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Aria – Baptism By Fire

Baptism By Fire
by kenn Staub at 08 January 2021, 11:30 PM

It’s well known within the international metal community that there has long existed a thriving scene in Russia. ARIA is perhaps the most popular and successful band to come out of that scene. Since forming in Moscow during 1985, ARIA, in its various configurations, has released 13 original studio albums. Dubbed the “RUSSIAN IRON MAIDEN” because of their songs’ themes and musical similarity to the NWOBHM sound, they have been compared to a variety of bands, including the aforementioned MAIDEN, as well as JUDAS PRIEST, GRIM REAPER, ACCEPT, SAXON, LOUDNESS, AUTOGRAPH, and SCORPIONS.

To celebrate their 35th anniversary, ARIA had planned a massive anniversary tour. That all changed, however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of hitting the road, the current iteration of ARIA decided to re-record two albums from their catalog; “Baptism By Fire,” their ninth studio platter (released in 2003), and “Armageddon,” their 10th (released in 2006). The two albums were subsequently reissued on October 16. This post will focus on reviewing the former, while the later will be discussed in another entry.

The most significant difference between this reissue of “Baptism By Fire” and the original is a change at the microphone, as the instrumentalists remain the same. Arthur Berkut handled vocals in 2003, whereas Mikhail Zhitnyakov is the lead singer now. Regardless, the lyrics are all rendered in Russian. Because of my unfamiliarity with the language, I couldn’t help but feel, based on the names of the album’s songs, I was missing out on hearing epic stories that drew from Russian history (ala IRON MAIDEN). That being noted, the language difference in no way hindered my understanding and appreciation of what the band was doing musically.

Patriot” opens the album, rapid-fire drumming leading into a tight, fast rhythm. The song charges full speed ahead with guitars weaving in and out of the main musical theme. Vladimir Kholstinin’s and Sergey Popov’s guitar interplay and solo excursions reveal the two to be a formidable, classic metal tandem. The overall sound of “Patriot” evokes JUDAS PRIEST, but with Klaus Meine doing the singing.

The opening to the song “Baptism By Fire” is acoustic, highlighted by folk-like, percussive inflections. Zhitnyakov’s vocal tone is serious, as is the full metal instrumentation that eventually joins. The music comes at the listener in bursts, with full group choruses adding to the flavor as a consistent melody plays underneath. On this track, like on so many others, Kholstinin and Popov split the solo break; one offering up his own style then seamlessly handing off to the other so he can provide a different, but complementary, contribution.

It’s easy to settle into the rhythm of “Coliseum” and elements of classic NWOBHM run through the track. There is a spare, atmospheric interlude and the solo works well with the overall melody. As could be expected with a track entitled “Executioner,” the tone, especially at the outset, is darkly foreboding. A quarter of the way in, the song transitions from being instrumentally spare to full metal, with dense instrumentation carrying the darker tone. Zhitnyakov’s vocals become almost pleading and the music begins to exemplify rhythmic chaos toward the end. After the ominous nature of “Executioner” the relative tonal lightness of “Your New World” is exactly what’s needed. “Your New World” starts as a powerful headbanger, with the tempo gradually ramping up before eventually coming back to its original, methodical headbanging sensibility.

There Up High” is an instrumentally cohesively performance. Zhitnyakov sings over an acoustic guitar, with Udoloav joining to pound out a military-style cadence. After a minute, the song becomes bigger, bolder. At times sparseness creeps into the sound, but the overall theme never strays too far from that big metal feel. The guitar solo break, though more protracted than others, is fuzzy and spacy but at all times perfectly meshing with the rest of the track.

White Flag” takes off from the start, chugging away like some of the more uptempo numbers on OZZY’s first two solo albums. The song then backs down; slower, lighter, sparser. Ramping up and slowing down, the track is a bit uneven in the way it shifts tempos and tones.

For me, “Battle” is one of the more interesting tracks on the album, being almost an amalgamation of hair metal and NWOBHM. The guitars, bass, and drums are thunderous, while the choruses have an almost mid-80s Los Angeles metal sensibility. “Battle” did eventually become somewhat tedious, its musical lines tending toward repetition. “Prince of Darkness’s Ball” was, unsurprisingly, ominous, from its acoustic intro through the onset of a SABBATH-like tonality. A brief bass solo leads into a cool interplay between the drums and guitars. For all “Prince of Darkness’s” good qualities, I did lose patience with its over-reliance on metal clichés.

The 10th track is a new song, a bonus if you will. “Battle Field” is like the calm following a storm; it gives a chance to breathe. Spare and atmospheric, “Battle Field” begins with a beautiful acoustic guitar and maintains a folkish tonality over its almost six minute course. An interesting way to close the album.

Baptism By Fire” features NWOBHM elements, but not necessarily the overall NWOBHM feel I expected having researched the band’s history and influences. Some songs seem overly formulaic, too frequently using the NWOBHM trope of an acoustic intro followed by an abrupt, grandiose metal blast. Additionally, many songs progress beyond the point where there is anything to add. That being noted, ARIA is a cohesive ensemble who know their craft and “Baptism By Fire” is a solid album; a solid, aurally comfortable listen.

Musicianship: 9
Songwriting: 7
Memorability: 7
Production: 9

3 Star Rating

1. Patriot
2. Baptism By Fire
3. Coliseum
4. Executioner
5. Your New World
6. There Up High
7. White Flag
8. Battle
9. Prince of Darkness’s Ball
10. Battle Field
Mikhail Zhitnyakov – Vocals
Vladimir Kholstinin – Guitar
Sergey Popov – Guitar
Vitaly Dubinin – Bass
Maxim Udalov – Drums
Record Label: M2BA


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Edited 09 February 2023

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