Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black – Album Review
Artist: Armored Dawn
Album Title: Barbarians In Black
Label: AFM Records
Date Of Release: 23 February 2018
AFM Records are one of the labels that stand out to me. Whenever I get an email from them, with a promo album attached, I always take a listen to see what they are offering. I’m glad I do, because once again they have come up trumps and given me another excellent album to explore and enjoy.
The name of the band is Armored Dawn and ‘Barbarians in Black’ is their second full-length album since their formation in 2011. The São Paulo-based Brazilian sextet is comprised of vocalist Eduardo Parras, drummer Rodrigo Oliveira, bassist Fernando Giovannetti, keyboardist Rafael Agostino, and guitarists Tiago de Moura and Timo Kaarkoski.
After streaming just one track off the record, I decided it was worth listening to and promptly downloaded the promo. It was a decision I have not regretted in the slightest because this is a properly superb album. Unfortunately, the ‘English’ bio is written in German, so my research was not easy. But no matter, because Armored Dawn deserve every moment spent on this review and the preceding background research, however difficult and arduous it may have been.
If my high school German is to be trusted, Armored Dawn have shared the stage in South America with such luminaries as Megadeth, Sabaton and Symphony X, demonstrating that they are already a well-known band in their homeland. I was staggered to discover also that Armored Dawn can boast more likes on Facebook than the aforementioned Symphony X, Iced Earth and Gamma Ray. I know these figures can be manipulated and it is not a true reflection of a band’s status in the world, but over half a million ‘likes’ is nothing to be sniffed at.
For all this, it is only now that I have heard the name Armored Dawn, a situation that is probably not that uncommon outside of South America and maybe a couple of other territories around the world. What I can guarantee though, is that things are about to change in that respect for Armored Dawn; ‘Barbarians In Black’, their first on the books of a record label, is going to turn a few heads, ruffle a few feathers and announce a new name on the heavy metal scene.
The band refer to themselves as simply a heavy metal band. However, their music is a cunning blend of many ingredients, making it the intriguing and exciting listen that it is. On a first listen, I immediately gravitated towards a power metal descriptor, given the catchy melodic choruses and sense of pomp and grandeur that surrounds a lyrical content fixated by war, battles and Nordic mythology. But then, as the spins became greater in number, I began to hear other nuances and influences. There’s a definite classic metal vibe to much of the material, as well as a dose of melodeath and a sprinkling of hard rock. It all comes together expertly to create an album that offers a surprising amount of variety and which has got me well and truly hooked.
Opener ‘Bloodstone’ sets things off beautifully with a frenetic up-tempo power metal beat, whilst keys tinkle gently under double-pedal drumming, strong bass work and melodic riffing. The verse is satisfyingly chunky with muscular riffing before the first of many killer hook-laden choruses kicks in. The guitars wail whilst Eduardo Parras delivers a commanding vocal performance that reminds me of Any B. Franck (Brainstorm) more than once. Naturally, there is room for a bit of flamboyance courtesy of a great lead guitar solo and the whole thing is simply irresistible.
‘Eyes Behind The Crow’ opens up in atmospheric fashion with a moody cinematic soundscape before being torn asunder by a no-nonsense classic metal riff and a steady mid-tempo stomp. However, the chorus has ‘Come Clarity’-era In Flames written all over it, albeit with Armored Dawn’s personal stamp still intact.
There’s a hint of Nevermore to the opening riff of ‘Chance To Live Again’, which rips along full of intensity and at a hefty pace, before slowing in the chorus to allow the hooks to make maximum impact. The layers of vocals add an epic quality too, which adds gravitas to an already fantastic track.
The fantastic music keeps coming, to the point where none of the ten tracks serves up anything approaching substandard or worthy of the word ‘filler’. It demonstrates professionalism and a consistency that’s truly impressive. That said, as good as the likes of ‘Unbreakable’ or the closing title track are, I have my favourites that fully deserve their moment in the spotlight.
The first of these is ‘Men Of Odin’ with its hefty, swaying waltz-like mid-tempo swagger, huge atmospheres and incredibly catchy chorus. It might only be four minutes long, but the synths in particular mean that the word ‘epic’ isn’t far from my lips.
Then there’s ‘Beware of the Dragon’, which was the song that convinced me to delve further into the world of Armored Dawn in the first place. The best way to escribe this monster song is to suggest a marriage of Hammerfall’s pomp and Amon Amarth’s heaviness, with yet another impossibly magnetic chorus. The riffs are massive and uncompromising, the keys bold and the vocals of Parras are some of the best on the entire record.
Following both of these songs is ‘sail Away’, a song that you are most likely to already be familiar with, given that it was the first single released off this album. Undeniably a ballad, it is a stunning piece of music that pushes Parras’ vocals further than ever and will have you singing along, lighter in the air, arm-in-arm with whoever happens to be near you when this song is playing. Sometimes ballads can be the weak link within a metal album. But here, it is one of the jewels in the crown.
Finally, I must doff my cap to ‘Survivor’ which blurs the lines between classic metal and melodic hard rock but comes up smelling of roses when it could easily have served up a large portion of cheese. Others might argue that this is the very definition of cheesy heavy metal, but I love it – it is large, loud and full of headbanging groove; just the kind of thing that we all need to listen to now and again to remind us how fun this kind of music can be and has every right to be. I’m as melancholy as the next person, but even I like to smiler, raise my fist and bang my head occasionally.
Quite literally, Armored Dawn have come out of nowhere and, blindsided, I have been thoroughly beaten into submission. ‘Barbarians In Black’ may not be the most sophisticated, the most complex, or the most original album you will hear in 2018. However, I guarantee that it will be one of the most fun, enjoyable and downright addictive heavy metal listening experiences of the year. I am completely smitten and I hope you will be too.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse