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A much needed return to form - 93%

Agonymph, February 10th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2011, CD, Союз

‘Feniks’ was a return to form for Russia’s Aria. Not entirely like the titular character, because bassist Vitaly Dubinin never really lost his special songwriting touch, but ‘Feniks’ is definitely the first Aria album since ‘Krov Za Krov’ two decades earlier that is pretty much excellent from start to finish. Maybe it was the addition of the fantastic new singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov, who debuts here, that gave the band some fresh impulses. But whatever the reason, everything that makes traditional heavy metal worthwhile is present in these songs, with just enough contemporary aggression to justify the band’s existence in this century.

Previous singer Artur Berkut often gets the blame for the somewhat less enthusiastic reception of the two albums before ‘Feniks’. However, he is a decent singer and really, the albums suffer from the same issue as the last three albums with Valery Kipelov: the highlights are nothing short of amazing, but all other songs are forgettable. Picking highlights is a lot more difficult on ‘Feniks’, because it is a consistently excellent set of songs and the same can be said about the performances and the production. None of the songs is worth skipping and the sound is clear and convinving.

Opening with ‘Chorny Kvadrat’ was a wise choice. The song combines the band’s strong Iron Maiden influence with a slightly more modern power metal approach, which truly allows newcomer Zhitnyakov to shine. His voice has all the passion of Kipelov’s, with a slightly larger range and an unprecedented degree of theatricality to boot. Comparable in approach is the powerful ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, which has a similarly subtle degree of melancholy in its triumphant traditional metal sound. Both of these tracks alone would already have been worth whatever you pay for the album, as they are among the best Aria songs to date.

Luckily, there is more. Aria always manages to pump out a couple of engaging epics and this time around, the splendidly constructed ‘Chornaya Legenda’ is the best one. The entire song has an atmosphere of imminent danger and the way the intro riff comes back in a different key after the acoustic middle section is pure brilliance. ‘Attila’ and ‘Istoria Odnogo Ubiyci’ are slightly less dense riffing-wise, instead opting to give the song some room to unfold. The calmly symphonic ‘Rekviyem’ is a pretty unique ballad in Aria’s discography and really shows off Zhitnyakov’s abilities. The title track shows the band at its most Maiden-esque, while ‘Dalniy Svet’ and ‘Ravnovesiye Sil’ are powerful midtempo hardrockers with really cool vocal harmonies in their choruses.

While it is tempting to blame Aria’s return to form on the arrival of Zhitnyakov, that would be too easy. For one, there are recordings of the band demoing ‘Boi Bez Pravil’ with Berkut floating around on YouTube and I cannot imagine that being the only one, since he left the group only months before te release of ‘Feniks’. Instead, something else must have sparked the inspiration of the band. We may never know to whom or what we should be thankful, but ‘Feniks’ rates among the best albums Aria has released to date. In fact, it is one of the greatest traditional heavy metal albums of the 21st century.

Recommeded tracks: ‘Chorny Kvadrat’, ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, ‘Chornaya Legenda’

Originally written for my Kevy Metal weblog

Another solid dose of heavy metal - 79%

kluseba, October 5th, 2011

More than five years have passed since the last official album release of the Russian heavy metal legend and many things have changed since. The band played a high number of concerts in Eastern Europe, they digged in their own past, re-recorded some old songs or played special concerts honouring albums of the band's early years and finally a major line-up change occured when singer Berkut left and was replaced by the young and rather unknown Mikhail Zhitnyakov who does a solid job on here. Everything seemed to tell that all these things would influence the band but it didn't. "Phoenix" can be seen as a continuation of the last record "Armageddon". Aria still keep traditional heavy metal alive and don't move one inch away from their own and unique style they finally found in the nineties. This can be seen as a positive fact as Aria won't disappoint with their new record as everybody exactly knows what he or she will get but it can also be seen as a negative fact as the band missed the occasion to move on and try out something new.

The new singer Zhitnyakov sounds a lot like the band's original singer Valery Kipelov which adds a slightly nostalgic note to the album. While the new singer fits to the band and does a pretty good job as a newbie amongst legends I would have hoped for a more unique and outstanding singer. Musically, we get delivered everything we already know from the band from mid paced classic but exchangeable heavy metal bangers such as "The Balance Of Powers" over epic songs about historical issues as in the overall mediocre "Attila" to catchy ballads or half ballads with acoustic guitars and some string sections as in the closing "Requiem". Let's also point out another amazing and impressive cover artwork by Leo Hao.

There are as always a couple of tracks that stand out from the rest. "Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer" is the highlight of the record and features a great atmosphere, a high amount of creativity and an addicting chorus. The other two album epics "Black Legend" and "Attila" really fall off compared to this future live anthem and classic of Aria's recent repertoire. The single "Fights Without Rules" offers nothing new honestly said but is an energizing heavy metal track in the key of Iron Maiden with great bass lines, melodic guitar solos and emotional vocal passages plus a thrilling and almost unforgettable chorus. Considering the last records of heavy metal legends such as Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, I must admit that this kind of music has become a rarity and it's actually enjoyable to still stumble over this kind of music from time to time. I may sound old and wise right now but it's enjoyable to go back to the roots from time to time if one pays attention on not becoming a parody of its own glorious past. The atmospheric half ballad and title track "Phoenix" is a grower on this record and a quite unusual title track but the title works well as this track slowly arises and develops like the famous phoenix from the ashes. It's somewhat the same thing for the piano and string ballad "Requiem" that could well work live or with an orchestra and continues the line of great metal ballads signed by the Russian Iron Maiden.

In the end, Aria sound a little bit stuck on this record and didn't move an inch away from the sounds of the last albums but they deliver once again high quality heavy metal with some songs that have the potential to become the band's future classics. There is nothing wrong about the record a part of a minor lack of innovation but there is nothing wrong with a good dose of heavy metal nowadays. For the next record, I hope that it will come out a little bit faster and that the new singer will stay with the band by influencing and changing the direction of the band a little bit and try out a couple of new things. Anyway, any fan of solid traditional heavy metal should absolutely check out the old records and this new album of the band and try to see these guys in concert.