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Arion > Vultures Die Alone > Reviews
Arion - Vultures Die Alone

A big disappointment - 40%

duijffke, May 31st, 2021

Over the years I’ve been forcing myself not to get too excited when I hear a band that I really like is going to release a new album. The higher the expectations, the bigger the disappointment will be, right? Sure, one can’t be wrong expecting a veteran band like Helloween to produce some damn solid music, but if your expectations have grown beyond realistic over the months leading up to release day, you can’t really be blown away anymore. Younger bands about to put out their third album who already made a huge impact with their first and second album might face more of a challenge. You see, Helloween have proven themselves a long time ago and won’t ever have to again. Arion on the other hand consists of a bunch of guys who basically graduated from college and right away released their first album. The result was the incredible Last Of Us and four years later the still very good Life Is Not Beautiful. So what happened?

Arion were clearly having a great time on Last Of Us while simultaneously showing off their incredible skills. However, they didn’t necessarily have an audience in mind (that’s what it feels like to me at least) and wrote a bunch of highly original yet slightly inaccessible songs. “Burn Your Ship” and “Watching You Fall” are two great examples, together with the two longest songs on Arion’s sophomore album. Now that the Finns have grown up a bit and got to spend a little more time with the not-so-new-anymore vocalist Lassi Vääränen they decided it was time to head for the bigger stages. That of course means writing songs which are less exciting than the amazing “Life Is Not Beautiful”, and if the new tracks on Vultures Die Alone would’ve been inspiring and pleasant to listen to, that would’ve all been fine. Sadly, they’re not. For instance, Topias Kupiainen’s drumming patterns where he just slams the snare on every count in the first four songs become annoying and feel very lazy. The same song structure used throughout the album doesn’t help Arion’s cause either.

Thankfully, Noora Louhimo’s contribution on “Bloodline” brings that song to another level. Without her, it would’ve been just another average song, although the subtle guitar intro does impress. The other guest performance on the album by Cyan Kicks on “In the Name of Love” is a second highlight. The song itself, a borderline poppy semi-ballad, is a welcome step back from all the aggression of the first few songs and actually is one of the best on the album. The chorus sticks immediately and the lyrics, albeit again very poppy, fit the song and perhaps the band well. Arion have always been a bit more sadboy than the average power metal band, but all in all, the love- and hate-related themes found here seem to be made for Vääränen’s voice. Unfortunately, his voice sounds a whole lot worse than on LINB, as he seems to be screaming rather than singing on a bunch of songs. The title track here is one of the examples - or the verses in the otherwise surprisingly enjoyable “I Love to Be Your Enemy”.

Then there’s the problem of Vultures’ loud (or is the word ‘modern’?) mix. Each instrument wants to be heard as often as possible, which results in guitars trying to beat orchestrations in a competition of who can be the loudest. Said instruments often can’t be distinguished from one another, like in the instrumental “Where the Ocean Greets the Sky”. Instrumental? Oh yes, the longest track here - which is neither an epic nor a convincing, lengthier-than-usual song - doesn’t feature Vääränen. Maybe that’s why it is in fact one of the most bearable and listenable songs on the album, but after three minutes the track has lost all its potential and I’m left wondering what the purpose of the song should be.

Up until the penultimate track all I feel is confusion and disappointment. When did Arion start to sound like an average modern melodic metal band that follows the same song structure for more than half of the album? Each song apart from the ones I mentioned before is unrecognisable. “Out of My Life” and “A Vulture Dies Alone” could be the same song - Arion even used the same chords and pace for both songs. The very last one, however, is a beautiful ballad like only Arion can write. It’s emotional, heartfelt and memorable, but go ahead and tell me it doesn’t sound exactly like “Last One Falls” from LINB. So it’s another self-plagiarised song, but I can forgive Arion this one, because I feel “Until Eternity Ends” and get goosebumps every time Vääränen sings that chorus. Thank god Vultures ends on a high note, because frankly, the album needed one badly. In the meantime I still wonder what happened to Arion and why Vultures turns out to be so underwhelming. Maybe the guys are trying to take a step closer towards fame? Maybe Arion aren’t actually as good as I thought they were? Time and a fourth album will tell, but I do know that Vultures Die Alone doesn’t live up to its expectations.

