Asgard has returned from the grave! After producing four studio albums between 1991 and 1993 the band has only been spotted live on a few occasions, usually with different band members. From the original line-up only the keyboard player and the bassist made it to their latest offering Drachenblut (Dragon's Blood). New are Sergio Ghiotto on guitars (formerly from Top Left Corner), Peter Bachmeyer on drums and Ivo Gallo on vocals. Asgard organised a (very very nice!) release party in Ramsau, South Germany, where I managed to arrest a few copies of the album for a round table review. Here we go ...
The first song on the album Blue Fire will sound quite familiar to those that were at the Asgard concerts in Holland. At that time still known as Lords of Thunder this song has made a lasting impression. The audience joined the band in the chorus by chanting 'HEY !'. On the album this effect remains (I am shouting along as I am writing this). Blue Fire is a good and powerful opener that I am sure will keep crowds going. In this track the band also show that they have a sense of humour. I will not spoil the surprises for you 8-)
Red Fire, formerly known as Elfish Light, starts of with Chris' amazing hammer technique bass guitar riff. This riff is quickly taken over by both guitar and keyboards and carries us through the song. Nice small details keep interest going till the end of the song.
Sigurd is a very short atmospheric intro to the folk-like Dragon's Blood. Acoustic guitar and flute are the main instruments in the first few minutes when suddenly electric instruments hit in. This could have been a very nice track, but the vocals are lacking a bit too much here.
Quid could have been a song on the Arkana album. Atmosphere and emotions keep on changing in this more slowly paced ten-minute epic. Beautiful melodies keep on coming out of the speakers, sometimes even touching that Genesis retro feeling.
Number six is up. Typical Asgard keyboard sounds (Last Flight .../ Justice) come to life, but are quickly giving way to a pumping bass theme with powerful vocals. As the song goes back and forth from hard to soft we are treated with some nice guitar work from the new guitarist Sergio.
In the Lands of the Dragons of Midgard is an experimental atmospheric piece. The vocals take us on a journey with strange sounds. Near the end the song slowly builds to a somewhat Porcupine Tree-like climax.
Initiation is the second ten-minute song on the album, this time hacking in with double bass drums. This song features some of the best guitar melodies. Simple notes, but so effective. Again a 380-volt retro Genesis feeling comes back, mainly created by nice keyboard work. Bass player Chris adds to this feeling by using a 12-string guitar in the middle section.
One of the less interesting tracks on this album is I am the Udder. Luckily it is quite short so I will jump to the next one.
The 10-th track is a very nice piano intro to Memories of Sigurd's Past, which takes that intro some steps further. The vocals on this song could have used a bit more attention, as they sometimes sound too 'screamy'.
Danger! is another typical Asgard track. This track still remains from the early live era of Asgard. Fairly straightforward rock in the beginning of the track, but featuring some great bass and guitar work in the middle. If not for Ko Molenaar (prog-tattoo!) this track would probably not have been on the album as he forced Alberto to record it *8)
And then the album's final gem. Nine minutes of pure fascination. Keyboards and sound effects play a more prominent role in this composition. Every few seconds the music moves to something different. This song also has one of those every-note-right-guitar-solos that you keep on playing and playing and replaying.
All in all a very solid new Asgard album. Mixing the power from Imago Mundi, the atmosphere of Arkana and the compositions of Gotterdammerung. Though the vocals do not always hit the right spot, the music keeps on doing just that. Not perfection, but emotion ... I think that is what this band is about.
Conclusion Martijn Albering: 8,5 out of 10.
I am new to Asgard and their new album Drachenblut was both a suprise and a disappointment in one. The surprise was the overall impression of the CD, the fact that it's prog-rock pur sang, the disappointment the fact that some parts of songs are not that strong and most of the songs are in a steady marching rhythm. Somehow this made the whole album seem like some attempt to remake The Battle of Epping Forrest.
Blue Fire. Perhaps the strongest track on the album, with extremely varied use of instruments and lots of sound effects, on intruments and vocals. The marching rhythm and the keyboards give an old Genesis feeling, but the rest of the instruments are more macho.
Red Fire. Strong instrumental opening, but the vocals are not nice. Strange accent, lack of power, and barely in tune. This is a general complaint for the whole album. Powerful track, typical prog, again a reference to Genesis.
Ch1 : Sigurd. A spoken track, alsmost murmured, like I remember Steve Howe speak the text of Soon on some more obscure Yes-collectibilia.
Ch2 : Dragon's Blood. Acoustic guitar, classical prog-folk intro, even including flute. Then it bursts into heavy guitar work with lots of reverb and more up-tempo, the same melody as in the intro is repeated. Sounds a bit bare, though.
