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Into the Arena, Beyond the Iron Curtain - 84%

bayern, January 25th, 2018

Impulse were one of the oldest rock/hard rock bands in Bulgaria, having gotten together in the late-70’s. They produced quite a few hits in their early stages that were frequently rotated on the national radio and TV stations, and enjoyed a fair bit of popularity. However, they fell from grace when they hardened the course on the “260 Volts” album in 1986 which was a switch to more aggressive heavy metal-ish sound. Back then the censure was too heavy for anything more brutal to sneak through in Bulgaria, and the album was banned…

yeah, life for the heavy metal innovators wasn’t very easy behind the Iron Curtain before the late-80’s, and our friends here had to pay the price. They didn’t have to wait very long, though, as a few years later things took a much more democratic turn in all walks of life, and here they were, paying tribute to their passion with the album reviewed here even before the end of the decade...

compared to the other Bulgarian heavy metal behemoth, Ahat’s “The March” which appeared a year earlier, this opus perhaps fares not as well due to the inferior vocal performance and the marginally less consistent song-writing. Besides, the title-track is such a grand opener that it kind of overshadows the rest of the material. Said track is a smashing speed metal roller-coaster which deservedly won the prestigious “Melody of the Year” award in 1989 in Bulgaria, a reason why many fans considered it the actual flag carrier of the metal movement over there. The whole album, however, is not sustained in the same blitzkrieg fashion, and the radio-friendly heavy metal party commences right after with “Video-Sunday”, a memorable catchy hit which enchants with the nice lengthy chorus, above all.

“Stay” is the obligatory for this kind of works ballad, and if it wasn’t for the overuse of the keyboards, this number would have been a winner. Well, it’s unnecessarily poignant the way it’s been served, and “Two Eyes” has to do something in order to keep the ship afloat; and it does, actually, being another classic heavy metal anthem the guys really pulling it off in the chorus department. “That’s Enough” is a hard rock relaxer, probably a leftover from the guys’ earlier recordings, not much strain here, just mellow feelgood music; but “Struggle for Love” is a vehement speedster, a faithful copy to the opener the band moshing with gusto, the lead guitarist shining brightly, the show slightly spoiled by the inexpressive singer who delivers when he stays within the mid-ranged parametres, but may make one laugh when he goes for the higher registers which are clearly not his nature. “A Picture” would be another pleasant surprise, another faster-pacer with very good guitar work the guys gaining the desired inertia, not willing to lose it, providing the next in line great chorus. “Crossroad” is more on the cheesy hard’n heavy side again, but one must be an incorrigible cynic to bypass these 4-min of retro metal goodness. “A Woman” is a pure early Yngwie Malmsteen worship, a very cool shredder with outstanding guitar pyrotechnics and not as convincing keyboard sweeps, and “Daily Routine” is an old school heavy metal stadium filler in the manner of Scorpions and Accept, a worthy epitaph to this diverse, but highly enjoyable album.

After the mentioned opener the band struggle for a bit to find their stride, testing the soil with this or that laid-backer, but once they hit the right target in the second half, there’s seldom a dull moment. The vocals remain on the weaker side throughout, but are hardly a big detriment in the long run, and may even remind of Graham Bonnet (Impellitteri, Rainbow, etc.) on the more soulful moments. The musicianship is on a surprisingly high level with truly impressive guitar work which still wasn’t such a big phenomenon having in mind the traditionally high quality of the axemen in Bulgaria.

Ironically, the band split up shortly after a successful tour, which also exposed them to the Western audience, was completed. Instead of capitalizing on the freer ways of expression they called it quits… only to re-emerge in 1995 for the release of two more albums which concentrated on the milder heavy metal/hard rock side of their repertoire. Not bad efforts by any stretch, they failed to generate the necessary amount of interest from the fanbase who had already moved on with Pantera, Helmet, Ministry, Rammstein, etc. That second spell has proven the last one so far; one of the undisputable dinosaurs of Bulgarian rock/metal feel content enough at the moment to merely watch how the contemporary metal carnival unfolds before them… until the next impulsive reformation stunt, of course.