Highlights: "Bloodline", "In the Name of Love", "I Love to Be Your Enemy"

Sorrow and bombast unite. - 92%

hells_unicorn, April 15th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, CD, AFM Records (Digipak)

After several decades of being put at the forefront of the European power metal movement by the success of Stratovarius, there have been zero signs of Finland’s signature take on it slowing down despite a number of sizable ebbs in the style’s commercial viability since the 1990s. One of the more intriguing acts to have adopted the more somber aesthetic as heard from the likes of Sonata Arctica with a symphonic twist comparable to Nightwish is that of Arion, an outfit that has been balancing the triumphant character of the sub-genre with their more fatalistic lyrical pursuits with impressive results since the early 2010s. Though seen as coming from out of nowhere, the involvement of ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen in the songwriting of their 2014 debut LP Last Of Us serves to explain this band’s fairly rapid ascent in the power metal world, and it’s been a consistent road of quality output ever since. Nipping right on the heels of their highly engaging 2018 sophomore effort Life Is Not Beautiful, Vultures Die Alone presents yet another expansion and improvement upon a winning formula.

Generally a picture of pristine symphonic sounds and a dramatic operatic vocalist at the helm with a metallic drop is the one that this style gets tagged with, but Arion has been among a crop of younger bands that have been bucking this trend of late. The musical presentation is of a much more guitar-oriented character, channeling a sound more in keeping with the older heavy metal-infused riffing approach associated to outfits such as Burning Point and early Firewind, and the lead guitar work of Iivo Kaipainen is of a much more virtuosic and shred-happy character that dovetails more so with Gus G than the window-dressing, token metal element that Emppu Vuorinen has brought to Nightwish of late. But even more so than the masterful guitar work and the equally consequential keyboard display out of Arttu Vauhkonen is the impact made by front man Lassi Vaaranen, who’s grittier vocal approach brings more of a Marco Hietala flavor into the mix and definitely gives things more of an edge.

Yet in spite of this highly elaborate combination of sonic elements being in play, the approach that Arion tends to take in constructing their albums consists of a fairly compact and formulaic approach to songwriting, and this latest studio offering is the most streamlined of the bunch. Mid-paced bangers with more of a radio-friendly demeanor such as “I’m Here To Save You” and “I Don’t Fear You” have a straightforward presentation, but get the job done with a brilliant combination of highly infectious melodic hooks and a meaty, almost power thrashing guitar assault. Similarly catchy and compact offerings such as the opening cruiser “Out Of My Life” and the title anthem “A Vulture Dies Alone” go even harder on the quasi-thrashing heaviness and could almost pass for something Arch Enemy might conjure up, save for Lassi’s vocals. Even the heavily bombastic nod to Nightwish’s symphonic brand of bluster “Bloodline” pummels with the ferocity of a high octane thrasher and features a brilliant guest vocal slot by Battle Beast front woman Noora Louhimo.

The exceptions to the rule of up tempo, punchy anthems in sub-4 minute packages prove to be no slouches in the heaviness department, though they do present a more nuanced counterpoint to the overtly thrashing character of the aforementioned songs. The more down-tempo and ballad-like “In The Name Of Love” wants for nothing in the intensity department, though it’s accomplished more so in the heartfelt vocal performance put on by Lassi and members of the rock band Cyan Kicks that are brought on as guests, alongside a truly riveting guitar solo. “I Love To Be Your Enemy” proves more of a deceptive entry that begins on an almost ambient note and then launches into a blistering foray of groove-thrashing mayhem that merges the band’s signature symphonic flavor with a riff set that could pass for Lamb Of God. But the absolute zenith of the more nuanced fair on here is the epic instrumental romp “Where The Ocean Greets The Sky”, which features a brilliant guitar display out of Kaipainen that could pass for Malmsteen and a series of serene passages out of the end credits of some grand Hollywood production.

