As paths cross, just like that. When three friends, stepping out of their known realities, finding the way to create their own joint venture, formulating a new enterprise with the purpose of the foundation of a new legacy, another Metal titan for the ashes of something greater. The departure of Matthew Barlow from ICED EARTH was quite catastrophic, yet I was sure that the band would eventually find their new suitable frontman, and they did with a younger version of Barlow in the image of Stu Block. Freddie Vidales served as ICED EARTH’s bass player up until last year and then took his leave while drummer Van Williams, along with the departure of Jeff Loomis, forsaken NEVERMORE to its utter collapse leaving the remaining members to focus on the resurrection of SANCTUARY. With these three icons forming ASHES OF ARES, investing their experiences and knowledge of the music, the expectation rate couldn’t be other than higher. Recently, ASHES OF ARES signed with Nuclear Blast Records for the release of the debut self-titled album. As a prologue, the colossus titan is currently being built.
It can’t be denied, maybe it was due to Jim Morris’s involvement on the production or due to the fact that two out of the trio took part of the old emblem, but in overall the ASHES OF ARES undertaking forged into being a slower stampede of ICED EARTH, somewhat more theatrical and epic, yet less melodic. While listening I had an unexplained feeling of pessimism, sensing heavy heart, doom and oblivion as if the ultimate song share depicted the edges of sorrow, personal failure and regret, like a darkened requiem divided into segments. Undoubtedly, Barlow’s vocal production is something else, especially when the harmonies take their toll. It has been always a pleasure to listen to his diverse vocals between lower groans through middle level melodies and high register pitches. Through this album it was my first time listening to Vidales handling the guitars, writing what appeared to be simpler heavy riffs, yet coloring them with several appetizing handouts with tweaks of melodies. As a lead guitarist, I was heavily impressed, shredding his way into existence while also featuring classic Metal orientations. Williams has always been a monster on the skins, listening to him performing with NEVERMORE, and with ASHES OF ARES his abilities were no different, an astounding drummer, yet I can’t say that I was dazed by the tick tick base drum kicks’ sound engineering.
Backing up to the material again, ASHES OF ARES prompt a parcel of darkness and mystery. “This Is My Hell” is a creature of anguish, an inner devastation, and despondent yet mystic altogether, presumed to be the continuance of something out of the Spawn’s story of ICED EARTH’s earlier hitter, “The Dark Saga”. Musically, it is massive as it can get, heavy and chunky with emotive acoustic moments, MAIDENish harmonies and a sparkling solo verdict. “On Warrior's Wings” keeps that same vibe of the former, catchier, somewhat anthemic, simple riff with several spices. The darkened “Dead Man’s Plight”, the formal single of this release, inflaming with the old ICED EARTH heaviness, Barlow sounds as classic as he can be just like in the early days, emphatic guitaring and great rhythms. “The Answer”, a bit loosen in comparison to the others, distributing impressive harmonies, flamboyant choral vocals and serving great lead guitar pleasures. ASHES OF ARES swiftly moving forward with a murky form of Heavy Metal ascertaining gloom and heavy patterns, with a release still bounded to their old heritage, at least some of it, they have what it takes to form wonders. Highly recommended.
Prepare for punishment! Something wicked this way comes on the wings of a warrior, dreaming in neon black. Could the answer be ASHES OF ARES? The curse is marked by the burnt offerings of the majestic vocalist – Matt Barlow, the dyspeptic guitar infusions of Frederic Vidales, and the modest endeavors of demolition drummer - Van Williams. This unholy trinity has created one striking self-titled debut.
If I am to be the messenger of truth, the one I'd kindly consider to be based on heartfelt integrity, then I must confess that I did not relish the sounds of ASHES OF ARES upon my first few trials. I found the music to be too similar to ICED EARTH and NEVERMORE, and void of those vital ingredients which separate this dark saga from any other tale of the ill-fated enemies of reality. Thankfully, after several revolutions, I was able to remove the chains of delusion and discern what is meant to be heard. Having an engaging conversation with Matt Barlow truly helped me to iron out the vivid details. Anyone who cherishes his vocal melodies and amazing articulations will truly celebrate what these three have crafted.
One must really involve himself in this work. One simply cannot just skim tracks, or one will miss the mettle 'neath the might. The words and wisdom of ASHES OF ARES hold a vibrant dualistic nature, and may be left up to individual interpretation. “The choice is yours to tip the balance…”, as the master of law enforcement screams on “Dead Man's Plight”. One can view this world as being akin to dystopia, where man is vanquished by gods, and enslaved by war, left to dwell in the ashes of Ares, or rather if the glass is half-full, then perhaps Mankind has been triumphant, done away with the need for God, war, and evil, and chooses to simply sift through the ashes of Ares. Either way, the epistemological epigrams are well-pronounced.
Barlow was provided poetic license to write his own lyrics, and vocal harmonies when he sang for PYRAMAZE on the album “Immortal”. In ICED EARTH, he truly experienced the crucible of man, and not once, but twice, was faced with a grave decision to stay or go. With his new alliance with Williams in the ashes of the eerie conditions that destroyed a famous sanctuary; now nevermore, Barlow has worn his heart on his sleeve such that the two warriors have now created a new epoch of eternity, albeit heavily inspired by their previous efforts.
As for the songs themselves, each is well-executed, well-performed, and quite thought provoking. These are Barlow's sonic suggestions, his striving to make sense of what he witnesses daily in his only private horror show. His brutal berth as a defender of justice finds him faced with wicked perpetrators and their pure evil intentions. As a graphic artist, Williams must paint the portrait of faith. With the symmetrically stand-out logo, and emblazoned artwork, “the imagery becomes burned in your psyche”, to quote Mr. Barlow himself.
From the haunting overtones of “The Messenger” which echoes “Dante's Inferno”, the stark genesis of those souls who are both blessed and the dammed - begins to unfold. “Move The Chains” breaks free with a heavy anthem similar to “Brainwashed”, while “On Warrior's Wings” redounds with an interpersonal tone, reminding me heavily of John Schaffer's anthem and nightly prayer: “Watching Over Me”, melded to the anarchic “Believe In Nothing”.
The crushing walls of “Punishment” pound your skull just as you recall the angst of “Violate”, while the sober pace of “This Is My Hell” evoke images of “Harbinger Of Fate” and “Optimist Or Pessimist”. “Chalice Of Man” challenges the spirit of “Stormrider”, erupting with the presence of "Creator Failure" or “Vengeance Is Mine”, and recapitulating with a hint of “The Hunter”. The powerful imagery of “The Answer” clearly proves that you may not know “Jack”. The existentially more aggressive “What I Am” follows the soul's journey into these burning times of social conviction, concluding with the “Last Laugh” of “The One-Eyed King”.
So clearly fans of their initial efforts will find little fault, but if one were to ignore those acts entirely, and just view this as a new incarnation of immediate inspiration, then so much more will be culled, the numinous answer will be found, and the message will truly be better received.