Almanac - Tsar

Almanac Tsar cover
Nuclear Blast
Well, I must admit that I am a little confused. Allegedly after departing from Rage, after several years and almost fifteen years, Victor Smolski (who the older readers might recall from the prog-power metallers Mind Odyssey) allegedly was allowed to release albums under the Lingua Mortis Orchestra banner, but this first release, since then, doesn’t come under that, or his own name (despite a huge Rage Stylized VS being on top of the cover) but under the Almanac moniker. Weird.
Obviously in his era, Rage gravitated a lot towards a more technical style that worked for many albums but seemed to be reaching a saturation point towards the latter years/releases. When even the newest “Lingua Mortis” project didn’t do as well as it was hoped, Rage changed the line-up and the overall style to a more classical style and their “Refuge” years line-up was called back into action, which seems to have worked well in terms of popularity and sales, with the band embracing more of its catalog in the original form of the songs, a thing which Smolski was notorious for tinkering with.
“Tsar” is not as dark or heavy as most of the rage output of Smolski, although it does have a wide gamut of more aggressive riffs. He’d completed the band, by hiring relatively unknown but capable players like Armin Alic on bass and Michael Kolar on drums, while Jeannette Marchewka from LMO is one of the vocalists among the duet of Andy B. Franck (Brainstorm, ex-Symphorce, ex-Ivanhoe) and David Readman (PC69, ex-Adagio and others), who keep on singing over each other, for most of the duration of the album. The trio of vocalists offers a rather full sound, with the one who’s really shining being Readman, despite, Franck being more “present” in the mix, because of his darker and thicker timbre. But it’s really the little accents that Readman provides on top that refine the material and make it sound as good as it does.
Well Smolski being Smolski, probably overdoes it, a bit on occasion with his orchestration, while he’s most pleasurable to listen to when he solos – a thing he does very well – obviously. The overall style is pompous, orchestrated metal with an emphasis on power, but way more refined and theatrical. It might take a bit of getting used to, if you’re on a steady diet of 4/4 power metal, but it is quite rewarding once you get into it.
Songs like the tempestuous “Tsar” or the more straightforward “Self Blinded Eyes”, which still manages to pack a bunch of orchestrations under the hood, are indeed impressive and obviously deserve people’s attention.
“Darkness” allows Smolski, to fire up his fingers for a bit over a minute, before the menacing dark and epic “Hands are Tied” steals the show.
“Children of the Future” almost recycles a couple of riffs from the Rage days and seems like parts of it could have been worked during the LMO sessions (or maybe not). Since it’s one of the most aggressive songs, it does feel a bit different than its predecessors and it would have even felt completely out of place, if it wasn’t for its quite nice chorus.
“No More Shadows” at eight plus minutes is by far the longest song on the album and it’s quite theatrical, as it slowly builds before it goes into a middle that sounds like it could again have been a Rage-leftover idea, mind you a quite impressive one, if not pulled a little out of shape to occupy the eight minutes it does.
“Nevermore” initially has a symphonic rock flavor, before it goes completely power metal for the verses, then revert and cycle over this including a nice solo and thankfully because of its short duration not outstaying its welcome. With the lose historic concept that interrelates a lot of these pieces, I suppose the album, without being a proper concept, must have been a little more difficult to do, in terms of getting the “flow” quite right.
“Reign of Madness” is a bit more rock-opera like, actually reminding me a bit of one of the latter songs from the first Epysode, in the overall tone and style. Finally “Flames Of Fate’ manages to tie up a lot of the loose ends in an almost triumphant symphonic conclusion that doesn’t surrender until after it has repeated itself two or three times…
Well, if you can withstand the more orchestrations than ornaments on a Christmas tree, while TSO is playing, approach of Vic, you’ll probably enjoy his really tasteful playing, especially when it comes to soloing as well as most of the songs that despite being really complex manage to exhibit sufficient catchiness to keep you listening. I might have mixed the guitars just a tiny whiny bit lower while riffing or with a tiny bit more verb, since they sound a little dry on certain places, but hey, that’s a tiny qualm and with all the things going on at once this album sounds incredibly clear, mix-wise so props for that. Well… Rage fans might want to check it, Yngwie freaks will not regret it, there’s a bit of everything in here to satisfy most – but not all power metallers. Still worth checking out, anyway.