Now here’s something you don’t see every day: a beefy-sounding Brazilian power metal act with no prior label releases appearing on a label as prominent as AFM. Armored Dawn is a sextet of South Americans who sound and write more like they hail from Germany or Scandinavia. With a certain preoccupation for Viking “lore” — just like half of all of metal — the band’s theme is nothing to write home about, but the album trailer sounded promising enough that I was eager to get my hands on this. The heavier/more aggressive side of Brazilian power metal is certainly less well known than its host of Euro-power projects and Angra clones, and those that take a heftier heavy/power approach have been irregular in quality and style (Hevilan, more recent Lothlöryen, arguably newer Hibria, etc.).
The band photo sells Armored Dawn more as a bunch of old-timers on a trad metal kick than modern heavy/power. Curiously, I get an occasional tingle of American radio/alt-rock tendencies from lead singer Eduardo Parras, whose frequent dips into a calm baritone during songs like “Sail Away” and “Bloodstone” call to mind some members of the US grunge scene. Additionally, I can’t shake the vocal comparison of Parras to Týr’s Heri Joensen, especially when he descends into that low range. Regardless, the singing on Barbarians in Black is respectable and moderately energetic, if ultimately unexceptional. Unfortunately, the lyrics are almost completely throwaway (most notably “Gods of Metal” and “Survivor”) throughout, with nothing fresh, or at least charismatic, in the group’s delivery to make them remarkable.
What Armored Dawn does accomplish rather well is a heavy, tromping cadence that rarely lets up and pounds its choruses into uncooperative ears with a series of ham-fisted, yet powerful hammer blows. This is most effective on early songs like opener “Beware of the Dragon,” the driving “Bloodstone,” and the consistently heavy “Chance to Live Again.” The lead guitar, while perhaps not describable as consummate, is tight, competent, and appropriately contributive. However, it lacks the character that prevents the band from really standing out — and the relatively plain rhythm guitar work doesn’t help matters any. Barbarians in Black can’t really be described as chuggy, and it doesn’t have any true technical complexity, but it does have enough in the way of diverse tempos, percussive variation, and generally positive songwriting elements to lift it above the sea of uninspired, unremarkable heavy/power metal hybrids that are infesting the scene’s woodwork these days.
Just barely enough. I’ve seen some sources refer to this album as “riffy.” We as a scene seem to like to throw that word around willy-nilly, but I don’t think people are going to be caught idly humming any of the guitar lines from this album like we are those from Imaginations from the Other Side. Some ignoramuses have also referred to the band’s style as “epic.” If that’s the case, I think we need to start qualifying that word by prefixing it with “relaxedly,” “awesomely,” or “kinda sorta” in press releases (which is JUST what we need). However, lest this paragraph turns into an exposition on the devaluation of language in the 21st century, let’s just say that bands like Stormwarrior, Crystal Eyes, Orden Ogan, and maybe even Rebellion have made more interesting noises of this sort throughout the past twenty years.
Barbarians in Black is a pleasant listen for fans of strong-armed heavy/power metal who don’t give a rip about bin-worthy themes and a meat-headed vocal approach to go with it. It’s decidedly top-heavy, but a few of the songs are pretty fun, and even the obligatory crack at a slower song (“Sail Away”) is not doomed to crawl in the gutter. I find myself pretty surprised that these guys showed up on AFM, but then I’m also surprised (and disappointed) that people are still madly in love with the new version of Orden Ogan. If you’re the kind of listener that wants moderately paced, stomping power metal that’s easy to headbang to, you’ll get more mileage out of this than I did.