Ch3: Quid. A long track, with some nice Genesis-like keys and instrumental intermezzo's. Here they come closest to a varied track, with good rhythmic variations, subtle passages mixed with powerful pounding melodies and even some piercing guitar work!
Ch4: Drachenfels. The intro sounds amateuristic, with even a glitch of the keyboard player at second 11. The rest of the song edges towards metal but lacks the power to impress. Somehow, they just fail to play together.
Ch5: In the Land of the Dragon of Midgard. A mystical track, the first time they can really conjure up the atmosphere of foggy lands, where dragons lure and maidens scream out of towers to be rescued. The bad English accent of the vocalist is particulary annoying here. The song becomes more psychedelic, but ends normal, with, I must admit, quite a nice melody. Too bad they don't persue this further.
Ch6: Initiation. Somehow I have the feeling I have heard the intro melody, laid out vary bare with a one-tone keyboard, before. Maybe it's a stripped down, mutulated, version of Falling Apart At The Seems (IQ)? Couldn't say for sure. Slowly the song becomes darker and heavier, and when the vocals start it has become an up-tempo track, and it's back to Genesis or early IQ again (the rest of the track remembers me of Tales From The Lush Attic), and Steve Hackett's style makes its appearance in the last couple of minutes.
C7 : I'm The Udder. I'm the What??? Not exactly what you say to your girlfriend on a first date....;-). But the track itself is quite OK, nice and macho with more bombastic instrumental filling and a good prog melody.
C8 : The Battle. A piano melody a-la Fifth of Firth is played (well it's almost a variation to a theme...it has almost the same structure and melody....phew, hope there's no more copyright on that track).
Memories From Sigurd's Past. Takes over the melody of The Battle and happily they sing 'And yet I had to kill you'. Bit weird relation to the atmosphere of the music and the lyrics here.
Danger (Sigurd in love). Here too, I have the impression I heard it all before, but can't place it right now. A happy track, were the vocalist sounds like Peter Nichols with a hangover. The second part is quite well done, with powerful slapped bass and a good guitar solo. One of the better tracks.
A Lime-Leaf Was on his Back. Yet another typical prog track. Lot's of variation and again this battle-rhythm, a bit Marillionesque at times. The rest is quite Genesis-like again and a nice IQ-like ending to the album.
Well, like I stated in the intro it's pure prog rock. The references are too obvious at times, for instance in The Battle or Initiation. The album definitely has its moments in terms of songwriting, but the performance lacks power and is at times amateuristic. Especially the vocals are weak. What this album should have had is a much more bombastic production, with heavy keyboard tapistries supporting the main melodies. Still, it is quite entertaining prog.
Conclusion Remco Schoenmakers: 7 out of 10.
This concept album tells the tale of the Germanic hero Siegfried (Sigurd in Scandinavian). It seems to take its material from the epic poem Hurnen Seyfrid (1400 AD), rather than from the first part of the more familiar Nibelungenlied, in dealing with Siegfrieds youth, in which he defeats a dragon, gains invulnerability from its blood and falls in love with Kriemhilde (whom he rescues in the poem). But the focus is largely on the figure of the dragon and its identification with earth and nature.
The opening track Blue Fire starts with very cheesy keyboards. After listening to it a few times it becomes quite catching, but I never lost that initial feeling of unease. The chorus ("Hey!") seems lifted right out of the True Metal style (bands like Manowar, Hammerfall, etc). The instrumental parts in Red Fire are somewhat reminiscent of Arena, especially the intro, though the vocal section stands out sharply in contrast. Again some outdated keyboard playing towards the end.
In Sigurd our hero is introduced in a spoken section. Nuff said. Dragon's Blood opens with acoustic guitar, catchy, before its electric counterpart leads us to the second section, while in Quid a piano intro gives way to keyboards, as an impressive instrumental section is build up, though this is interrupted by some more cheesy keyboards at one point. One of the best tracks on the album with lots of variation. There is an (almost inaudible) return of the superfluous metal chorus.
Drachenfels opens with supposed trumpets, straight out of the synth. Fortunately guitar and drums pick up the rhythm. The chorus part of the lyrics are a bit corny ("Let's swim hand in hand in this red, dense sea, my friend" - tralala), but guitar again joins in, this time with keyboards, to save the day. The fine track In The Lands Of The Dragon Of Midgard gets underway with a very atmospheric opening on keys, which is equalled by slow guitar. Simple, but effective percussion. The lyrics are spoken rather than sung.
Initiation is the second long track, again in Arena style, most obviously on guitar and, at times, keyboards, but towards the end even the vocals. Halfway trough the outdated keyboards return. "I Am The Udder" is a compactly played track, quite good, though Asgard has come up with some very silly lyrics: "I am the udder from which you are sucking, my children! Not milk, not cow...just the udder." I wonder if they have taken this weird stuff directly from the ancient saga.
