Getting to Wars In The Unknown was no short journey for Twisted Tower Dire, nor was it ever a guarantee.
The band’s first four albums all brought a more reserved but no less powerful form of U.S. power metal than what was often popular in Europe—think Blind Guardian with less speed and a lot more Manowar, or “power metal for folks that don’t normally like power metal.” One of those records, Crest of the Martyrs, was a bona fide classic of triumphant, galloping, infinitely singable power metal.
And then, other than the occasional isolated show… radio silence.
Eventually, three of five TTD members resurfaced when Aune, bassist Jim Hunter, and guitarist Scott Waldrop showed up in Walpyrgus. Most importantly, they appeared to be moving forward with a plan for both Walpyrgus and TTD. Walpyrgus would write and perform the brighter, poppier parts of the Make It Dark sound (and on Walpyrgus Nights, they did so gloriously) and TTD would return to the triumphant and epic feel of the first four records, just with Aune now singing.
Which, after eight long years, brings us to Wars In The Unknown.
The kicker, of course, is that with Aune still on vocals, Wars In The Unknown was never going to sound exactly like Crest of the Martyrs or Netherworlds, but that’s a good thing. By combining Aune’s brighter, less conventionally power metal singing with the driving, more serious feel of the earlier records, they’re forcing themselves to move both forwards and backwards. The result is a set of songs that can stand up to about any in the band’s career and an album that could easily end up being your favorite depending on the exact twist (nyuk) of their sound you prefer.
Aune was brash and unabashedly rawkin’ on both Make It Dark and the Walpyrgus album, so for fans of those records, any attempt to make him sound more serious might be seen as limiting his potential contribution. But all Wars In The Unknown proves is that he’s going to be a top notch singer no matter the situation. And let’s not get too ahead of ourselves in terms of saying they’ve lowered the obvious fun all too much. A song like “Tear You Apart” would have been at home on the earlier records, but it still has a huge, extremely self-aware “scream” moment. Not quite “Snow Leopard” in terms of kitsch, but also extremely intent on making you smile at every turn.
It’s that blending of the band’s history, as opposed to a full regression, that makes Wars In The Unknown such a great record. “And the Sharks Came Then” boasts a sorrowful tone for much of the verses, but instantly swaps it out for a chorus that borders on being a drinking song by using some of the album’s many gang vocals. “Riding the Fortress” and “A Howl in the Wind” both do the “soaring” thing, but the former is all wild and energetic and the latter notably reserved and almost mournful. TTD provided a variety of moods on all past records, sure, but because of the band’s past decade of history, it’s hard to not look at Wars In The Unknown as a bit of a destination for all involved. The songs back that up.
As do the performances. One of the most notable traits of the record is the apparent ease with which TTD can hook you. The chorus of early album highlight “True North,” for example, is made up of vocal melodies, riffs, and drum parts that aren’t exactly brilliant on their own, but when combined turn to pure gold. Being greater than the sum of its parts should be a goal for every song, but it’s a skill that eludes most bands. When it’s done this well, with everyone performing to the peaks of their abilities and the production providing clarity down to the bass, the result is one of the best songs in the career of a great band. Like Kirk saying “I don’t like to lose,” it’s a confident showing of victory while knowing that a battle is still to come. And just like that scene, it’s fun as hell. Really, if you don’t get this one stuck in your head for days then you might as well hang it up as a fan of traditional heavy metal.
Wars In The Unknown manages to be as comfortably familiar as it is hugely fresh. It sounds like both Make It Dark and the Taylor era, and yet it sounds like neither. Most importantly, it easily stands next the band’s best albums in terms of fist-pumping quality. Sure, Twisted Tower Dire took eight years to gift us with new songs, but they took eight years to gift us with great songs.