthems ’’Tusks of Black Rocks’’ and ’’Life for Free’’, symphonic experiment - the title track, and emotional, but hard-hitting ballad ’’Dreams’’. As you see, this album is very versatile and everyone who loves rock music in general can find something to like in here, from soft rock to speed/power metal, this album has all those genres covered.

Two songs deserve special analysis, ’’Volunteer’’ and ’’America is Behind’’. The former is a truly magnificent epic song that has very interesting structure: it begins with some wind effects and keyboards, and then develops into mid-paced metal with crushingly epic chorus. But to me, the most interesting is the ending; the song practically ends at about sixth minute, the rest is filled with keyboards that sound haunting, so haunting that can almost scare you. The closer ’’America is Behind’’ may sound like typical radio-friendly hard rock, but there is something incredibly progressive about this song. It’s not just the keyboard solo in the middle, there’s something else which I just can’t describe with words. This is the where all virtues of this album fit together: terrific songwriting, originality, dreamy atmosphere and progressive tendencies. You really must hear it for yourself to understand what I’m talking about.

As I understand Russian, I must say that lyrics are also totally appropriate, they are mostly speaking about abstract things and phenomenons. The only exceptions are ’’Torero’’ (telling about Spanish toreadors, obviously), ’’Life for Free’’ (criticism of consumer’s society) and ’’America is Behind’’ (communistic propaganda, unfortunately). The cover art is great too – cold, surreal and hostile, just like the album itself.

In the end, this is one of the best, most original, most influential album (to metal from Eastern Europe) ever, yet totally obscure worldwide. Everyone who says that Aria is nothing more than a Maiden copycat should listen to this, it would definitely make him change his mind. Do yourself a favour, try to find this incredible album, it’s well worth of your time and money. Highly recommended.

Where the future meets the past - 97%

kluseba, March 4th, 2011

This first true Russian heavy metal album ever is one of the best debut albums ever made by any band of the entire genre. Even though the Russians copy bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and even Scorpions, they deliver a truly strong record with eight amazing and catchy songs. They are all quite diversified but have a certain charm and energy that connects them all in a unique way so that one can't simply talk about a band that only worships their idols. Even in these early years, the band has something unique to offer. The open mind for many influences and ideas, the entertaining diversity, the edgy sound, the particular catchiness of the songs and a very typical eighty’s metal atmosphere dominate this record and make it ultimately a heavily interesting and entertaining historical document.

"This is doom" is an amazing opener that takes its influence from the early works of Judas Priest and Savatage without any doubt. But even in here, the soft hard rock chorus is not only addicting and catchy but easily one of the most unique choruses I have ever heard. It has something gracious, almost like a national anthem. This is the anthem for Russian heavy metal. "Torero", as the title suggests, is much faster and heavier than the first track and shows already the skills that would make this band become famous. A very dominant bass guitar and very melodic guitar lines underline the fact that many people would call this band the "Iron Maiden" from the East. Once again, the chorus is very catchy and one is already addicted to the high quality of this album.

"Volunteer" is the first true epic of the Eastern heavy metal scene and peaks at more than eight minutes. The catchy bass guitar rhythms and melodic guitars show once again the dominating influence of Iron Maiden but the song offers a very dark and haunting beginning and ending that even the British legends didn't create a that time. The weird industrial sounds and the blowing winds sound like a strange mixture of Judas Priest's "Turbo lover" and Iron Maiden's "The sign of the cross" or even "When the wild wind blows". One has to notice that both bands create their songs after this album and that proves that the two legends are for the first time behind the Russian masters of metal. England is behind and Aria gets truly unique for the very first time and one has to underline the high quality of this track.

The next songs offer something for both styles. Some of them are traditional heavy metal songs reminding of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden like the melodic beast "Tusks of black roots" and the typical eighties anthem "Life for free", but some songs really offer something new like the instrumental and title track "Megalomania" with its progressive organ introduction and haunting religious chants or the dreamy and harmonic hard rock anthem "Dreams" that is easily one of the best songs of the album.

