Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Century Media)
by Scott Hefflon
Opening with a minute-and-a half intro which sounds like that classical “pluck-pluck-pluck” G.E. lightbulb commercial (or was that “G.E.; no, G.T.E.”?), Nocturnal Rites are instantly (and rightly) pegged as nostalgic progressive metal along the lines of classic Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, or, more accurately, Helloween. (Note: “Classic” does not include recent drivel, be it from Maiden’s Blaze, Priest’s Ripper, or Helloween’s, um, whoever.) Like Helloween’s Walls… and the …Seven Keys series (until the end when I ceased to care), Tales… opens with a classical ditty, light and airy, which builds to a timpani-rolling climax leading to… melodic, dueling leads over happily rampaging drums! (Historical note: “Back in the day,” we used to refer to this beat as the “hardcore beat” despite the fact it was usually speedmetal/thrash bands who [over]used it. Now everyone from NOFXian punks and Slayerized metalheads use it. Could be worse; could be jungle.) The song’s called “Ring of Steel,” if that tells you anything, and the pleasantly chipper warble of the vocals match some of the finest fretboard gymnastics I’ve heard since Impellitteri and Nitro (Oh, you’d get a good belly laugh out of my immense collection of ’80s metal on vinyl, kids!).
The singer (Anders Zackrisson, by name, one of the “-sson”s, not “-berg”s of the band) has the unfortunate tendency to sing “Mmm” a lot, like he’s smelling Mom’s home-cooked brownies or thinking the groupy chicks’ll find him all emotive and hot, but I nitpick. Many of the layered-to-the-heavens harmonies sound more like, ya know, Brittany Fox or some such puffy-haired-and-frilly-shirted-silliness, but the dramatic keyboard bridges (think Helloween again) compensate nicely. Nocturnal Rites does, however, tend to skate dangerously close to the thin ice that is Glam Metal. (It makes my skin crawl simply to write those words.) Beware the freezing waters that’ll suck you beneath the surface, trapped like a hairy Neanderthal of another age, within sight of yet never able to reach solid ground again, drowning because you failed to mind your direction.
I think it’s “Lost in Time,” not to be confused with the previous track, “Test of Time,” which sounds so similar to Powerslave-era Maiden that I actually threw on the record (thus taking a break from neo-nostalgia for a little personal nostalgia. Sigh!). But again, I nitpick. With 12 songs to dissect, I could be here forever (especially as they unearth every lyrical and musical cliché in the book of heavy metal – or is that the heavy book of metal? Babbling on about time and keys and warriors and visions and demons, guitar riffs reminiscent of Maiden, that Malmsteen jerk-off, and every “axe-slinger” in between). Suffice it to say, if you’re a fan of that good ol’ happy, melodic heavy metal, either from the first time ’round or from the recent wave created by Blind Guardian and Hammerfall (who I deeply regret not being able to review because their record was nearly a year old by the time I got to it), check out Nocturnal Rites.