It takes an album as starkly upbeat as Make it Dark to properly convince my brain that 95% of the music I consume pushes a decidedly negative slant. I suppose that’s one of the primary reasons why I occasionally go on week-long binges of bright, bouncy European power metal: to force myself to look at the world from a more bright-eyed, sunny stance.
But I’ll admit I was shocked to hear “blithe” delivered so resolutely by Virginia’s long-standing Twisted Tower Dire. Sure, they’ve always embraced escaping reality with lyrical themes primarily focused on the fantastical — swords, axes, brotherhood, battles, wolves and such — but a more lighthearted element definitely enters the picture when your album cover features a comic book-esque snow leopard snarling and guarding a damsel in an entirely snowless ‘scape. (The artist is Martin Hanford, by the way — a very talented dude.) Shiny cover art aside, the blanketing atmosphere delivered by the music is clearly sunnier and more straight-forward this time around as well, also surprising considering these dudes have spent the last 15years proudly waving a more somber flag of epic traditional metal similar to the approach of the early Omens, Griffins and Warlords of our day. So yes, hearing that snappy chorus accompanied by the album’s first pinch of brightly soaring fretwork at the heart of the opening “Mystera” definitely threw me.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though: a TTD version of Pink Bubbles Go Ape this assuredly is not. There’s no slide whistles or giggling Dr. Stein’s making things too candy-coated. It’s just…well, speedier and happier, to put it simply. This subtle shift in sound could have been in the works all along, but it seems at least somewhat likely that the band pushed the modification to better suit the pipes of new vocalist Jonny Aune (Viper). True testament to the sheer shittiness of last year, February 2010 marked the incredibly unfortunate passing of long-time TTD front-man Tony Taylor (also of Isen Torr) in a motorcycle accident, so the painstaking task of landing a suitable proxy resulted in a fellow who actually holds a wider range, but a decidedly different approach that’s…cheekier? More animated? Certainly something I’d comparatively stack against howlers in current bands such as Enforcer, Skull Fist or Cauldron who draw influence from the higher-registered vocalists of yesteryear, like Lizzy Borden.
What’s particularly gratifying about Twisted Tower Dire‘s overall approach to this sound, however, is the fact that they already bring a decade-and-a-half’s worth of charging forward as a bona fide melodic traditional metal band ala Maiden to the table. So while I’d say Make it Dark leans harder on, say, Leatherwolf circa 1989, it still holds plenty of the Powerslave-isms from the band’s past to appease old fans as well. The formula works smoothly throughout, but the album’s openers — the aforementioned “Mystera”, the hugely infectious “Snow Leopard” (the ultimate Summer tune) and the pedal-to-the-metal strike of “The Stone” — boast the album’s most brazen emphasis on sky-ripping fretwork to further lift catchy choruses into the stratosphere. But really, the entire shootin’ match flexes similar muscles in varying degrees, apart from the relatively darker stance of the album’s 8-minute closer, so it’s likely that Make it Dark will have some pretty strong legs.
In the end, I’d say the band’s decision to shift towards a shinier, speedier version of the melodic traditional metal rooted in their foundation could potentially stand as the biggest barrier to some folks out there. Metal is, after all, dominated by negativity, so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a couple gripes about Make it Dark being too flippant. But by God, it feels good to feel good, let’s not forget that. And Make it Dark feels damn good. Yes, there’s a part of me that’ll miss the heavier swing of the old band, but there’s plenty room in my life for a Twisted Tower Dire that wants to punch some vitality and exhileration into my mood as the Summer months quickly approach.