Avengers Of Steel
11/23/2004 - Review by: Eric Compton
Valkija - Avengers Of Steel 2004 Sonic Age Records reviewed by: EC
Sonic Age is doing wonders right now, creating a hefty roster that includes legends like Overlorde, Manilla Road, and soon to be legends like Made Of Iron and Bloodstained. They are a subsidiary of Cult Metal Classics, who made their mark on the universe reissuing lost treasures from bands such as Elixir, Villain, and Jack Starr's Guardians Of The Flame, thus emphasizing the word "Classics" in their name. Now the Sonic Age is born, a label that concentrates on the best in underground power metal, hell bent on finding newer, less established acts to lead the next wave of attack. With Cult Metal Classics we get to hear the best of the past, and now with Sonic Age we get to hear the best of the future. "Avengers Of Steel" is the first album to be released on this new label, and if this is any indication of things to come, Valkija and the Sonic Age label are off to a roaring head start.
Valkija was formed in 1999, playing festivals all over Italy and supporting bands like Vision Divine and Thy Majesty before going into the studio in 2002 to record the demo "Days Of The Rising Sun". The demo led to the band getting signed by Sonic Age, and now we have the band's debut, a stirring, emotional rip tide of Teutonic heavy metal, influenced by the 80s and brought to life through the furious vocals of Zoraija, a female warrior with a heart of steel. At times Warlock and Chastain come to mind, with Zoraija's register able to produce Halford styled highs, or use her lower range to command and conquer much in the style of Zed Yago's Jutta Weinholt. Guitarist Jhon Turturro does a fabulous job, with comparisons ranging from George Lynch to Wolf Hoffman. His guitar sound is lightning quick, recalling the speedy elements of Running Wild and Grave Digger, but also allows some room for deep, masterful doom riffs ala Iommi.
I've always loved it when a band can sound "live" in the studio, and with this album Valkija have created a real hands on feel, one that certainly sounds impressive, but at the same time keeps the band in reality. This album doesn't sound factory or polished in anyway, in fact if there were crowd noise mixed in, I would think "Avengers Of Steel" was a live recording. The guitars are way up front in the mix, which is a valuable asset to my ears. The drums sound huge, with the cymbals and double-bass really matching the tone of the guitars. My main concern is the mixing of Zoraija's vocals. Her voice is extremely low in the mix, almost completely dominated by the loud guitars and drums. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I wish I could here her more often. I haven't been able to grasp how strong her voice is. But I do love the live feeling of this album, and it reminds me of the days before Pro-Tools and studio "fixes", when a band sounded human.
The record pretty much hits the high marks for all the different genres of power. Cuts like "The Last One", "Sign Of The Hammer", and "Steel Avenger" are faster numbers that are very German based. The roots of these songs could be found in the halls of mid-Grave Digger, early Paragon, and even Wizard. With Zoraija's voice thrown in, the group sounds like a thrashier version of Chastain, minus the neo-classical shreds. The H.P. Lovecraft inspired "The Unknown Kadath" is a ballad that sounds similar to what fellow Italians White Skull did on their early records, while "Eyes Of The Shadow" and "Return Of The King" use the same floor plans as Dio-era Sabbath.
"Avengers Of Steel" is strong from top to bottom, creating another solid Euro power metal record. As groups like Grave Digger and Rage grow older, it is great to know that great bands like Valkija, Steel Attack, and Paragon are already starting to establish themselves as the next big group of torchbearers. With albums like this, metal certainly looks to have a bright future ahead. This is really a top class effort and one that will help sustain the power metal market for years to come. Highly recommended for fans of Grave Digger, Wizard, Paragon, Zed Yago, Chastain, early White Skull, and Warlock.
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