I very much enjoyed ASTRAL DOORS’ last offering Notes From the Shadows released in 2014. So much so that I went and checked out some earlier works and overall I like most of their output. So here we are with brand new album Black Eyed Children (out now, Metalville Records) and it’s pretty much more of the same, not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. It’s traditional 80’s-type heavy metal that features big hooks, killer riffs, and shreddy solos, so what’s not to like, right? Vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson sounds amazing as usual (thank the Gods he left the nonsense that is CIVIL WAR behind. Christ, are they terrible!) and the band is locked in and ready to explode.
Opener “We Cry Out” continues the tradition of big-time riff-laden numbers starting us off and also the theme of Johansson yelling the song’s title within the first 40 seconds, which again is fine. It’s actually a fucking kickass number and one of the album’s best. The band (Joachim Nordlund and Mats Gesar on guitars,Jocke Roberg on keyboards, Johan Lindstedt on Drums and Ulf Lagerstroem on bass) takes off at a gallop as soon as the first shot is fired and never looks back. “Walls” is another killer cut and is the perfect way to continue the proceedings. Roberg’s organ is prevalent on “God Is the Devil” and this one wouldn’t have been out of place on a DIO record.
Roberg takes center stage (pun intended) once again for the intro to “Die On Stage” and when the rest of the band kicks in the song’s got balls for days. Tomorrow’s Dead” completely changes things up and if it’s possible, Johansson delivers his most vicious, biting vocal on the whole thing. His voice is also firmly in the DIO wheelhouse at certain points, but at no time is he being a clone or sound-alike. “Good vs Bad” is a speedy tune with one helluva guitar/drum/bass collective guaranteed to get hearts racing and feets pressing down on the gas pedal, while “Suburban Song” proves to be yet another winning track both musically and vocally.
The groove of “Lost Boy” kind of reminded me of mid-80’s DOKKEN, and the pre-chorus into the chorus is very well done. “Slaves to Ourselves” is a big, bombastic number that would sound just as at home in 1988 as it does here and now. The official closer is the epic title track “Black Eyed Children” and it’s mysterious, dark, and keeps you guessing for a bit before it kicks in. It’s got a slowed down tempo, but that’s by design and makes the song that much more evil-sounding as it clocks in at 8:45. Halfway through, the band picks up steam and the guitars really take off on their solos.
As a bonus there’s one more tune in “Jesus Christ Movie Star” which opens with an evangelist asking everyone to open their hearts and their wallets. It’s good, but not great, and quite frankly that subject matter has been done to death. But that’s really a minor flaw on an otherwise kickass heavy metal album that has its feet rooted in the sounds of the past while managing to be vital and relevant in 2017. Overall, I really liked Black Eyed Children a lot, even more than the last album. And I think this might just be the one that brings ASTRAL DOORS to an even wider audience. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a fan of good metal, and these guys certainly delivered.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “We Cry Out”, “Walls”, “Suburban Song”, “Black Eyed Children”, “Tomorrow’s Dead”