While this is a band that is still relatively new to the scene, at least compared to all of the mainstays of the millennial power metal revolution that paved the way for the current context, it’s pretty safe to say that this stands as their magnum opus thus far. It’s a bit more straightforward of an album relative to its predecessors, but the combination of captivating symphonic material on here and the high impact character of its metallic battery make it an exemplary album in the style, if not album of the year material. It goes without saying that fans of classic Finnish power metal as exemplified in Stratovarius, Nightwish, Dreamtale and older Sonata Acrtica will find a great album here, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see those who normally go for the darker variant on the same template as represented in such melodeath acts as Children Of Bodom, Eternal Tears Of Sorrow and Dark Tranquillity finding this appealing as well. The world may prove woeful and replete with vultures, but an album like this definitely puts a triumphant spin on this unfortunate state of affairs.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (www.sonicperspectives.com)

Bloodlines - 83%

Larry6990, April 9th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, CD, AFM Records (Digipak)

Fuck knows how I let this outfit pass me by. They're Finnish, they're power metal, and word on the grapevine is they have some sort of connection to Stratovarius. Judging by the artwork of their past releases, especially 2018's Life Is Not Beautiful, this is exactly the kind of stuff that should be emptying my wallet. However, I disagree with their being labelled 'symphonic power metal'. Although there are some symphonic elements to their sound, they seem to be heading more towards the pop-influenced modern power metal sound popularized by bands like Metalite and Dynazty. In fact, if Dynazty's latest album The Dark Delight was your bag, then Arion's Vultures Die Alone is your enormous hessian sack. Expect no fairies, dragons, wizards or swords. Expect heartbreak, angst, and guest spots from renowned Finnish rocker Cyan Kicks and Battle Beast's Noora Louhimo. Painted a more accurate picture for ya? Good, then let's get into the meat - because it's delicious and tender!

One thing I'm happy Arion make clear from the get-go is the rough edge surrounding the sweet melodies. The vocal technique and general approach to songwriting is all polished and shiny, but this is undeniably a heavy album. Sometimes excessively so. It's most welcome. The fantastic production quality does a sterling job of ensuring this packs one hell of a wallop, whilst somehow making it almost sound like it would belong in the charts. The vocal stylings of Lassi Vääränen are at once radio-friendly and full of metal attitude (mettitude, if you will). He can pour sugar ontop of the sweetest melodies in existence - like the ultra-saccharine "In The Name Of Love" - or he can exude meanness and tear through his throat chords like in the furious "I Love To Be Your Enemy" (but more on that gem later). Opener "Out Of My Life" is the perfect all-round summation of the Finns' sound - being a lively, up-tempo, hard-edged anthem which was the perfect choice for a single.

Catchiness was certainly one of the keywords going into the songwriting process. Some of this shit gets stuck in your head after just one listen! The guys were sure to load the front half of this album with the catchiest of the lot, to keep listeners rooted to the spot (worked on me!). "Bloodline" stands out here for its melodrama and amazing vocals by the always-incredible Noora Louhimo, long may she reign. But the fist-pumping "Break My Chains" and the vibrant "I'm Here To Save You" also make their mark with intriguing instrumental choices - particularly the main riff to the latter. Once we hit the hyper-cheesy semi-ballad "In The Name Of Love" - the lyrics to which might turn more elite metalheads away - the record takes an interesting structural turn for which I commend the quintet. I'm all about a proper start/middle/end when it comes to the album listening experience, and Vultures Die Alone definitely checks all the right boxes.

The title-track provides the huge grooves to get us back in the mood after the love song, and then leads into this LP's crowning glory: "I Love To Be Your Enemy". Similar to 2018's "Punish You", with all pedals pushed firmly to the metal, this bruising hymn will have you screaming your heart out and banging your head through brick fuckin' walls. Then it's the turn of the gorgeously serene instrumental "Where The Ocean Greets The Sky" (epic title) to take you on a 5-minute voyage, before the infectious "I Don't Fear You" has you yelling its title line over and over because it's SO DAMN CATCHY. Then, as if your emotions haven't been played with enough, the moving "Until Eternity Ends" winds down proceedings whilst evoking as many goosebumps as possible. Vultures Die Alone is a big step up from Life Is Not Beautiful, and should have Arion going inexorably upwards (thanks to the wonderful folk at AFM Records). For those who shun the new wave of pop-influenced power metal bands, these guys are in the upper echelons and definitely deserve at least 40 minutes of your attention.