Thursday, March 7, 2013

Olympos Mons - Conquistador (2004)

A sticker on the cover describes Olympos Mons as:
Poetic Power Metal
A mixture of hard and aggressive guitar riffs and musical-like passages with strings, bagpipes and harps are the basis for powerful, bombastic epic metal songs full of mystical atmosphere.
 How could I resist picking them up? How could I resist listening to them? Well, I couldn't - and hence why this album is in my collection today.

It was that bagpipes that sold me on it.

It certainly isn't the cover, which is rather sexist - a woman draped in some sort of skimpy cobweb outfit half lies, in what must be a, if not physically impossible, at least physically very uncomfortable pose, a knife clutched in her right hand. The way she's drawn, I can tell she's supposed to be lying seductively, but her weight seems to be mostly supported by her left arm, making her look rather like she's been interupted in the middle of doing a one-armed, knife-wielding push-up but a rather more heavily armoured warrior. He has a cloak that looks like bat wings. Behind them rises rocky stalacmites, all slightly distorted as though caught in a desert heat-haze. I believe it is meant to be Hell, or possibly Mars. In the background there seems to be some sort of UFO.

Olympos Mons were a relatively young band - jumping aboard the Power Metal bandwagon and hailing from Finland. They first came together in 2002 and secured their recording contract in 2004. For all the promise that the album booklet raves about, they only released one other album and then parted ways in 2010. Their official website no longer exists. They were merely just a spark in the Power Metal wildfire.

"Seven Seas" surges into action, with powerful vocals and the haunting, melancholic dirge of bagpipes. The chorus is great - catchy and soaring, echoed by the sound of pipes. It is, pretty much, classic power metal - all complicated instrumental arrangements, powerful vocals and a fairly consistent drumbeat. Not nearly as fast as, say, Dragonforce. Quite appealing.

Delicate chimes lead us into the surging keyboards of "Stars". Again, soaring arrangements, strong vocals and very catchy melodies. Let's see how poetic they really are:
"We will fly to the stars on the wings of the night. Sparks will surround us and light up our flight. We'll fly to the stars, leaving rainbows behind. For the magical wonders that we might find."
Not bad. Quite evocative lyrics. Listen to that drummer go, I bet he's shaking his hair about as he bang-bang-bangs. In the early nineties this would have been amazing and original and new - but now Power Metal bands are a dime a dozen. Oooh, some interesting noises on the keyboards there. The organ effect?

Bit of dejavu here - the track opens a little bit reminscent of Nightwish. Then the drums and guitars come pounding in as we stand beneath "The Last Light of the Moon". Somewhat lower pitch to the vocals. Ian Highhill has a good set of lungs on him. Who let that horse in there? Oh dear, it's Lucifer, come from the Skylark album!*

"Wanted Man" is nicely dramatic, with lower vocals.We've got more poetry here:
"Walking through sunshine, seeing only rain. The story begins all over again."
 Dirge like-keyboards lead us into the crushing bass of "Black". Romantic lyrics, and a steady pace, with vocals varying between the low(ish) and smooth and that of a higher register. Highhill does have a very strong voice, and its pleasant to - it doesn't grate on you the way some vocalists do after a while.

To lead us "Through the Ice and Snow" we have the crystalline chords of an electric harpsichord. Until we hit the rampaging wall of ice and are struck by the avalanche that is Highhill's voice. Almighty and bombastic.

More power and might in "Black Desiree"  which is another one with romantic lyrics:
Whispers in moonlight, light promises.
Shimmering lights dancing in raven black hair.
Not bad poetically, but the editor in me will point out he uses "light" three times in twelve words.

"Cleopatra" gets off to a haunting start with eerie flutes and a vaguely oriental/african feel, before the other instruments charge in enforce.Has a nicely melodic passage towards the end, shortly before the guitars go to war.

There is a suitably Arabian feel to  "The Princess of Saba". This band clearly like singing odes to women! The vocals are sweet and delicate for at least a verse, before surging on into the power and the glory. Good ryhthms, nice and catchy, with an impressive keyboard solo.

Triumphant and valiant, the beginning to "Lady in White" has some very nice flute followed by a cascade of keyboards ang guitars. The harmonious chorus harks back to the 80s. This is a very powerful and quite refreshing track - the intense keyboard solo, in which the keyboardist goes into a frenzy and is then taken over by the drummer, then the guitarist playing all sorts of quirky little ditties in short bursts before the drums and the galloping guitars kick in and rip-roar towards the final chorus.

Harpsichord and waves open the final track, "Conquistador" bringing with them an ethereal, spectral edge before the keyboards take over. A slower, more intense piece which builds to intensity, soaring and surging with a hint of anger.

There's no arguing that Olympos Mons were a damned fine band - they have sophisticated arrangements, powerful control over their melodies, interesting lyrics and emotive instrumentation. The vocals are powerful and both soar and growl at just the right moments. They are polished and the recording is a brilliant wall of sturdy sound. They have power and passion and enthusiasm. However, they feel somewhat contrived to me. I feel bad saying it, because I am a big fan of the Power Metal genre and there is no denying that they are good at what they do, but they don't stand out in any dramatic manner. Except the bagpipes. It was the bagpipes that sold this album to me - otherwise I might just have dismissed it as "do I really need another power metal album that I'll probably never really listen to". I think, in a way, they are trying TOO hard - along with the likes of Dragonforce, Powerquest, Rhapsody, Skylark, Fairyland, Heavenly and about half a billion other European bands. All very good, very sophisticated, but somehow just slightly lacking the true spark.

I'm going to give them 8/10.

* Do keyboards come with a "demonic voice" programmed into them or something? Or maybe their keyboards are possessed.

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