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Timo Is Not Beautiful - 80%

Dragonchaser, March 4th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, AFM Records (Digipak)

I know these guys have ties to Stratovarius. Guitarist Matias Kupianinen handled production duties on this, Arion’s second album, and also helped write a couple of songs along with fellow Finnish metal alumnus Jani Liimatainen, but did they have to put Timo Kotipelto on the cover? Seriously, will you ever be able to un-see it?

In all fairness, this album is much better than I expected it to be, given that the current craze in Finnish power metal is to sound like Battle Beast. These guys don’t stoop to their level, but instead go for a chunky, hard rocking sound that is like Kissin Dynamite covering post-Tolkki Strato. There’s a lot to like about this release, but admittedly it does take a few listens to click. I think part of it is the production, which is very compact and smooth, and with so much going on instrumentally, it does come across as a tad over-produced at first blush. But then you latch onto the hooks in tunes like the rollicking ‘The Last Sacrifice’ or punishing opener ‘No One Stands In My Way’, and you realize that actually, this is a damn fine piece of power metal.

It’s very modern in pretty much everything it does; there are no 80s pop sensibilities to speak of. This is definitely influenced by the sharp turn Stratovarius took with ‘Polaris’, and it reminds me of that album a fair bit, but Arion aren’t imitators. They have their own sound, and they flaunt it with brazen bravado, trying out a number of moods and compositional structures so you never get bored or know what is coming next. The highlight for me is definitely ‘Unforgivable’. That chorus is absolutely fucking fabulous and pretty much deserves the admittance price alone. It’s the best song Strato didn’t write for ‘Eternal’. There are other highlights here. From serene, Orden Ogan-style atmospherics in gentle ballads like ‘Through Your Fallen Tears’ to total scorchers such as ‘Seven’ and the pre-‘Black Halo’ Kamelot-esque closer ‘I Am The Storm’, you get a wide range of styles that ultimately make this a quality listen from start to finish. Vocalist Lassi Vaaranen might be a hard pill to swallow for some, sounding more like Matt Tuck from Bullet For My Valentine than anyone else, but his raspy yet melodic croon sells these songs well. He’s backed up by some slithering guitar/keyboard interplay, the kind of which you hardly see in modern power metal anymore, but it’s really the songs that make this worth your while. From heavy hitters to somber ballads, these guys do everything with flair.

Fans of slick modern power metal will get a fair amount of mileage out of this. It takes a few spins to open up, but ‘Life Is Not Beautiful’ is a suave collection of songs that have more class than the candy floss Beast In Black are serving up. A band to watch, for sure.

Link has grown cynical these days. - 84%

hells_unicorn, December 20th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, AFM Records

Though likely a complete coincidence, one can’t help but notice the striking similarity in appearance that the lone protagonist depicted on the cover of Finland’s latest symphonic power outfit Arion’s sophomore effort with the famed hero of one of Nintendo’s most popular fantasy-based RPG/adventure franchises. To boot, the very album title Life Is Not Beautiful betrays a sense of cynicism in our beloved green-clad adventurer (or at least that’s how it looks when the light from his lantern hits his garments), as if he’s spent a bit too much time in The Dark World fighting Ganondorf’s minions or he finally heard about Roberto Benigni’s 1997 critically acclaimed flick and was chuckled at the irony. However one may wish to speculate over the deeper meaning behind an album art that is very well drawn, the marriage of dark fatalism and a heroic struggle is a fitting theme for an album such as this.

As one of the younger acts to hail from the metal-friendly city of Helsinki, the influences adorning their craft cannot help but be blatant, coming off as a well-balanced combination of every major melodic act to come out of Finland in the past two decades. One of the more immediate sources of inspiration is clearly Nightwish, as between the constant film score oriented thunder that surrounds this storm of sound and the often synth-dominated themes that permeate the more metallic moments, this could easily pass for a spinoff of Once minus the vocalist at the helm. Alongside some obligatory power metal bluster and speed that points to a fair degree of similarities to Sonata Arctica, Celesty and Burning Point, vocalist Lassi Vaaranen has a more gritty character to his soaring tenor range that moves things even further away from the close proximity that their Swedish counterparts Dynazty shares with Nightwish of late.

Though very much a cinematically geared listening experience, this album does tend to go a bit heavier on the metal side of the coin than a lot of other recent outings of this style in Europe. Following a very serene musical dance of droning orchestral and piano sounds and a melancholy acoustic guitar line, the riff set that kicks off “No One Stands In My Way” comes off as more of a punchy, almost metalcore-like take on things that cuts through the symphonic bombast a bit more sharply and almost hits with the same intensity as one of the more melodeath oriented acts hailing from Finland. This equality of emphasis on guitar work proves to be a breath of fresh air and caters well to the more technical 6-string majesty that also adorns Beyond The Black’s music, as this song along with a few of the other more heavy-hitting numbers like “The Last Sacrifice” and “Life Is Not Beautiful” complement the heavy riffing and rawness with a set of head-cutting solos that could rival Michael Amott on his best day.

The aforementioned crushers naturally embody the tip of the iceberg for anyone seeking aggression, but interestingly enough Arion is not wholly averse to moving in more of a catchy, Stratovarius-oriented direction. While “At The Break Of Dawn” doesn’t skip up on the speed and power, the key draw is the guest vocal slot of Amaranthe and one-time live Nightwish vocalist Elize Ryd, resulting in a highly charming yet all too infectious duet fit for metal radio. A similarly hook-driven anthem with a dose of wild drumming occurs a bit later in “Unforgiveable”, which often reminds a bit of “Hunting High And Low” between the bursts of speed. About the only place where this band trips up a little is they go a tad heavy on the balladry with two piano driven odes to a more serene sadness in “Through Your Falling Tears” and “Last One Falls”, as if it were necessary to kill off Zelda twice to bring on Link’s sense of hopelessness.

This is very much an album that caters openly to its target audience, and has a very Finnish and otherwise broadly Scandinavian character to it. Insofar as its contemporaries go, it compares the closest to that of Dynazty’s latest offering Firesign, outclassing it slightly in terms of raw power when things are pushed to the limit, but coming a bit behind it in terms of overall consistency. Far be it for the author of this review to try igniting another rivalry between two neighboring nations with a rich power metal tradition, but these two albums could all but be competing as suitors for the affections of Amaranthe and Nightwish as if they were one maiden, with this one having the advantage of getting a member of the former in on the project. It’s a boon for anyone enthralled with the current symphonic craze and could also cater a bit to those who enjoy the more aggressive sound heard from the likes of Eternal Tears Of Sorrow and Children Of Bodom.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (