It’s been nine, almost ten years since we heard anything from RING OF FIRE. Understandable, since all the members have other projects they’re involved in. Still, that’s a long time. The good news is that they are back, and stronger than ever. Melodic Power Metal with soaring vocals and virtuoso performances from all involved, this is a neoclassical metalhead’s dream come true. But instead of fantasy-based lyrics, the guys opted for a concept album this time around called Battle of Leningrad out January 28 via Frontiers Records. It’s based upon the historic 900 day siege of Leningrad by the Nazis during World War II. Despite the dire living conditions and substantial loss of life, and though nearly one million starved to death, the Russians eventually beat back their oppressors, forcing a retreat.
Singer Mark Boals is at the top of his game, as are guitarist Tony MacAlpine and keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij. Holding down the rhythmic fort are Timo Tolkki on bass and Jami Huovinen on drums, the glue that holds it all together. The cadence of first track “Mother Russia” spells doom right away with a feeling that something wicked this way comes. MacAlpine opens “They’re Calling Your Name” with this run that he plays repeatedly throughout the song and when Kuprij takes center stage for them to solo off of each other it is outstanding. These two were instant favorites from the word GO!
Another fantastic song is the title track “Battle of Leningrad” marching forward like an Army of Doom, effortlessly making us feel the trauma of battle. My other favorite though has to be “Firewind”. A seven-minute affair that runs the gamut from power metal to balladry to prog, it shows this band as the well-oiled machine we remember, especially Boals. The lyric “It’s not the end till somebody loses and wins” is grandiose in its ascension and is easily one of my favorite moments on this record. Another “Whoa!” moment comes with “Where Angels Play” with everyone off to the races in one of the heavier tracks. Still, the keys are so important in this one. It wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful without them setting the tone.
RING OF FIRE even manage to tread over into a mix of prog-meets-AOR territory with “Empire”. The hell you say! No, I’m serious! “Land of Frozen Tears” is another very good one, not awe-inspiring or jaw-dropping musician-wise, but still good enough to get the job done. Sometimes less is more, and these guys get it. Boals delivery is top-notch, too, particularly on the chorus, and I can’t praise MacAlpine’s soloing enough. The bells of “No Way Out” soon give way to another speedster which has everything you’d expect from a song of this nature. It’s good, but not great.
Closer “Rain” is one of those songs that pulls you in 20 different directions like some insane roller coaster to dizzying effect, and when it’s all over, the only thing you can say is, “Let’s go again!” All in all, Battle of Leningrad is a very strong return to form and exactly what you should expect from a neoclassical Power Metal band, especially one with three veterans of the game. Clearly these men had unfinished business, and the results pretty much speak for themselves. Welcome back, guys!
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Firewind”, “Mother Russia”, “Battle of Leningrad”, “They’re Calling Your Name”, “Rain”