Sophomore records are notoriously difficult, and there are a myriad of ways bands could choose from to approach theirs. You could go longer, you could go shorter, you could “AC/DC” it and churn out more of the same, or you could change styles entirely. But I don’t recall many bands who’ve gone the route of Greece’s Sacred Outcry, though. For album number two, Towers of Gold, mastermind George Apalodimas recruited an entirely different lineup of musicians than he’d had on the critically-acclaimed debut, Damned for All Time, three years ago.
It’s a bold strategy, Cotton, but fortunately, it’s wound up working in Apalodimas’ favor. Towers of Gold doesn’t quite match its predecessor in quality, but it’s still a (mostly) terrific record and arguably a pace-setter for power metal in 2023.
Let’s chat about those lineup changes first. I’ll admit: the emphasis on “entirely different lineup of musicians” up above may have been a bit dramatic on my part. For starters, new guitarist Steve Lado had mixed and mastered Damned for All Time, and even contributed a guitar solo to one of its songs. So, there are definitely less seamless ways to introduce a new bandmate out there. But hey, enough about that, because I am burying the COLOSSAL freaking lineup change lede here, which is that the band’s new vocalist is Daniel freaking Heiman.
There was hardly a single fault in previous vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos’ performance on Damned for All Time, AND YET… if you get the chance to bring in Daniel Heiman, you absolutely freaking take it. The guy’s six octave vocal range gives him a seat on the same mile-high flight as genre heavyweights like Michael Kiske or Timo Kotipelto, and he delivers every single note with the force of a sledgehammer. (Seriously. Listen to his performance on “Into the Storm (Beyond the Lost Horizon)” — it’s a freaking marvel.)
And if the dude’s voice doesn’t speak for itself, just take a peek at his resume. Lost Horizon. Warrior Path. Dimhav. Every single project Heiman’s involved in is made better for his being there. Sacred Outcry feels like the perfect match to continue this trend, with Towers of Gold‘s epic arrangements serving as the perfect playground for him to run wild in.
Let’s chat about those arrangements second. Apalodimas deserves a hell of a lot of credit here. Whether in its nimbler moments or its grander, more elaborate gestures, Towers of Gold sweeps you up into its world and makes you feel like a central character in the saga. The guy just, flat-out, knows how do to “epic,” and he pulls tastefully from a wide range of influences — classic and contemporary, power metal and more traditional heavy metal — in developing Sacred Outcry’s immense and captivating sound.
On Towers of Gold‘s first proper track, “The Flame Rekindled (Lurid Lights and Drunken Revelry)” — yeah, all the tracks have parenthetical titles, and reader, I do not hate it — you’ll immediately notice a flare for the “over-the-top” that recalls the late-’90s / early-’00s heydays of groups like Blind Guardian or Rhapsody. But then, in comes “The Voyage (Towards Immortality),” with a galloping, hyper-melodic feel that seems to have emerged from the Steve Harris school of songwriting. There are notes of Symphony X here, a dash of Helloween there, and… is that even a bit of Fairyland I taste? With so many different flavors in the pot, there’s always the risk your soup will come out tasting like, well… nothing at all. It’s to Apalodimas’ immense credit that he’s found a way to channel them all together tastefully on Towers of Gold.
But… ah. Let’s chat about the title track third. (Or… I guess, the sorta title track, “Towers of Gold (Tempus Edax Rerum).” I completely get the urge to drop an epic’s epic near the end of an album. But… this just ain’t it, folks. “Towers of Gold” makes its nearly-15-minutes feel like nearly-an-hour. It builds, and layers, and builds, and layers, introducing new theme after new themes but ultimately failing to tie things back together satisfyingly.
And that’s really a shame, because so many parts of this thing are genuinely interesting! The piano break at around 3:45 is somber and beautiful, and the shreddy section it segues into is a tour de force, with harmonized leads and even a bit of bass finger-tapping! The trouble is, they don’t feel like they belong in the same song, and they beget further parts that don’t feel like they fit together, either. It starts to feel like the arc of the TV show Lost, but in song form. The effort is respectable, but the execution is, ultimately, a bit wanting.
Still, there is a metric fuckton to love about Towers of Gold. It is absolutely worth a listen, particularly if (when?) you get tired of [gestures broadly at everything] and need a bit of an escape. And hey, a full nine-tenths of it constitute some of the absolute best power metal you’ll hear this year. A misfire on the last tenth couldn’t ruin that for me, and it shouldn’t for you, either. All hail, Sacred Outcry!
Keep it heavy,
Towers of Gold is available now via No Remorse Records. For more information on Sacred Outcry, visit the band’s Facebook page.