10 Great Songs Hiding On Mediocre Albums (2014)
This article brought to you by Kevin Hathaway
Let’s face it, not every album released can be Disforia’s The Age Of Ether or Sinbreed’s Shadows, with killer song after killer song. But that’s not to say that even middle-of-the-road albums can’t have their moments, or in the case of this list, the one song that would make a mediocre album awesome if there were more songs like it on their respective albums. This is not a ranked list (I am just so terrible at those), but here are ten great songs hiding on albums you might have overlooked because of lukewarm or even disparaging reviews (I will own up to being partially at fault for half of these), or for other reasons. These songs are worth seeking on their own, just don’t listen to the rest of the albums they’re on if you don’t have to.
“Dance of Life “– from Amberian Dawn’s Magic Forest
This song epitomizes why this list was made in the first place. “Dance Of Life” is a ridiculously catchy, fun little Finnish power metal tune that just makes things all the sweeter with a blazing Jens Johansson keyboard solo. Why the rest of the album isn’t like this song is beyond me, but then again, Amberian Dawn has never exactly been the poster child for consistency. Still, hopefully there will be more than one good song on the next one. Well, two if you count the instrumental version of this song – which works just as well as the original version, if not better.
“Fight With Time” – from Valkeryon’s Vision Of Fire
I’m kind of speechless about this one. Power-prog act Valkeryon’s debut Vision Of Fire actually had pretty good songs – they just suffered from serious pacing issues; the songs felt a few BPM too slow, and it about killed the entire experience. However, the slightly-faster-than-mid-paced feel didn’t seem out of place on the 7-minute “Fight With Time”, and actually makes the song really good. Top it off with a cheesy-good keyboard melody and probably the catchiest chorus on the album, and you’ve got a definite grower of a tune.
“The Quest” – from Eikthyrnir’s Under The Old Oak Tree
The debut of Chicago power/folk metal/progressive rock band Eikthyrnir (whew) was marred by overlong songs and terrible production, along with a certain lack of direction. One minute, I’m hearing pure Jethro Tull worship, and the next, horrendous black metal vocals are coming through the speakers. Hiding Under The Old Oak Tree, however, lies my second-favorite song of the year, titled “The Quest” (first place goes to Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins because bass solos). After a monastic sort of bellowed chant, a fairly sloppy power metal song starts up, but a curve ball is thrown at the 3:40 mark, and the song goes into a lengthy folk instrumental section with authentic flute and violin trading off the same melody, then teaming up to play it together again. This part of the song is absolute magic, like being transported to a lush forest with babbling brooks. The singer then shifts to a baritone register, slightly reminiscent of Falconer’s Mathias Blad, and kicks off a fantastic guitar solo with a catchy “whoa-oh-oh-oh” section. The first four minutes may be iffy, but the final six of this 10-minute track are beyond words. Like seriously, listen to it right now:
“No Way Out” – from Ring Of Fire’s Battle Of Leningrad
After a decade of inactivity (presumably so Mark Boals could make a guest appearance on every freaking metal opera ever), Ring Of Fire made a return earlier this year with a complete dullard of an album. And unlike most things with Timo Tolkki’s name attached to it, it’s not his fault, because he just plays the bass on Battle Of Leningrad. If Ring Of Fire was going to get such a big name just to play bass, they might as well have gotten Hansi Kursch or Tobias Sammett, for that matter The reason Leningrad didn’t siege my attention (heh) was because of uninspired songs lacking the neoclassical tinge of the songs of old. The closest this album comes to rekindling the band’s former magic is “No Way Out” – a song that would have been just okay on another album, but is a godsend here. Even out of context of Battle Of Leningrad, it’s at least a fun listen.
“Quantum Leap” – from 4th Dimension’s Dispelling The Veil Of Illusions
This damn song. After hearing it for the first time, it was stuck in my head for friggin’ WEEKS, possibly even months. Even just typing up this blurb about it gets that sickly sweet keyboard line unconsciously earworming its way into every hole I have.
… Ears, I was talking about ears. I probably could have worded that better. In my review, I likened the song to a “heavily synthesized Keepers-era Helloween tune”, and that still seems like an accurate assessment to me. Singer Andrea Bicego does a respectable Kiske impression during the chorus. There’s nothing all that deep about the song, it’s just ridiculously catchy and cheesy like any good power metal song should be.
“To Hell And Back” – from Sabaton’s Heroes
While not exactly “hiding”, since everyone and their brother heard this album (like another entry further along on this list), Sabaton never really appealed to me before, so “To Hell And Back” came as quite a surprise. If you’re going to be as big, dumb, riffless, and one-dimensional as Sabaton, you better have some damn anthemic choruses to fall back on, and I never felt that Sabaton had those until this song and Heroes opener “Night Witches.” But “To Hell And Back” gets the edge for that infectious whistling that carries the main tune.
