Ring Of Fire – Battle of Leningrad
Reviewed by Kevin Hathaway
If there were ever a heavy/power metal equivalent of Dream Theater, purely in terms of technical proficiency, I would argue it to be Ring of Fire. I mean heck, a few members have even been a part of Planet X, ex-DT keyboardist Derek Sherinian’s band. The musicians in Ring Of Fire include Tony MacAlpine, a masterful and versatile guitarist, and then there’s Vitalij Kuprij, the classically trained keyboardist who I would say rivals Jordan Ruddess in terms of pure skill, and finally Mark Boals, the vocalist who really needs no introduction, but who will get one anyway. Yngwie Malmsteen, Iron Mask, Royal Hunt, and countless other bands round out Boals’ impressive resume. New to the fold for Battle of Leningrad is Jami Huovinen – whose only other metal credit that I could find is Finland’s Sentiment – and Timo Tolkki. Wait, did Ring of Fire get a second guitarist?
Tolkki plays BASS guitar on this album? Huh, that… seems like a waste of his talent, honestly. While the band’s instrumental skill is unrivaled, their songwriting has been completely meh, to be honest (and the comparison to Dream Theater continues…), churning out a few fun tunes over their lengthy career (“City Of The Dead” being one of my personal favorites) but with a majority of songs seeming like set-ups to blistering guitar/keyboard duels which, while impressive, do not a good band make. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic that Ring Of Fire can someday assemble an album at least full of songs more like the fun tunes I just mentioned.
That album, however, is not Battle Of Leningrad, which is, for lack of better words: really, really, really boring. The trudging and dull opener “Mother Russia” (Sisters of Mercy’s song of the same name is better, jussayin’) is an unnerving foreshadowing of the boredom to come. There’s just no energy here. Even Mark Boals’ performance sounds phoned in. If not for his contribution to Maestro Alex Gregory’s forgotten turd Paganini’s Last Stand (maybe I can touch on that during a slow week at Black Wind), this album would rank among Boals’ worst performances. His vocal lines sound like they were from his first takes and lack refinement. I understand that Boals is like a decade from the US retirement age, but he’s shown that he’s still capable on the new Iron Mask album, which only came out a few months ago. The brooding keyboards (which at times honestly sound like a cat pounding its paw at the far ends of a piano), downtuned guitars, and military drumming try to evoke atmosphere but it just doesn’t work. The entire album is a mid-paced bore, except for a few songs that I didn’t expect to like given their generic titles, namely “They’re Calling Your Name”, “Where Angels Play”, and “No Way Out.” Those few songs have a little extra oohmph in them, but are still far from the best Ring Of Fire has ever done.
Particular lowlights include “Empire”, which goes on way too long (and is one of a couple songs on Battle Of Leningrad which has a chorus that boils down to Boals stretching out the song title as long as possible and then simply raising or lowering his voice a note on each syllable), and “Our World,” the putrid token power metal piano ballad that bands, for some reason, still feel compelled to tack onto their albums. I actually skipped over “Our World” completely on my first listen of the album. Normally, this is something I never do, but the suckitude was just too much for me to stomach. Nobody listens to power metal, especially not a band like Ring of Fire with this many gifted musicians, to hear these crappy dime-a-dozen piano ballads that even hair metal bands wouldn’t touch.
I don’t know if it’s the winter blues or what, but this album really has me bitter. I do know for a fact that everyone here is capable of better and their potential is being terribly underutilized on these mediocre and plodding tunes that go absolutely nowhere. Tony MacAlpine’s solos are good, as expected, but they’re like scooping water out of a sinking lifeboat. Battle Of Leningrad is not unlistenable, but it sure as hell doesn’t inspire.
2.0 // 5