Ah, nostalgia. My very first review upon joining Angry Metal Guy Industries was Tarot‘s 2010 release Gravity of Light. Now, just about a year later, Finland’s longest running metal act returns with a re-recording of their 1986 debut Spell of Iron to mark the album’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Much like fellow countrymen Amorphis, they apparently decided these ancient songs would benefit from a sonic face lift using modern recording technology and the modern day Tarot stylings. In the spirit of full Angry Metal Disclosure, as with many metallers, I wasn’t aware of Tarot back in 1986 and didn’t discover them until founder and front man Marco Heitala rose to worldwide prominence with Nightwish in the early 2000s. Therefore, Spell of Iron isn’t some sacred talisman album in my mind as it may well be for long time Tarot fans. That said, I’ve spun it on and off over the years and found it a very solid, highly engaging slab of traditional metal falling somewhere between Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and W.A.S.P., while always maintaining a unique sound (largely due to Marco’s excellent and distinctive vocals). Also worth noting, it’s one of their most consistent albums from start to finish and less plagued by the Filler Gremlin™ than their subsequent releases were. With the housekeeping done, let’s see what’s in the cards shall we?
Immediately apparent is how much bigger, heavier and thicker the sound is on Spell of Iron MMXI. Compared to the somewhat weak, washed out sound on the original, this is a enormous sound bomb. Also noticeable are the omnipresent keyboards of Janne Tolsa and the vocal contributions of Tommi Salmela, neither of whom were around in 86′. Marco’s vocals are more shrill and aggressive than back in the day and the guitars are a lot thicker, so the overall effect is a far heavier, more ballsy sound. To my ears this is a boon to the material. Classic songs like “Midwinter Nights” and “Back in the Fire” sound WAY more angry and harder than before while maintaining the original spirit and melody. The impact modern recording technology gives classics like “Spell of Iron” (actually pronounced “spell of I-ruhn” which is way more metal) and especially their huge, righteous signature song “Wings of Darkness” cannot be overstated (this excellent track alone justifies the album’s purchase). Besides the aforementioned classic cuts, the rest are all solid and this is an enjoyable slab of traditional melodic 80’s metal.
While Tarot wisely resisted a wholesale overhaul of these older songs, they do add and subtract elements and features from each. The biggest change is naturally the abundant keyboard work. On tracks like “Back in the Fire” and “Never Forever” the keys add a whole new dimension to the sound (almost veering into a heavier Stratovarius sound). The inclusion of Tommi’s vocals also adds some interesting variety to the proceedings. Pace-wise, several songs get a slower, more grinding treatment like “Spell of Iron.” While there’s all sorts of compositional dabbling here and there, the original spirit of the songs remains. It does seem they changed up the lyrics in several of the songs though.
So is this re-recording worth your hard earned cash? Well, let’s be honest. Most readers never heard the original versions so they can’t/won’t be getting all angsty over tampering with classic Tarot material. If you fall into the newbie category, I would recommend checking out this version which takes melodic metal from the 80’s and gives it enough power and heft to sound great in 2011. If you’re one of the rare few who were on the Tarot War Wagon from day one (or live in Finland, same difference) then you may feel differently about tampering with the oldies. While I land somewhere between the two camps, this is one of the rare re-recordings I wholeheartedly endorse. Check this out if you like crisp traditional metal done by old pros.