This is followed by some more short tracks, like The Bathe, an instrumental piece with a leading role for piano. Memories from Sigurd's Past has no complexity, but lots of easy appeal. A short, up-tempo track. Then comes Danger! (Sigurd In Love). How's this for a title! Again the 'metal' chorus. Gallo is stretching his vocals to the limits here, but gets away with it.
A Lime-Leaf Was On His Back wraps things up with some good instrumental sections, again from the Clive Nolan school of music. This made me wonder if they played like this back in '91 on their first album or if they have conciously adopted this style for their comeback after spending the last seven years in oblivion.
Gallo has a fine voice, but at times it seems lyrics have been written that are a bit much for his vocal capacity, as he can hardly keep up with the instruments. His handling of the keyboards is of starkly varying quality. Not much to say about the musicianship of his companions. More than adequate, but no imaginative solos or complexity in composition.
After initially listening to Drachenblut I mostly felt dismayed at the various weak points, but I have to admit I've played this CD quite a few times over the last two weeks, with growing fondness. So I guess that proves it has some strenghts that are not as obvious at first as the flaws. In mentioning flaws: some of the artwork catches the atmosphere quite nicely, but there are some photographs that are too sugary sweet for my taste. Not that I have some kind of grudge against cute little deer.
All in all an album that can not be dismissed outright. Though I've made various references to Arena and think fans of this band should give it a try, I can't recommend this CD to them with any real conviction. I should point out that it's closer to Songs From The Lions Cage and Pride than to their last two albums. For fans of True Metal Drachenblut probably lacks the power to have direct appeal, though the subject matter should generate some interest. It lacks the attraction of, for example, Manowar's Achiles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts. If you fancy neo-progressive rock mixed with a slice of metal, this might be the album for you.
Conclusion Mark Sander: 6.5 out of 10.
Although they have released 4 records in the early nineties, Asgard were an unknown quantity to me, before Drachenblut. Starting off with Blue Fire, Asgard confirmed the impression I was given by Martijn. Progressive music with an edge, but keeping the melody up front. I like the combination of heavy (yet not too distorted) riffs and lighter keyboards. Regrettably these keyboards sound a bit 'dry', just like the production as a whole. Funny element in this first song are the hooligans, shouting in the chorus. I had to get used to them, to be honest.
Red Fire is a much faster track, with great guitar playing. Unfortunately the booklet doesn't reveal who this guitarist is. I'll put my money on the blond viking-type staring at me from the photo. The guitar solo is followed by a lovely keyboard solo as well. One of the highlights of the album.
The centre point of the album is formed by "Chapters 1 to 8". Chapter I, called Sigurd is
a narrative introduction. Chapter II, Dragon's Blood, is a lovely folk-tune with acoustic
guitars and a nice flute, followed by a contrasting electric guitar. Regrettably the singer's
pronunciation isn't very good and so are his singing capacities. Put aside the somewhat bare
production, most instrumental parts (like the instrumental bits of Chapter III, Quid) are
really enjoyable, but I think the vocals are the weak link, which is a pity.
After Chapter IV, Drachenfels, with its fast, gothic chorus, Chapter V starts very mysterious, with a clear hint in the direction of Peter Gabriel, both in music and vocals. Genesis comes around the corner in the big instrumental part of Chapter VI, Initiation. The keyboard player really knows what to do and the balance with the guitars is right.
VII is dominated by a great rocking guitar-riff, whereas Chapter VIII is a stunningly beautiful piano-instrumental called The Bathe. The highlight of the album to me.
Although no Chapter, the remaining songs seem to belong to the story of the album as well, considering titles like Memories from Sigurd's Past and Danger (Sigurd in Love). Although these tracks have moments, they don't reach the level of the Chapters. In Danger! the singer makes two mistakes (or are these screams?) which really shouldn't be there. A Lime-Leaf Was On His Back is the closing epic of the album. It's needs some spins to grow, but it certainly has great moments with its many changes and nice solos.
I find it very hard to give one final judgement on this album. I really think Asgard has some skilled musicians and (even more important) fine composers. The music is diverse, captivating and at moments stunningly beautiful. Heavy guitars combine with melodic keyboard melodies in the right balance. I only have a problem with the vocals, but this may be personal. If you don't mind songs on Dragons and Knights, you might give this a try. You won't be bored.
Regrettably, I'm only allowed to give one (overall) mark. When based on the compositions and musical skills only, my final judgement would certainly be higher.
Conclusion Jan-Jaap de Haan: 7- out of 10.