Monday, August 13, 2012

Russian Metal Week, Day 1: Ария - Герой асфальта (1987)

Alright, folks, here we go. It couldn't have been more appropriate to start this mini-marathon of famous Russian and Soviet heavy metal albums, because of several reasons:
- Yesterday (Aug, 12) was the Birthday of my Mom, Savenko Tatiana Vasiliyevna, and as we all know, she was into hard rock and heavy metal for the most part of her life;
- A couple of days ago on, I've stumbled upon a joke: Ariya releasing a new album called 'The Pink Bayan'... not that anybody except of me or users will get it anyway...
- As my fiancee, Michelle, has moved to England until the end of August, I've became really inspired by this 'friendship of the nations' concept going on, so combined with two points above, and the fact that my blog is intended primarily for English-speaking audience, I've decided that it would be fun and interesting for them to learn about the genesis of the best music genre in the world (hint: Heavy Metal) as it was going on behind the Iron Curtain, same as where your truly was born and growing up.

So, in a nutshell, it will be seven days - seven bands - seven classic albums. And to extend this even further, next week will be 'The Russian Movies Week', and then - 'The Russian Videogames Week', so stay tuned!

And for now, let's start everything properly:

Ария - Герой асфальта (Ariya / Aria - Hero Of The Asphalt) (1987)

Valeriy Kipelov - vocals
Sergey Mavrin - guitar
Vladimir Holstinin - guitar
Vitaliy Dubinin - bass
Maxim Udalov - drums

1. "На службе силы зла" (Serving The Evil Forces)
2. "Герой асфальта" (Hero Of The Asphalt)
3. "Мёртвая зона" (Dead Zone)
4. "1100" (1100)
5. "Улица Роз" (The Street Of Roses)
6. "Баллада о древнерусском воине" (The Ballad Of An Ancient Russian Warrior)

Ariya was formed in 1985 from the fragments of Soviet pop bands Singing Hearts (Поющие сердца) and Roll The Song (Лейся, песня). The first lineup looked like this: Valeriy Kipelov (vocals), Vladimir Holstinin (guitar), Alexander 'Alik' Granovskiy (bass), Alexander Lvov (drums) and Kirill Pokrovskiy (keyboards). Later they were joined by Andrey Bolshakov (guitar). After two albums and some more lineup changes, the latter four members have left the band to form Master - we'll meet them again later! - so Kipelov and Holstinin were forced to recruit new guitar, bass and drum players. And so they did - respectively with Mavrin, Dubinin and Udalov, the band has recorded their third, and, in a popular opinion, best LP.

'Hero Of The Asphalt' was also their first album to be legally released on 'Melodiya', the legendary Soviet record label. First two albums, 'Megalomania' (Мания величия) and 'Who Are You With?' (С кем ты?) at the time only existed in a form of so-called magnetoalbums, or simply - legalized bootlegs. But now, everything was serious - official distribution, mature musical talent, dark and colorful cover art, crazy sales and some of the greatest heavy metal hymns ever.

The album starts off with Robertino Loretti's 'Santa Lucia' phonogram. According to Holstinin, it was put there to contrast with the upcoming song, and as the lyrics were about nuclear destruction, he thought that this is how a record player would sound like when a bomb goes off nearby shutting down all electricity with an EMP blast. Clever! Then there goes 'Serving The Evil Forces', the fastest and most furious song on the record. At times it even borders speed-power metal, complete with fantastic guitar lead and badass lyrics ('You are like everyone else, an enemy to your enemies, a friend to your friends, but only underground you become yourself. Your bunker is situated underground, you conduct your business there, you are serving the evil forces!') Actually, the album title was at first intended to be 'Serving The Evil Forces', but the label demanded censoring it to remove any occult references.

Next up is 'Hero Of The Asphalt', a bit slower galloping song reminding or something from Iron Maiden circa 1982-84. I'm well aware that Ariya has an unfortunate reputation of ripping off Iron Maiden and Judas Priest from time to time, but they didn't do this as often as the haters say. Actually, they have a couple of albums that don't even remotely call for deja vu, but on this LP, I agree that the influences are evident. Say, '1100' is obviously lyrically inspired by Maiden's ode to WWII fighter pilots, 'Aces High', but surely from the Soviet point of view. In between the title track and this is 'Dead Zone', a decent semi-ballad, but looks like it's the weakest point of the album, because unlike the other songs it's not really memorable. But after '1100' comes 'The Roses Street' - again, an undisputed Maiden influence (the lyrics and title are pretty similar to '22 Acacia Avenue'), but ironically, one of the bands greatest hits, even more famous than the four songs before it. It's ridiculously famous, but nevertheless, a solid and catchy piece. But personally I never got it why it's often called a ballad in some reviews, since it's actually mid-paced. Alright, and after two attempts on Obligatory Ballads, for the final song, we get an Obligatory Epic, in this case it's 'The Ballad Of An Ancient Russian Warrior'. It's lengthy and bombastic, featuring solid instrumental work and some of the greatest vocals ever put out by V. Kipelov. The lyrics this time revolve around The Battle of the Ice, a real historical event of a conflict between the Russian Republic Of Novgorod and the Theutonic knights, and the song compliments the tragedy and intensity of war pretty well.

Ah yeah, the lyrics. On the first two albums, they were written by Alexander Elin, but starting from this one, Margarita Pushkina has become the band's primary poet. Of course, this is reflected strikingly - instead of anti-war and pacifist messages, this time the songs rely on more varied and at times, darker tones, like occultism, war (without pacifist overtones), bikers, prostitution and so on. This will be continued on the band's few albums yet to come, as will be the style and groundwork laid here. 'Hero Of The Asphalt' is the true breakthrough album from the legendary band, and no matter what everybody says, it's an epic work, admired and respected as Ariya's finest hour, even by the musicians themselves.

My Rating: 8/10 (for a couple of bland songs)