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Archaic rimes of a mystic ride. - 91%

hells_unicorn, May 15th, 2019
Written based on this version: 1988, CD, Steamhammer

While it is generally stipulated that the marriage of heavy metal and pirate-themed storytelling began circa 1987 with Running Wild's breakout 3rd LP Under Jolly Roger, there tends to be a corresponding belief that any wider spread interest in merging these two concepts didn't really catch on until well after the end of the 80s. Naturally one's definition of just what would constitute wider spread interest comes into play here, but the notion that this idea didn't have any legs outside of Rolf Kasparek's inner circle immediately after the fact would be mistaken, particularly when considering Zed Yago's formidable debut offering From Over Yonder. Coming immediately on the heels of not only Running Wild's aforementioned pioneering effort, but also Helloween's early excursion into fantastical lyrical pursuits via Keeper Of The Seven Keys Pt. 1, this album takes the mystical side of seafaring lore and merges it with an old school, mid-paced and riff oriented take on heavy metal that presents a rather unique break from the ascendant power metal style that was quickly becoming associated with conceptual storytelling thanks to the ongoing efforts of said bands.

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that wherein melodic splendor is concerned, almost all roads lead to Germany, though the road that Zed Yago takes here has a bit more in common with the recent efforts of Warlock and Accept. Truth be told, this album all but listens like a missing link between Balls To The Wall and Metal Heart with a few cinematic symphonic elements, minus the occasional speed metal moments and with Doro Pesch standing in for Udo at the microphone. To be fair, vocalist Jutta Weinhold had been at the game a fair bit longer than her blonde German songstress counterpart, all but to the point of being the Grace Slick of Germany, but the soulful, jagged edged vocal display she puts on here is quite similar to what Doro took to Warlock's discography. Surrounding her riveting vocal display is a massive battery of crunchy, down-tempo riff work that would make Herman Frank proud, as well as a brilliantly pristine production that actually manages to hold up about as well as the premier metal recordings of the late 80s, particularly the synthesized orchestral elements, which manage to be bombastic and avoids that toy-like, tinny character often heard out of keyboard-happy, mid-80s rock/metal offerings following the latter day Rainbow model.

The legend behind the metallic assault is a rather compelling one, detailing the life and exploits of a mythical daughter of a cruel seafaring briggin and the feminine spirit of the sea that took on human form and became the queen of pirates, and the music does a masterful job of painting a vivid picture of the story while holding up the stylistic pillars of old school German metal. Beginning on a fairly dramatic note with a haunting keyboard display, "The Spell From Over Yonder" walks the tightrope between mysticism and Accept-based anthemic hooks, listening like a more cinematic answer to any number of slow-paced crushers off Accept's Balls To The Wall. This formula proves to be the dominant one of the entire opus, rolling out such fist-pumping fits of glory as the band's own eponymous anthem "Zed Yago", along with slow marching melodic odes like "United Pirate Kingdom" and "Rebel Ladies", the latter sounding about as close to being a b-side from Accept's Metal Heart as one might get without bringing Udo in to shriek over top of it. Though by no means a one-trick pony, this outfit largely splits the difference on the periphery, with such exceptional songs as "Revenge" and "Stay The Course" throwing in some serene acoustic work as introductory material, while only the brief narration/interlude "The Flying Dutchman" breaking out of the mold with a full orchestrated keyboard display.

About the only real criticism that could launched at this album is the same one that might be thrown at a number of early metal classics from the early 80s, namely that it sticks to a pretty tight songwriting format and springs up from more of a hard rock foundation. While the description definitely applies here, it's a virtual non-factor given the quality of the limited idea set being utilized. This band's credo could well have been along the lines of "we're one dimensional because it's all we need" or "some ideas are good enough to stay fresh for over 40 minutes". Between Jutta's highly dynamic vocal display and the occasional fits of 80s inspired six-string fury that injects enough NWOBHM-based grit into the equation to keep it from morphing into pop/rock. Credit should be given to Running Wild and Halloween for expanding the lyrical possibilities of metal in the 80s and paving the way for the eventual revival of European metal in the late 1990s, but what Zed Yago managed to deliver here stands as an equally compelling, somewhat more musically conservative alternative well before either band became as widely imitated. If nothing else, it's yet another testament as to how diverse and exciting the metal scene in Germany was throughout the 80s and how much what the scene has today owes to those early pioneering efforts.