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This...Is...Maiden!!! - 82%

hells_unicorn, December 7th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Metal on Metal Records

Over the course of the past several years there has been a fair share of interest in the historic Battle of Thermopylae, to a great degree because of the popularity of the "300" movies. It's not unfamiliar territory for power metal either, given that the subject was featured on one of the songs adorning Sabaton's Art Of War and was the subject of an extended 3 song cycle on Manilla Road's Gates Of Fire. In keeping with this, there is an expectation of something a bit different when another band decides to tackle the same story line in the metal medium, and on this front Sacred Gate has succeeded, though they've done so largely by sticking extremely close to their principle influence, namely Iron Maiden, considering that 2 of this band's members were in a tribute band glorifying said NWOBHM icons.

Relative to Sacred Gate's 2012 debut When Eternity Ends, this musical content of Tides Of War is definitely more advanced, though still largely relying on the same musical cliches. The best way to describe it would be by writing an album akin to Somewhere In Time, but with a timbre of sound closer to Powerslave, and a lot of acoustic guitar work. This naturally doesn't fully do justice to all the little nuances going on in this album, namely the fact that while this album has 2 guitarists on it, they don't resort to the characteristic dueling solos and harmony passages typical to Maiden and listen closer to a 1981 NWOBHM act. They even go so far as to employ an orchestral prelude that could almost pass for a nod for Manowar right at the beginning, giving the whole thing something of a Hollywood feel.

Individually, the songs display a slight degree of musical evolution away from a wholly orthodox mode of Maiden worship, though the word slight should definitely be stressed. Songs such as "Tides Of War" and "Gates Of Fire" have some driving speed metal elements that push the overall sound of things closer to a Helloween oriented power metal sound, though there is a greater tendency towards shifting back to a nimble gallop than relying too heavily on the double kick beats. In the case of "Spartan Killing Machine" things venture into 1983-84 thrash metal territory, though the vocals kind of pull it back into sounding like a simpler version of a song off a Satan album or Metallica's Kill 'Em All with a vocalist that's closer to Joey Belladonna. The bass work has that typical Steve Harris mode of activity where it kind of pops in at unexpected places and briefly overpowers the formulaic guitar riffs, but it's not mixed as high as a typical Maiden album and is relegated too slightly more of a supporting role, while the guitars tend to have most of the fun, though measured and quite tastefully.

Perhaps the only thing that kind of holds up the works and keeps this album from being able to stand toe to toe with a number of Maiden's seminal 80s albums, which it definitely is trying to do, is a slight overuse of ballad material and a somewhat subdued overall approach. While this is a band that is clearly still paying tribute to Iron Maiden, their mode of songwriting is just a tad too predictable and strict to truly make one throw the horns in the air with the same fervency as one would for The Number Of The Beast or Powerslave. It is a very good album, especially coming from a band that has taken a very stripped down approach to playing power metal that is even more loyal to past practices than the likes of the Canadian heavy metal revivalist act Striker and their American rivals White Wizzard, but it falls just a tad short of being an outright new classic. But Sacred Gate is definitely on to something with this album, and there is definitely a clear path upward from here come the 3rd opus. Spill the Persian blood with our great swords of metal!!!