In terms of sheer influence, an argument can be made that power metal wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Ronnie James Dio. During his stint with Rainbow and, to a greater extent, in his solo band, Dio set the blueprints for what would become power metal, with powerful, soaring vocals, and big, melodic riffs. Although as early as the late 70s, bands had begun to play a similar style of heavy metal (a term that didn’t even really exist at the time) to that of Rainbow, it was the mid-80s when power metal began to blossom, particularly in Europe. Bands like Accept and Helloween took sonic cues from Dio, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest, and created music that was arena-ready, without giving up that heavy edge metal fans demand. Trends come and go in metal, but power metal has stayed pretty consistent, as can be heard on Black Eyed Children, the latest release from Swedish power metal outfit Astral Doors.
There’s something comfortable and familiar about the songs contained on this record, though; Astral Doors aren’t attempting to break new ground, or push boundaries, but what they’ve done here is deliver a solid slab of heavy metal. Far from being mere copycats, though, Astral Doors have an air of sincerity, and exude a love of classic heavy metal that is infectious, as can be heard on “Die on Stage,” or on “Good vs Bad,” which sounds like a typical high energy Dio track, with some chuggy riffs, theatrical vocals, and melodic lead-guitar bits. The keyboards at the beginning of “Die on Stage” remind me of Deep Purple, but when the full band comes in, the music takes on a hard-hitting, mid-paced grind reminiscent of early Accept. The sing-along choruses throughout Black Eyed Children provide an anthemic vibe that practically transports the listener into the live setting; you can almost imagine yourself standing alongside a sea of thousands of metalheads, all throwing up the horns and singing along.
Lyrically, Astral Doors flirt a lot with religion, often painting it in a somewhat negative light, particularly on the track “Jesus Christ Moviestar.” While this is pretty standard for power metal, unfortunately, Astral Doors don’t quite hit the mark in the lyrical department. The chorus for “God is the Devil,” for example, features the lines “Jesus is Satan, and Satan, and Satan is here, God is the Devil, and the Devil is God.” These kind of lyrics would have given Tipper Gore a stroke during the PMRC era, but come off as a bit cheesy now; fortunately, the vocal abilities and killer musicianship make up for the lyrical shortcomings. The production on Black Eyed Children is another high-point, with a clear, pristine sound that focus on the guitar riffs and vocals. The overdubs give the music a very full, rich sound that reveals something new with each listening session, but also manages to not sound too busy.
Overall, Black Eyed Children is a very enjoyable record, and certainly a high-point in Astral Doors’ career. While it isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel or anything, this record shows a band sticking to their guns, playing to their strengths, and many other bands in the genre would do well to take notes. If you’re a fan of power metal, or just classic sounding heavy metal/hard rock in the vein of Dio, you’ll definitely want to give this record a spin.