Towers Of Gold
Review by Brexaul on April 10, 2023.
I've spent some tedious days traveling for work and browsing videos of a well-known magic show when I came across this line that one of the hosts is apparently credited for, that reads "Sometimes, magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect." This makes all the sense in the world you'd argue, but what does this have to do with an album review? Well, I can't be sure on how much time Sacred Outcry spent on Towers Of Gold given it's been a little over two years since Damned For All Time was released, but this is magic. I'll have to admit I was a bit skeptical whether the band would be able to replicate this monstrous feeling and overwhelming coherency of Damned For All Time and my faith was further shaken when I noticed that almost everyone from their mind-blowing debut (including Yannis Papadopoulos and his God-tier vocals) were not going to be a part of album No.2. But...as Thorin Oakenshield brazenly once admitted, "I have never been so wrong in my life".
After the immersive acoustic ambience of 'Through Lands Forgotten', Sacred Outcry comes firing on all cylinders with an epic-power metal supernova in 'The Flame Rekindled' and again (as I had written for their debut) it's a really unbelievable ride until the very last seconds of the album. The basic influences remain the same more or less, the spirit of US underground legends Warlord often pops up on the guitar work with the chilling lead melodies, the Blind Guardian-y speed/thrash outbreaks, a touch of Crimson Glory's ethereal mysticism, some "Triumph Of Steel"-era Manowar's battle thirst, Kamelot's broody melancholy and the raw arcane power of Lost Horizon (now more relevant than ever, obviously), it's all here. All the above name dropping makes for a great melting pot of influences, but this is only meant to be used as a reference 'cause Sacred Outcry have their unique style of distilling and building upon those ideas. They have a rare way of channeling and conveying that larger-than-life glorious feeling that was prevalent in the golden age of the genre, and at the same time their signature grim atmosphere of sorrow and sadness is so palpable that it transcends all the power metal clichés. Their strongest suit remains the quality of the songwriting which is stupendous and there is enough variety here to make for two albums, but everything is so tastefully placed that sounds purposed, fresh and effortlessly flowing. What I really love about this band is that they know exactly when an idea is about to overstay its welcome and the songs never stale and always evolve, graciously offering multiple "holy-shit" moments.
The huge sound, courtesy of the band's now new guitar player Steve Lado (who handled the mix & master on their debut as well) lays the foundation for the band to shine, and the mix is thick and undoubtedly "current" with a rumbling low end. He has done an excellent job bringing an organic, lifeful sound that steers away from the pitfalls of an overproduced digital nightmare and everything is nicely balanced, crystal clear and it never gets muddy or noisy, with the orchestra subtly offering some nice breathers to the higher frequencies. I still sometimes think it would be a very interesting experience (experiment?) to see how the band would sound with a full on "old-school" approach by let's say... Arthur Rizk, so it would highlight more its "true epic metal" aspect, but the album sounds fantastic so it's more of a personal "what if" than an actual complaint.
The cover artwork looks absolutely SICK and instantly had me Imagining Things From The Other Side (wink-wink) and it's again the work of the band's mastermind George Apalodimas as is the equally impressive layout. I really feel the need to briefly shift my what's-turning-into-a-fanboy-praise towards him, since I understand he is Tobias Sammet-ing this, providing the bass/orchestrations and from what I gather this time, all songwriting/lyrics duties. Holy fucking shit dude, may the muses never forsake you. The performance from everyone involved is very impressive, be it the aforementioned new guitarist or that mutant octopus drummer he recruited, all songs are very technical but never sacrifice melody or accessibility, at times reminding me of Angra's finest work in their "Temple Of Shadows" and "Angels Cry" masterpieces. The guitars are ripping and commanding, full of twin lead melodies, hooks and AMAZING solos, while the rhythm parts are razor-sharp and nicely layered creating a massive wall of sound brimming with A-class riffs. The bass again rocks the album, with a sweet tone and a pristine performance (never shy of dropping the occasional solo), and the drums are pounding and filled with more creative ideas than other bands use in their entire lifespan, maintaining the notion of a tight rhythm section as the group's foundation. There is also that somber orchestral backdrop that amplifies the haunting ambience tenfold, once again beautifully layered in the background, adding to the immersion and cinematic feel and discreetly augmenting the character of each song.
And what I'm guessing most of you have been waiting for...queue drumroll... Daniel Heiman. Simply put, this might be his best work yet. Scratch that, it IS his best work yet. This here is a match made in heaven, Sacred Outcry again manages to fully utilize their tremendous choice behind the mic and while I generally shun comparisons, Heiman gives his most losthorizons like performance since "The Flame To The Ground Beneath", which speaks volumes of the heart and attention put in here. Reborn, with his voice more powerful than ever, he dwarves 99% of power metal singers of today displaying his full range and charisma, belting those stratospheric notes and diving to tremendous depths, triumphantly giving us a long-awaited performance TRULY WORTHY of his legendary status.
There are so many things worth highlighting here that a part of me was itching to do a track-by-track overview but as with their debut, I will only briefly touch the colossal 15-minute title track 'Towers Of Gold' which is the epitome of inspired songwriting and storytelling on display. It's like Blind Guardian had a baby with Crimson Glory and that baby grew up listening to the finest EU/US power metal albums of the 90s and early 00s while hanging out with Tobias Sammet. Oh, and it casually features one of Heiman's best performances in his entire career which at this point is plain ridiculous after already having spent 40 minutes listening to him tearing through the rest of the outstanding songs.
I'm not entirely sure if everything started with the inclusion of that hidden Easter egg on the layout of their debut or all this is reaping the fruit of a twenty-year-old hiatus, but color me impressed, this kind of love and attention shows a scope and artistic vision not easily found today. How much of this was planned? How long did this take to materialize? How on earth do you replace 3/4 of the band and still manage to sound so homogeneous? Shit, I'm babbling - let's wrap things up.
Towers Of Gold is a touchstone of excellence, a flawless fantasy concept album that never fails to deliver in any aspect, not for a single moment. The songwriting is genius, the performance, sound, artwork and presentation are top tier, but the TRUE power of this album is the Homeric sense of journey from start to finish. The song progression and the story behind them paint a scenery of titanic proportions and the immersion accomplished is unparalleled. It feels like you're watching a huge epic movie or reading your favorite book with each chapter showcased in the engrossing lyrics, dressed with this wonderful, w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l soundtrack of epic power metal. In an era of Spotify instant gratification and 3-minute pop songs dressed in their little metal outfits, Sacred Outcry rekindles the flame and presents a flawless masterpiece that glaringly towers over (pun intended) power metal of today.
Rating: 10 out of 102.15k