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Arachnophilia - 80%

Tanuki, December 21st, 2016

In my previous Tarantula review, I said the Portuguese spider-lovers were cited as one of the very first power metal bands. Of course such claims are open to conjecture, but one thing we can all agree on is that they certainly sounded like one of the first power metal bands. Beginning their debut album with MIDI instruments and crop-dusting harmonized vocals across the album's entire acreage culminated to create a corny, repetitive, and decidedly average LP. So imagine my concern when I listened to the intro of their sophomore album Kingdom of Lusitania and heard much of the same.

In fairness, the alleged 'violin' and 'string ensemble' sound more like a Super Nintendo game this time around, which is a marked improvement. That did little to assuage my concerns, as it appeared Tarantula didn't learn much from the three years spent at the drawing board. During this time, they came to the conclusion that Paulo Barros would be better off as a backing vocalist, instead instating Jorge Marques as Tarantula's new primary singer. Marques, though similar in style to the tremulous warbling of Barros, has a lot more passion and calls upon his backing vocalists half as much. Faux-operatic, high-reaching wails are unleashed on a regular basis, which is an effort I can respect but not always appreciate.

Talent follows returning guitarists Barros and Baltazar from their previous album. The bass, earning my most ardent praise in my review of Tarantula, is back in full force here. A smorgasbord of brisk and incisive bass awaits you in every track, the solo in 'Earthquake (Lisbon 1755)' deserving specific mention. Paulo Barros is able to deliver shredding solos as before, and has plenty of opportunities in 'End of the Rainbow' and 'The Great Dragon' to show off memorable power metal riffs and leads that seem ahead of their time.

Speaking of that, the pacing and stylistic choices of 'The Saga of Sebastian, the King' are fascinating. There are baroque-inspired guitar solos with trumpets and orchestral stings alongside them, an epic choir to chant the chorus, and the subject matter is of a (real) king who brought prosperity to Portugal before meeting his end in battle. It's bizarre listening to what is undoubtedly the blueprint to many European power metal anthems in the present day.

But there are still some aspects that do not meet expectations. For instance, I was caught mid-drink when I heard the lyrics "Fortune! And searching for fortune!", unfortunately for my sinuses. I would assume this level of jejune cheesiness beleaguers the entire album, but Marques is thankfully incomprehensible most of the time. Also carelessly littered throughout the album are overbearing special effects that add precisely nothing but old-fashioned dowdiness to the tracks. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

Still unquestionably a better offering than their anemic debut album, Kingdom of Lusitania has also enjoyed a recent re-release in 2014, making it much more reasonable to obtain. I would recommend any fan of power metal do so, particularly one that can appreciate its roots.

Standout tracks:
End of the Rainbow, Earthquake (Lisbon 1755)

Related listening:
Mania - Changing Times
Palass - Queen of the World

A book of portuguese history disguised as an album - 80%

Nhorf, November 29th, 2008

Kingdom of Lusitania is the second Tarantula record, and arguably one of the best albums they've ever released. Tarantula are a criminally underrated act, as they've never really got popular outside Portugal. Even in Portugal they are quite unknown and they should definitely be more praised, as they've released, in 1987, the first portuguese heavy metal album. Unfortunately, portuguese people generally prefer to listen to music done by foreigners instead of portuguese music: that may sound strange, but it's the truth, here in Portugal the most praised bands are always foreigner bands. A notable exception is Moonspell, an act that slowly gained a place among the most popular acts here. Today, it's perfectly common to see a portuguese person who enjoys Oasis and pop music in general saying that Moonspell are a quality band. Oddly, the appearance of Moonspell in the portuguese scene kind of stole all the fame Tarantula enjoyed as the most important portuguese metal band and they have slowly, after enjoying some mainstream fame, disappeared, returning to the underground. Nowadays, the word “metal” in my country is sinonymous of “Moonspell” and not of “Tarantula”, as it was many years ago.