“Black Prince” – from Flashback Of Anger’s T.S.R (Terminate And Stay Resident)
Oh look, another Fabio Lione appearance. Yay. Wait a minute, this is actually one of Fab’s better guest performances lately, and for Italian power/proggers Flashback of Anger’s sophomore album, whose title is an anagram that I couldn’t be arsed to remember what it stands for, let alone any of the other songs on the album. All in all, “Black Prince” is above average guest spot fare for Fabio with a progressive tinge reminiscent of his stint with Hollow Haze. Honestly, this is one of the few songs Fabio has guested on this year where his presence hasn’t been a hindrance. But what I find most interesting about this song is that there is a bonus track that has a version of the same song with the band’s main singer, which is dubbed the “original version”, as if Lione was a complete afterthought until he went around knocking on random Italian studio doors.
Fabio: Hey, I hear you guys are recording an album here. Do you need me to do a guest spot?
Flashback Of Anger: Oooh, sorry, Fabs, we just finished up recording.
Fabio: Oh, okay… I’ll… see you guys later then, I guess. (he pouts slightly and turns around to leave)
Flashback Of Anger: Oh, uh… Now, Fabio… Maybe uh… (Fabio turns around excitedly) Maybe you can record your own version of a song we already did and just so there are no hard feelings, we’ll make that the album version, okay?
Fabio: (starts praising in Italian as he cracks open a bottle of wine and kisses everyone) Ah, bellisimo! Magnifico!
Aaaaand, Fabio proceeds to make his song the most memorable one on the album. Guess these guest spots do work out for him from time to time after all.
“Land Of Fantasy” – from Melodius Deite’s Episode II – Voyage Through The World Of Fantasy
I gave Melodius Deite’s release from earlier this year a really hard time for being long-winded and self-indulgent, but the opening song “Land Of Fantasy” managed to be the least offensive in both regards (which says a lot, when it still runs to nearly nine minutes). The chorus is really catchy, and there are moments where the guitar/keyboard interplay is simply sublime. It’s like Infinite/Elements Pt. 1-era Stratovarius on crack. Too bad the rest of the album is such an overbearing and meandering bore, because it starts out on such a high note. Honestly, who thought that ending the album with a 13-minute instrumental that goes nowhere was a good idea?
“Total Eclipse Of The Heart” (Bonnie Tyler cover) – from Celestial Decay’s QuantumX
Breaking up the monotony of its sophomore release, which I’m pretty sure stole half of its song titles from Axenstar’s discography, Swedes Celestial Decay brought about a rare pop-song-gone-power-metal-cover that actually takes its source material seriously on the overlong and over-boring QuantumX. It certainly doesn’t hurt that “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” was a great song to begin with. I mean, come on, Jim Steinman wrote it. How can you go wrong? Session vocalist Andi Kravljaca (Thaurorod, Silent Call) puts his all into singing this song; not nearly as much as Bonnie Tyler does, but certainly more than he does on the rest of QuantumX. Then again, I can’t blame him for not wanting to make the rest of the music something it isn’t– that is to say, interesting. It should speak wonders when a cover song is the highlight of your 83-minute album. (GAH!)
“Iron-Clad Angels” – from Noble Beast’s Noble Beast
“Boooo!” I can hear you dear readers yelling at your computer screens.
“Are you saying ‘Booo!’ or ‘We boo-urn’?”, I reply cheekily, proud of myself for getting a Simpsons reference out of a song title.
“BOOOO!”, you all reply back. “Noble Beast isn’t mediocre; it’s even gotten considerable praise on this very website!”
All I can say is: my list, my rules. And on my list, Noble Beast is a mediocre album. The blazing opener, “Iron-Clad Angels”, is the album’s saving grace, featuring blistering guitar work, hooks from the first second to the last, and the only tolerable performance by vocalist Rob Jalonen. “Iron-Clad Angels” sets such a ridiculously high standard for the rest of the album that it all falls very, very short afterward with too many riffs and songs that don’t go anywhere, spotty vocals, boring choruses, and overlong songs that become a chore to sit through. Why did this album get so much praise again? My only guess is that people stopped listening after “Iron-Clad Angels” to wash their pants and never heard the rest of the album. Once they finally do get around to hearing the rest, maybe they’ll all be as disappointed as I was that the rest is no “Iron-Clad Angels.” Man, even that song title is totally badass. IRON-CLAD ANGELS! THEY DESCENDED FROM ON HIIIIIIIGH! IRON-CLAD ANGELS! THEY WERE SWORN TO FIGHT AND DIIIIIE! FEARLESS THEY CHARGE INTO THE FRAY, DESTINED TO DIE ON THE FINAL DAY, IRON-CLAD ANGELS NEVER WILL BETRAY! I dare anyone to not want to chant along with that epic chorus.
Oh and “On Wings Of Steel” is decent too, I guess. But nothing can hope to trump the pure metal fury of “Iron Clad Angels,” especially not any songs on the rest of this (as much as I hate to say this word, it’s all that comes to mind right now) overpraised bore.