Spearheading the rise of finnish heavy metal, Tarot had conquered a lot of ground with their debut album ‘The Spell Of Iron’ released at the end of 1986. And with that album laid the foundations for their distinctive sound and offered material well worthy of it’s foreign counterparts.
Tarot’s second release came a couple of years later. Working now as an already established band, the first big obstacles amongst media and audience had been breached and the composing tag-team of Zachary (guitar) and Marco (vocals, bass) Hietala was working even more seamlessly then before. Although “The Spell Of Iron” can be considered as a fine heavy metal album in it’s own right (with great tracks like “Midwinter Nights”, “Love’s Not Made For My Kind” and the quintessential Tarot stormer “Wings Of Darkness”) – on “Follow Me Into Madness” the package had become even tighter.
The band had forged their sound more and more towards the distinguished Tarot style that would keep on setting it’s mark in finnish metal for years to come. Even though “Follow Me Into Madness” was to be Tarot’s last album to feature twin-guitar attack of Zachary Hietala and later sacked Mako H, the basic soundscapes of Tarot were already strongly taking form. Thanks to that, the subsequent transition into a one guitar outfit with prominent keyboards was perhaps – even though still presenting a big challenge – slightly easier.
But let’s focus our attention to the album in question. From the very beginning “Follow Me Into Madness” grabs the listener by the guts. Being one of my personal Tarot favourites, “Descendants Of Power” has all the ingredients of a high quality heavy metal pounder. Picking up speed with a stomping riff, flailing out the ballsy vocals with suitably potent delivery by Marco Hietala, and adding a fine Zachary Hietala solo to finish the cookery – “Descendants” is a perfect song to set the album in motion. And just as perfectly the song leads straight into track number two, chilling “Rose On The Grave” that already has a definite mark of the aforementioned “Tarot Style” in it. Setting the tempo down, yet retaining the distinct heaviness, “Rose” paints soundscapes of cold, unforgiven sadness, all emphasized with Zachary’s weeping guitarwork and Marco’s emotion-filled vocals. A classic song that has subsequently become a regular element of Tarot’s live set. And to this day it has never failed to send shivers down the spine.
Thick riffed “Lady Deceiver” kicks off with a drum/bass pattern that clearly gives a salute towards Judas Priest’s “Turbo” album released a couple of years earlier, but reverts quickly back to vintage Tarot. As the title suggests, the lyrical contents of the song deal with love – a very typical theme in Tarot’s lyrics throughout the band’s discography. Don’t be fooled though – in Tarot’s universe love isn’t all that often handled in the usual syrup-coated way but usually presents itself as bitter, cold and twisted. Lyrics of “Lady Deceiver” set an example; the lines “I don’t know which one I lust for more – Your body or your blood all over me” – get the point made with brutal effectiveness; feelings associated with human heartache could be red as well as blue.
The rest of the bunch feature a good selection of heavy rockers such as “Breathing Fire” and “I Spit Venom” that carry on with vengeful strut. “No Return” and excellent “I Don’t Care Anymore” feature powerful, infectious riffs and melodies whereas the album closer, “Shadow In My Heart” is a doomy, grievous ballad that wouldn’t feel out of place on a random Black Sabbath album.
The album’s title track is another notable moment. Starting out as a gentle ballad, a more sinister agenda beneath it’s seemingly comforting lyrics starts to unfold as the guitars build up the menacing backdrop for the track. The lyrics are some of Tarot’s best and for Marco Hietala, singing them gives another opportunity to show why he’s probably the best finnish vocalist not just due to his voice but also his versatility. The mood of simultaneous coldness and beauty paints a twistedly beautiful yet very sorrowful picture. Amidst the pain and loneliness, the only place to escape is madness, not showing itself as a bad choice but as a place of oblivious tranquillity… Until the faint tormented scream, almost faded out in the end proves even that sanctuary elusive.
So, there you have it. A milestone album in finnish heavy metal that has stood the test of time very well. The newly remastered edition adds an additional punch to the album (not to mention a big selection of bonus tracks), making the sounds thicker and heavier. The true driving force though, lies in the songwriting and performance of the Hietala brothers. Zac’s riffs and solos throughout the album are ablaze and Marco’s amazing vocal capability speaks for itself. Pecu Cinnari’s drums pound with sharp accuracy and Mako H proves to be, well musically at least, a fitting partner for Zac on these two-guitar days of Tarot’s past.
While choosing my favourite Tarot album of all time, I’d go along the lines of my fellow steelmiller Ville, giving the number one spot to 2003’s “Suffer Our Pleasures” album, but “Follow Me Into Madness” remains another personal favourite. There are some bit weaker songs that can’t be considered classics individually and obvioulsy the best use for the album’s cover is to scare your friends with. Still, as whole “Madness” is an album that still works like a charm and by it’s influence to finnish heavy metal and it’s best songs that sound as good today as they did back in 1988, “Follow Me Into Madness” well earns Steel Mill’s KlassiK stamp beneath this review.
1. Descendants Of Power
2. Rose On The Grave
3. Lady Deceiver
4. Follow Me Into Madness
5. Blood Runs Cold / Happy End
6. No Return
7. I Don’t Care Anymore
8. Breathing Fire
9. I Spit Venom
10. Shadow In My Heart
remaster bonus tracks
11. I Don’t Care Anymore (1995 version)
12. Shadow In My Heart (live)
13. Descendants Of Power (live)
14. In My Blood (demo)
15. Born Into The Flame (demo)