Tarot - Spell of Iron MMXI (Nuclear Blast/Riot)

It's a re-release of their classic 1986 debut, one of Finnish metal's finest achievements. But is it relevant and is it worth the effort? Yes; if you don't mind superfluous keyboards and some subpar vocal performances.

It’s like a revered artifact of Finnish metal that’s been dug out of the ground, painstakingly restored by eminent sonic scientists, groomed to meticulous perfection…and sort of been coated in glitter. What is it? It’s the re-recording of the Hietala brothers’ landmark record Spell of Iron, released in 1986. Though revered in the underground, these veterans only gained traction when the mighty Marco Hietala joined Nightwish, giving distributors licence to add a sticker proclaiming his membership in the band to their back catalog (with exclamations! of course.) While anyone below and to the west of Scandinavia were going thrash hopping mad – Tarot stuck to what they thought made metal great; massive bluesy riffs, spider-like and feverish Malmsteenian runs across the fretboard and clean tuneful singing. Black Sabbath is worn on their sleeves, Accept on their trousers and Iron Maiden in their hair (cf. Never Forever for some real pre-Dickinson riffery par excellence). Though the compositions were written almost twenty-five years ago, there is scant evidence of dating. Zach Hietala’s style of "curse your conservatory" playing is admirable, although in the mid-tempo mock horror track Dancing on the Wire, there’s some evidence of rushing it, dropping some of the notes in the solo. Or was it left in to add character? It’s hard to tell.

The production is thick and gutsy, as is our want with Tarot. Marco is in fine operatic voice but yet again, they insist that Tommi Samela rides shotgun alongside. I've asked this question before and I'll ask it again: why? It never makes any sense to me. He’s not – and never will be – in the same league as Marco. There’s an Ozzyish quality to him, but the nasal snarl he emits just subtracts rather than adds. Tarot in 1986 never had a keyboard player, but on this record it seemed fitting to have him do something; adding swathes of synth strings and other annoying electronic beeps and boops. It doesn’t scream “re-invention” it just feels cheesy and doesn’t allow the strong songwriting to shine on its own. Case and point? The mindblowingly stupid flamenco track De Mortui Nil Nisi Bene that was once a showcase for their considerable talent but now sounds more like a drunken Finntroll via Mariachi el Bronx. The hard rock ballad Love’s Not Made for My Kind takes on a gravitas that was sorely missing back in the spandex clad 80s; the classic Tarot fan favorite Wings of Darkness? Superb. It’s hard to recommend this over the re-master, but if we take it as a “new” album, it’s rather solid.