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Forgotten when it shouldn't be. - 80%

Empyreal, November 25th, 2008

Tarot are one of those bands who have been around for a long time, yet never managed to gain any sort of recognition for a large chunk of their career. I mean, these guys have been around since the mid '80s, and they've been pumping out the same brand of high octane Heavy/Power Metal ever since then, touting a stellar songwriting motif and pumping out consistent, enjoyable albums in a fashion that most bands could only dream of. Like the rest of the small minority who actually listens to these guys, I was introduced to this band through their later works; the seminal Suffer Our Pleasures from 2003 and the heavy, chunky Crows Fly Black from 2006, and like them, I fell in love that day. The natural solution was to track down their older albums, too.

What is the result of this, you might be wondering? Well, even if you weren't, I'm still going to tell you. This is their debut album, and it's good. No need to beat around the bush. It's a good album, boasting a solid set of melodic, pristine Heavy Metal that only the 80s underground could produce. However, unlike most of their contemporaries in the West, Tarot didn't really sound like anyone else. They had riffs and they had sing-along choruses a la Iron Maiden and Dio, and they had the quirky underground charm a la Manilla Road or Omen, but they didn't sound anything like the other Heavy Metal acts of the time, mainstream and underground alike. These guys had their own sound; a powerful, headstrong formula that defined itself on the snappy, melodic riff-work of Zachary Hietala, who pumped out bushels and bushels of great riffs and short, flashy solos that just ruled no matter what. Frontman Marco Hietala was no slouch either, though, with his strong mid-ranged voice giving these songs character and poise all throughout the album's duration, and his bass even showing through a number of times. One of the main reasons this band was and is so cool is that they never sounded like a copy of anything or anyone, which is pretty hard to say for most bands that never really pioneered anything or started a new genre.

The album kicks off with the midpaced, ultra-melodic riff-monster "Midwinter Nights," a chilly, frosty little number that will lodge itself into your skull with hooks galore. "Dancing On the Wire" keeps the pace up with a furiously cool tune, with Marco hammering out a catchy chorus over a set of riffs to die for, and then "Back in the Fire" is a more mellow, epic song with a better chorus and another great riff. Later on you get killer songs like the title track and "Wings of Darkness," the latter of which is one of the band's staple songs, and both of which are definitely my favorites on this thing. They even try their hands at a super-ballad titled "Things That Crawl At Night," and Marco's shrill, delicate voice makes it very chilling and atmospheric; a fitting closer. Not every song is cool, with "Never Forever" and "Pharao" being a bit less memorable, but even at their more mediocre moments, Tarot still remain charming, listenable and extremely enjoyable. The Spell of Iron is a classic album from a band that definitely needs more recognition, so check this one out if you can.

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