Album Title: Vultures Die Alone
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 9 April 2021
Over the past couple of years, it feels as if there have been an abundance of bands that I should dislike, releasing albums that get under my skin. Arion are one of these bands, and their third outing, ‘Vultures Die Alone’ is one of these albums. It’s maddening, but not entirely unpleasant because, after all, the music is the most important thing. And if the music provides enjoyment, who cares whether or not it’s what you think you should or shouldn’t like? Just embrace it because life is too short. Except Coldplay. Life is never that bad, even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
A little background for those unfamiliar with the name Arion, the band hail from Finland, the country for whom heavy metal is their popular music. Can I defect? A quintet that came to the attention of the wider world a decade or so ago via their Eurovision qualification exploits, they are comprised of vocalist Lassi Vääränen, guitarist Iivo Kaipainen, bassist Gege Velinov, drummer Topias Kupiainen, and keyboardist Arttu Vauhkonen.
Billed previously as a symphonic power metal band, ‘Vultures Die Alone’ does its best to distance the band from this tag, right from the very get-go. Yes, there are some tracks where the symphonics do come more to the fore, meaning that the quintet have not completely and utterly washed their hands of that description. However, for the most part, ‘Vultures Die Alone’ is a straight-up melodic metal record with a shiny, polished modern sheen. This is less Sonata Arctica, and more Dynazty, only even more glitzy and glammed-up. And, on paper, this is exactly the reason why I should dislike this album. But I don’t. Today, I spent my time listening to brutal death metal as well as some epic blackened melodeath. But this evening, I spun ‘Vultures Never Die’ and damnit, there’s no denying it’s a catchy, enjoyable son of a gun.
Arion’s sophomore release, ‘Life Is Not Beautiful’ featured the guest vocal talents of Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd. This time, they welcome Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo to the party, as well as Cyan Kicks who I understand is a new name in Finnish pop metal circles. It is further proof, if proof were needed, that Arion carry with them a certain cache, to be able to secure guest appearances of this calibre.
In the case of the first of these, ‘Bloodline’, it’s a monster and I don’t mind telling you it might feature in my best tracks of the year list later in the year. It rips along at a fair lick, led by a strong rhythm section, the drumming in particular nicely authoritative. There’s a fair bit of symphonic bombast in the verses before the guys launch into an irresistible chorus that is both catchy and rousing, full-on modern melodic metal, verging on pop metal with only the heaviness preventing it from fully falling down that rabbit hole. It’s a cracking song, with Noora Louhimo good value for her appearance.
‘In The Name Of Love’ pushes the envelope even further though and it demonstrates that Arion have the ability to go further in a mainstream direction should they ever want to. Featuring Cyan Kicks, it is a ballad-like track that is drenched in modern metal trappings, sounding a little like Amaranthe at their most serene. The thing is, the more you listen, the more impossible it is to not like the song because it is well-written with strong hooks and the musicianship is sharp, precise and professional. And the vocal duet is great, so there’s not much to complain about to be honest.
Aside from these two songs, ‘Vultures Die Alone’ features several other powerful, catchy songs with a fair bit of variety thrown in for good measure too. ‘Out Of My Life’ is the kind of up-tempo composition that you want to open up the album. It’s actually quite heavy, with vocalist Lassi Vääränen delivering an aggressive performance, with plenty of snarl and attitude to match the muscular melodic metal that surrounds him. There’s also room for a quiet reprieve, as well as a spiralling lead guitar solo. All-in-all, it’s a rather nice opening to the album.
When I mentioned that Arion had not entirely given up on their symphonic melodic metal roots, songs like ‘Break My Chains’ are the evidence. It may be a shiny, polished affair, with a breakdown of two in the mid-to-latter stages but the keys are really prominent within the song, giving it a gravitas that it might not otherwise have had. There’s even a keyboard solo to underline my point. I’m taken a little aback by the ferocity of Vääränen’s singing in the chorus, as he is almost screaming, straining every sinew to demonstrate his passion.
‘A Vulture Dies Alone’ meanwhile has one of the chunkiest riffs anywhere on the album, as well as some seriously catchy hooks within one of the most succinct and arresting cuts on offer. However, the contrast could not be more pronounced between songs of this nature and the glorious instrumental ‘Where The Ocean Greets The Sky’. A gentle guitar melody is joined by some beautiful cinematic arrangements from Arttu Vauhkonen that grow in intensity, only to drop away almost entirely for a while allowing a minimalist moment of contemplation. When the song kicks up a notch, the symphonics are front and centre, providing drama, whilst Gege Velinov’s bass rumbles solidly. The ensuing lead guitar solo from Iivo Kaipainen is melodic and eloquent, opening out into a grandiose soundtrack, the kind that has the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.
I have to admit that any early reservations that I harboured about Arion and ‘Vultures Die Alone’ have been quickly expunged because there is simply no arguing the quality of the music and the manner in which it is delivered. I really like the fact that the music is generally properly heavy, however catchy or polished the material becomes – there’s almost always a crunchy riff or strong rhythm to drive the songs forward. Essentially, the Finns have cleverly managed to sidestep the spectre of cheesiness through a careful balance of quality songwriting and professional, passionate delivery. If you like modern melodic metal, ‘Vultures Die Alone’ will certainly entertain you.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: