Sunday, December 22, 2013

#4 of my Top 12 Albums of 2013: Altor: The King’s Blacksmith

Kaledon's Altor: The King's Blacksmith

Release Date: April 23rd, 2013
Label: Scarlet Records
Genre: Power Metal

     Welcome, puny mortals, to the World of Kaledon! And I do not mean in terms of the music that the band puts forth, I am talking about the actual world that the band Kaledon creates, aptly named Kaledon, which is "located" in northern England.  They are one of the most ambitious bands I have ever listened to because it is one thing to create music and sing about dragons, kings, wizards and the like, but it is another to theme every single album around fleshing out the story of Kaledon and dedicating every single song to help explain some other part of a story instead of singing about something else. Rhapsody of Fire did this to an extent with a couple of their songs and Kaledon is most like them when compared to bands within the same genre but to compare the themes, the only logical comparison would be Bal-Sagoth, the symphonic death metal band who also created an entire world, a whole universe, really, for each song to take place.  I actually got into Kaledon myself this past summer, due to the creativeness I was informed about, but only found Altor in September or October, far after its release. These are some of the most creative guys in the music market that are still working and I would highly suggest them to fans of the genre or to anyone looking for a concept album to tell an engaging story.

    Kaledon, the band, hail from Rome, Italy and have been cranking out these story-driven albums since 2002 when they released the first album Legend of the Forgotten Reign - Chapter 1: The Destruction onto our world.  As you can probably tell, Kaledon is not a band to shy away from extremely long album titles and the next five albums after Chapter 1 all followed the same story and were labeled as Chapters two through six.  Altor: The King's Blacksmith is the first album to actually not contain the Legend of the Forgotten Reign - Chapter X preface, hinting that this is a different story than that presented in the six Forgotten Reign albums, yet still connected since it takes place in the land of Kaledon, at least most of it.  Their lineup has been relatively stable for most of their career except for the new vocalist Marco, who took over starting with Chapter 5, and the keyboardist and drummer, who were both replaced following the release of Altor. Why exactly I am not sure but it does not seem to have fazed the band much, who are still touring and promoting this album.  I will now go shortly into the plot of the album, but if you want a full explanation, I highly recommend reading Kaledon's synopsis of Altor's story and the story of the previous six albums on Kaledon's website, the link will be provided at the end of this review.

"Screams in the Wind"

     Altor: The King's Blacksmith is an album completely about a man named Altor and depicts his entire life from the moment of his birth in northern England all the way to his depressing demise in the dungeons of Carnagus' decaying castle.  Fans of Kaledon will recognize Carnagus' name as the name of the man who essentially annihilated Kaledon in the first Kaledon album, The Destruction, and this is because Altor is born many years before the start of The Destruction and Altor meets multiple other characters known in The Forgotten Realm such as Daeniel and the King, Antillius.  Altor grows up with his parents, Utet and Lori, who help educate him in the art of forging steel because, as good parents, they want the best for their children.  As he grows older, Altor must deal with the death of his parents, one peaceful and one not, as well as the death of his lover Lilibeth.  Altor moves away from his home since there is nothing left there for him and moves to the kingdom of Kaledon, becoming a blacksmith there and even crafting the sword Kephren for the king himself.  Not long after crafting this sword, Carnagus' evil washed over the kingdom, taking many citizens of Kaledon, including Altor, the king, and Daeniel, hostage and killing the rest.  Altor suffered much during his time of imprisonment and eventually succumbed to his injuries and died in the arms or Daeniel, whom Altor made promise that everything would eventually be rectified and the dead would have their vengeance.  This event, the imprisonment, happened as a major plot point in The Destruction, but Altor was not mentioned until this album.

    All of the songs get these major points across as well as other that I glossed over or left out to save space and as I said, the full synopsis is available online directly from the band, or you could just listen to the album like I did originally.  Thankfully, these are clearly defined since the storied in each song are well told and very clearly sung, Marco does a magnificent job at delivering this narrative to us in a clear and energetic way.  The songs are also not like listening to an ebook, since each song stands by itself quite well and can be listened to individually without feeling empty, which is hard to accomplish with concept albums that tie every song together.  One of my personal favorites in the song "Screams in the Wind," which depicts Carnagus' assault on Kaledon with the monsters he employs as a dense fog covers the kingdom.  Many are abducted and many are killed, the screams being those that are trying to fight back but are falling en mass.  It is well told but also sounds great, it deals with the sadness of what is happening with quiet moments that are then taken over by squealing guitars that represent the brutality that is overcoming everything, there are even points that you hear Marco yell "No!" as if he is mimicking the sounds and screams that you would hear during these moments.  It is well paced, has a lot of great keyboard hooks in the chorus and is really fast throughout the song, very good overall Power Metal melody.

"A New Beginning"

    My favorite song on the entire album though is the song "A New Beginning," which depicts Altor's decisions after a plague takes both his mother and his lover Lilibeth, which the previous song, a love ballad, was completely dedicated to.  This is where Altor picks himself up and moves on after such a severe tragedy, finding a new home in Kaledon and returning to being a blacksmith, now with renewed vigor.  It is a very motivational song for those who are in rough spots and need to pick themselves up but shows that it is not a completely easy thing to do, since almost the first minute of the song is a lone guitar playing blues-y type notes indicating his sadness.  Then is bursts into a wall of sound with a nice upbeat tone to it, which is perfected in the chorus which is soaring and very happy, with Marco passionately singing "I love my job you know, the steel is my life!"  I also really love the moments given to the keyboard which makes many neat sounds and melodies for this song to sail along to, particularly right before the choruses.  I would also recommend the songs "Childhood," "Between the Hammer and the Anvil" and "Dark Prison" (which features Fabio Lione of Rhapsody of Fire), although to get the full experience of the album and Kaledon itself, listen to the album from start to finish, it will not take you very long since the entire album itself clocks in at only 40 minutes.

"Dark Prison"

     This is an album that may easily put of those that aren't that into Power Metal already, but fans of progressive metal may also find a home in the kingdom of Kaledon considering progressive metal/rock's nature of creating over-the-top themes and stories to connect to their albums.  That said, if you listen to it with an open mind like I did, I think that you will be pleasantly surprised by Altor: The King's Blacksmith, one of the best power metal albums of the year in terms of overall ambition and effort.  Other Power Metal albums came out this year with better sound and complexity to the sounds, such as Stratovarius' Nemesis, Valor's The Yonder Answer, and Iron Mask's Fifth Son of Winterdoom, but this album combined incredible sound, catchy hooks, and an engaging storyline to follow and give motivation to progress from one song to the next, which is why it is this high on this list.  Check it out if you have forty minutes to spare and want to hear a new story.

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