The Finnish heavy metal pioneers Tarot have been around for two decades now and right from their debut displayed a sense of melodic quality totally unheard in Finland’s metal scene at the time. Steel Mill’s Kassu will cover this early era in his Klassik album review, while yours truly will take a look at their latest effort “Crows Fly Black.” After listening to this album quite a few times it is pleasant to notice that nothing has changed; Tarot still charge on right at the forefront of domestic and foreign metal. What made them so great all those years ago hasn’t disappeared, in fact they have arguably improved on every area and now work together like a well-oiled machine.
Musically the band have been taking steps to other directions compared to those they explored during the 1980’s. Their current heavier, more metallic sound first appeared on 1998’s “For The Glory Of Nothing” and was further perfected on the excellent “Suffer Our Pleasures” record 5 years later. That particular album for this reviewer represented the power and talent of Tarot in a way their previous albums had not quite done. Also, it almost came out of the blue after the band had been on hiatus for a while, with vocalist/bass player Marco Hietala joining Nightwish during the intermission and achieving world wide success with them. However, Hietala brothers always intended Tarot to continue and judging by the awesome quality of “Suffer,” the break probably inspired their creative juices.
Fast forward another three years and the band returned with “Crows Fly Black.” The basic formula still remains the same, the sharp guitar sound provided by Zachary Hietala and manic vocals by Marco drive the songs along. Keyboards by a long time member, Janne Tolsa enhance the palette nicely and the ever faithful Pecu Cinnari on drums lays down a solid foundation for rest of the band to ram home their message.
Title track opens the album in – compared to rest of the album – a more laid back fashion, choirs and keyboards dominate the proceedings. Next up is “Traitor” with its vicious melody and a guitar riff to die for it makes a case for the best song here. “Ashes To The Stars” represents the other side of the band, the beginning is fast enough to suggest another speed killer is on the way but the pace soon slows down to reveal a gigantic chorus. I was really impressed with “Tides” – a haunting slower track, with a chorus that slowly creeps under your subconscious. Check out the wicked guitar hook coming in shortly after 3-minute mark while Marco sings “Stars, They’re Sky Wide, Forever Burn” before Zac rips out a brilliant lead break. Awesome.
Other highlights include apocalyptic “Before The Skies Come Down” featuring another killer riff by Zac and the first single “You” – a fast and grinding number, Marco spitting out the “You! Forgotten You! Forsaken You!” chorus with true hatred and conviction. “Howl!” begins with acoustic guitar and deep sounding bass before turning into one of the album’s more progressive moments.
Marco Hietala again establishes himself as the best metal vocalist in Finland and there are precious few who can match him in foreign countries. The official addition of singer Tommi “Tuple” Salmela to the line-up gives Tarot a new dimension vocally both in studio and live, both singers support each other perfectly on “Crows Fly Black.” Marco’s lyrics are once again fascinating and stand head and shoulders above other competition, they are sinister and dark, yet leave enough space for listener’s own imagination.
This is an album with plenty of layers underneath so several listens are recommended to grasp everything that is going on within its grooves. Productions are clear and crispy, with plenty of power. Play this one loud and you will see what I mean! The record furthermore presents one of the strangest mysteries in the metal world: why this group haven’t achieved their well deserved break outside of Finland? Put this CD alongside any number of power metal acts hailing from mid- to south of Europe and this mystery becomes even bigger.
Tarot recently shot a full show in their hometown Kuopio for a DVD release and another studio album is also in the works. Let us hope those two projects will make the unconverted finally stand up and take notice. In conclusion, while “Suffer Our Pleasures” remains my personal favourite, “Crows Fly Black” is a fitting testimony of a band now over 20 years after their first album at the pinnacle of their career.
1.Crows Fly Black
3.Ashes To The Stars
4.Messenger Of Gods
5.Before The Skies Come Down