Almanac – Tsar

almanactsarcoverNuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeGiant vocals and instruments seem to be the order of the day with Victor Smolski (Rage, LMO) and his latest project, Almanac.  He is joined by cohorts Andy B. Frank (vocals), David Readman (vocals), Jeannette Marchewka (vocals), Armin Alic (bass), Michael Kolar (drums) and Enric Garcia (keys and piano).  This recording also features the Orchestra Barcelona Filharmonia.  Victor hails from Belarus.  This is the debut for the Almanac fellows, and it is a rather auspicious one, at that.

The title track is up first, and it is truly epic, just short of eight minutes in length.  Victor & Co. threw in everything including the kitchen sink on this one, as we hear everything from baby vocal FX to strings to haunting piano chords and heavy drums, bass and guitar.  There are some serious harmony vocals on this number, but that is not the only thing that may seem irregular.  Almanac seem hell-bent on mixing classical music with heavy metal/hard rock – and, like it or not, they are oftentimes extraordinarily successful.  This is not your father’s prog – this is the best power chord riffing mixed with violins you will hear all year!  The lead guitar bit at five-and-a-half minutes in is some wickedly powerful shredding.  There is also a false fade-out at the end, and we close with some classical piano.

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Self-Blinded Eyes is another big number, clocking in right on the nose of six minutes.  This is another HUGE vocal exercise, beginning with a classical fanfare intro.  The main item I’d like to address here is genre.  I know, I’m not a big fan of genre, but this time around I’m focused a bit more on it, because genre is clearly what Victor and his pals are all about.  As mentioned before, this is not JUST Prog.  It is not JUST Power Metal.  This is Motivational Metal, if you will.  There are two fine guitar bits, one at four minutes in and one just after that.  Wonderful stuff.

Darkness is an interlude, one of those shorties that may be included for fluff. No one, alas, really knows, except perhaps Victor and his compadres.  It contains some nice bass runs and what I refer to as Uli Jon Roth-style sky guitar.

Hand Are Tied again finds us in the midst of some fine bass work, and more of the harmony vocals.  The double-bass drumming is prominent, and there are some sharp guitar licks.  Plenty of shred, including a tasty lead (3:45) and the ending riffs – excellent and FAST!

Children of the Future features more of the same, and is a good uptempo number with some serious instrumental breakdowns (the shift at 3 minutes in is marvelous).  Forty seconds in the riffs kick up some dust, and there is a meticulous shred at 3:30 – powerful stuff, VERY fast.  Again, the bass work is brilliant, and there is a violin intro, classical style, at the outset, plus some big vocals.  It’s as if the Vikings are pillaging and plundering all over again – well, musically, so to speak!

No More Shadows will mark the last time today I will use the word ‘epic’ in a review.  I promise.  You know me only too well, reader, and you may suspect that I am lying.  Forget I said anything.  Let’s continue.  This particular number is in what I like to call ‘storyteller’ mode, and features more violins on the intro, truly classical mixed with heavy metal here.  At two minutes in, we get a shift and a build-up with the violins and the guitar, plus more of the rich harmony vocals as well.  At 2:30 and 3:30, there are some nice riffing patterns appearing, and at six minutes in we get another shift, with a nice instrumental breakdown with even MORE violins (6:30).  The lead guitar weaves from psych shred (6:40) to prog shred, including some wah/crybaby FX and a good round-up at the close, especially vocally.

Nevermore features some nice guitar at the outset, with a doubly imprinted riff for our minds.  Some sweet riffing at the one-minute mark, plus a refrain of sorts at three minutes in.  There is some serious riffs/licks at 3:30, and another lead guitar solo (a really good one, actually) at 3:40.

Reign of Madness is another big number, about six-and-a-half minutes long.  It features a menacing intro, and shows Victor‘s ability to do what I call the Zakk Wylde squeal’.  He does it numerous times, making it almost old and staid by the end of the tune.  There is some stunning vocal work here as well, and we are in storyteller mode again.  The violins and the vocals almost make this one.  The lead guitar bit at 2:20 comes and goes, and we get more of the sweet stuff at four minutes in.  Some really cool bass work later, and we have a close to another ass kicker.  Cool fadeout with FX at the close.

Flames of Hate, another six-and-a-half minute number, is our closer for today.  It slams us with fast riffing and shouting vocals right out of the gate.  There is a good urgency to the vocal delivery.  For the third time today, we are in storyteller mode – something which I admire and positively adore, if done properly.  The violins and the keys and the vocals are, again, what make this particular number.  There are also some serious shifting and instrumental breakdowns on board here one at 2:15 and another at 3:50.  The lead guitar work at 4:50 is excellent, shred-worthy material.  At six minutes in, we get one more instrumental bit with a brief lead solo.  This is, again, more power or prog metal than thrash, so may the gods of thrash metal forgive me for briefly going soft on you again!  If you enjoy your metal a bit more pompous or grandiose than normal, than this is right up your alley!

Verdict: 8/10

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