Anyways, Tarantula plays a brand of power metal extremely influenced by traditional metal bands like Iron Maiden. The guitar playing is very melodic and the riffs play an essential role on the album. Unfortunately, the production is a bit on the weak side; according to things I've read and heard, that was because no one here, in my country, had, at the time, experience at producing heavy metal albums and, as Tarantula couldn't, in that year, record and produce the album in some other country, the piece was produced by their drummer, together with another guy. Well, I can't say that he has done a nice work, but I also understand that's because of the low budget. The guitars definitely lack power and are too low in the mix, the bass drums are inaudible and the vocals are too loud for a metal album. The keyboards are also used, albeit not that frequently, but they really add something to the whole atmosphere of the album. The guitar solos are constantly played throughout this piece too, as Paulo Barros, the guitarist, is undoubtely one of the best portuguese ones ever. His style is highly melodic but still kind of aggressive, his riffs screaming a strong and notable Iron Maiden influence. The choruses are all very anthemic, with the singer doing a nice job with his high-pitched voice.

A lyrical theme constantly used throughout this piece is the History of Portugal. As you all should know, our history is very rich and extremely long and Tarantula's lyrics are focused on some of its most important events. “Earthquake (Lisbon 1755)” speaks, as the name implies, about the giant earthquake that destroyed many of the most important Lisbon zones, centuries ago. The city had to be re-constructed and re-organized; fortunately, we, portuguese people, still haven't witnessed another tragedy as that one, our country hasn't been harmed by big earthquakes since 1755, thank God. On other hand, “Lusitania” speaks about the time when Portugal was a very small kingdom (even smaller than it is today). Finally, “The Saga of Sebastian, the King” speaks about the diseappearance of said king. Portugal was a powerful country when he was our king, but he decided to expand the empire, by attacking Morocco. A big army, commanded by the king, attacked that country: it was the Battle of Alcácer Quibir. Many say Portugal was winning the battle against the army from Morocco until Sebastian suddenly disappeared. He was, most certainly, killed by his enemies, and, without his king and leader, the portuguese army was defeated and ran away. After his death, the legend of the king was created: many believed he would return to Portugal at any time but, unfortunately, he never returned. After his death, and as he had no sons or heirs, the portuguese throne was occupied by the spanish king, who decided to rule Portugal and Spain together, as just one country: it was the Iberian Union. Sebastian is like the portuguese King Arthur, as he is supposed to be sleeping and awaiting for the best chance to show up again.

But well, enough of the lyrics and of portuguese history. Regarding the individual songs, they are all quite fast and melodic, albeit there are quite a few midpaced numbers here, together with the last tune, which is a ballad. “Prelude to Find a Kingdom” is a fine short introduction, displaying a nice shredding guitar solo near the end. “Highway to Glory” kicks in after it, with a strong main riff and, most of all, a powerful chorus that will remain in your head for weeks. Relatively simple, this song leads us to the next track, “Empire of Shadows” which carries another memorable chorus and a relatively long guitar solo, which begins after the chorus is repeated two times. “The Lost Crown” is a bit forgettable, but tahnkfully the album picks up again with “Earthquake (Lisbon 1755)”, which begins with some folk-ish and happy keyboard lines, perhaps showing the happiness of the people of Lisbon before the earthquake. Then, we hear a deep sound and a solo kicks in, leading us to the main riff. Worth mentioning are also the tasteful bass licks that are played near the end of the tune.

The second half of the album is as good as the first one, containing three good songs and one a bit on the generic side. “The Great Dragon” is a bit more midpaced than the other tracks and quite forgettable, all in all. “End of the Rainbow” is much better, with some happy sounding guitar playing and a pop-ish beginning reminiscent of “Can I Play With Madness?”. “Lusitania” is faster but a bit worser, and the epic “The Saga of Sebastian, the King” closes the album. Probably the best song of the bunch, this track shows Tarantula delving in a mellower sound, the clean guitars and the sweet, atmospheric keyboard work melting together perfectly. The drumming later kicks in and the song still contains a couple of heavier parts, with more midpaced riffs, accompanied by the soaring vocals. A nice track that does justice to the legend of our lost king.

A great power metal record here, maybe I'm a bit biased towards it as I'm portuguese, but I recommend this to all those who enjoy the old power metal acts, Fates Warning included (albeit Tarantula plays simpler music). Anyone else doesn't believe Tarantula is heavily influenced by Fates Warning? Well, take a look at the artwork of Kingdom of Lusitania... I'm sure it will remind you of something. Still, one of the best portuguese rock/metal albums ever, together with masterpieces as 10,000 Anos Depois, Entre Venus e Marte and Wolfheart.

Best Moments of the CD:
-the chorus of “Highway to Glory”.