Finally, there is the album closer "America is behind" that surprises with an industrial and heavy opening and sounds somewhat like a heavier track from the "Scorpions". But even though one can compare both bands, I have to underline that this darkest track on the record sounds very modern and works with very progressive guitar effects for that time. The song mixes the hard rock of the late seventies with a glimpse at the future of heavy metal music. This track has a vision and it is the most unique song on the whole record. This simply already sounds like nothing else I have ever heard in its whole structure. It is incredible that such a young band in such an isolated country creates such a visionary masterpiece. In only about five minutes, the band puts more ideas than so called progressive metal bands would put in ten minute epics. I really wasn't prepared for that surprise.

I am highly impressed by this amazingly diversified debut album. I have known other albums from this band before and expected a worship of their idols on the first record but this record turns out to be more unique than many other excellent albums this band has done afterwards. Every song is catchy, addicting and the traditional heavy metal past meets a courageous vision for the future on this album without destroying the flow and consistence of the material at all. The more I listen to this record, the more I am impressed. I only take off three points because the band slightly copied three or four bands at some points in this record. But concerning the pleasure and entertainment of the album, the band even beats Scorpions, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden in here and I must admit that as a true fan of each of the three bands.

This is a true and unexpected masterpiece. It is difficult to purchase, but I suggest you to try to purchase or at least listen to it, it is really worth your time and efforts if you adore heavy metal music.

The first Russian heavy metal album - 89%

natrix, August 11th, 2007

Here's where it all began, quite far behind the Iron Curtain, but certainly not too far behind the rest of the world as far as traditional heavy metal goes. No one was really doing this type of thing in 85, especially since Aria puts their own spin on metal.

The main influences here appear to be Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, perhaps with a bit of Mercyful Fate and Scorpions thrown in. Most of the songs gallop along nicely at a midpaced charge, but "Torero" is an especially driving tune, perhaps rivialling anything off of Screaming for Vengeance...just excellent! "Volontyor" has that mighty, epic chorus, a great plodding build up before going full bore in the middle, and a variety of chaning tempos, building beautifully towards the end.

Probably the most exceptional area of this album is the duel guitar interplay, most notably on "Tusks of Black Rocks," "Volontyor," and the absolutely fantastic mid-section on "Life for Free," which is also my favourite song on here. Seriously, this is where all the elements that make Aria great come together; heavy riffs, epic vocals, and very nice duel melodies.

Valerii Kipelov still shines on vocals here, and I must say, he's got one of the best and most distinctive voices in metal. Alik Granovskii didn't yet step up to the plate with his manic bass work, but his prescense is well felt on here.

Okay, but there are some really glaring problems here. The most problematic of all is the title track. IRRITATING and EMBARASSING! It was penned by the keyboardist and sound pompous, much like Rick Wakeman's contributions to Yes' Fragile, and a bit of Sabbath's "Superczar." It really breaks the continuity of this album! "America is Behind" is a rather silly song, definately Soviet propaganda and destined as a silly FM radio hit. That keyboard solo in the middle is absolutely ridiculous, as well...

So there you have it, a pretty solid piece of metal, no doubt original due to the fact that they were isolated from the scene.

America is behind!!! - 85%

UltraBoris, August 21st, 2002

Maybe so... there really wasn't much from America that sounded like this in 1985. Maybe the first Fates Warning album, and some Virgin Steele perhaps.

This is Aria's first album - sometimes it sounds more like a slightly slowed down Judas Priest "Defenders of the Faith" more than anything else. The pounding riffs are definitely there (just listen to Torero, and imagine it sped up 40 per cent, and you've got Freewheel Burning right there.) Yes, the Iron Maiden influence is definitely there, not quite as heavily as in later albums, but quite prominent.

The choruses on this album are very much memorable, and Valeri Kipelov's vocals are in fine form. Also, the duelling guitars, while not as prominent in some of their later albums, are definitely used quite nicely in places. Also, some very nice riff work to be found.

The best tracks... we start well with "Torero" and "This is Doom" (it's not, it's speed metal), the first two songs. "Tusks of Black Rock" is also pretty nice, with a very cool melodic intro. But the highlight... the chorus of "Volunteer" is just fucking epic, and so is the rest of the song.

Also, I must mention "America is Behind", I'll bet the Commie leaders liked that one! WE WILL BURY YOU!

Yes, Aria is pretty damn consistent, and pretty damn good. This one is worth getting.