Monday, March 14, 2016

Album Review: Mob Rules - Tales From Beyond

When I was first getting into power metal during my college days, Mob Rules was one of the first bands I stumbled across. Back then, I couldn't tell the difference between what was good and what wasn't, but what is interesting to me is that the first impression they left didn't keep them in my consciousness very long. Over the course of time, I've lost track of what they've been up to, and I'm not sure when the last time I heard an album of theirs was. That changes now, with "Tales From Beyond" reminding me that Mob Rules has been an important name in the prog/power game for twenty years now. That deserves another look.

"Dykemaster's Tale" gets things started in a way I appreciate, sounding remarkably like the opening of a modern Iron Maiden song. Since I am one of the staunchest defenders of the progressive version of Iron Maiden, this approach is one that I wholly endorse, and now wonder why it hasn't been copied more often. That feeling continues throughout the song, as everything about the guitar work feels completely from the Iron Maiden school, with the clean guitar part right before the chorus using note choices that I would have sworn came from Steve Harris. Sure, it would be easy to call the song a bit of a rip-off, but that would be missing the point. Mob Rules is copying a sound, but it's a great sound, and they're doing it excellently. There's no reason that song couldn't have fit right in on "The Book Of Souls".

They return to their traditional power metal sound on "Somerled", which is more predictable, but still hits with plenty of power and a big, hooky chorus. Mob Rules can write this style just as well, as they show. "Signs" is the obvious connecting point, where they blend choruses of their usual sound with verses and riffs that adhere more to the Iron Maiden school. That brings up a small point of contention here. The riff they use to anchor the song contains what sounds like variations on suspended chords, but the guitar tone is too distorted for the minor changes to be heard clearly. A slightly cleaner sound, yes like Iron Maiden uses, would make it stand out even more.

I don't intend to keep harping on the similarities between this album and late-era Iron Maiden, but with each passing song I keep hearing more and more little bits that remind me of those albums, which I say with the utmost appreciation. Despite Mob Rules being a good band, this album would be far less interesting if it was adhering strictly to the traditional power metal playbook. Plenty of bands ape Maiden's 80s output, but few have the prowess to tackle the more cerebral, more progressive band they have become. The fact that Mob Rules does such a good job of recreating that feeling, all the while writing really good songs, is a testament to their talent as a band.

And like Iron Maiden's recent work, the least interesting track on the entire album is the short, traditional "Healer", which glides by with one of those power metal choruses that uses long notes to replace interesting melodies. That is precisely what makes the approach of the rest of the album so interesting; the contrast with what we're all expecting.

Included in that would be the three part title track, which is based on the same source material as the hit movie "The Martian". Over the course of fifteen minutes, the band takes the music on a storytelling journey, running the gamut of their sounds, including Part II, where Klaus Dirks has never sounded more like Bruce Dickinson. Like a lot of massive attempts at grandeur, there are sections that could have been condensed for the sake of brevity, but it's a valiant attempt at stretching their creative wings and proving themselves capable of more than we might assume. It's a less immediate group of songs than the rest of the album, but they work in context.

Overall, "Tales From Beyond" is an album that will hinge on what you think of modern Iron Maiden. That sounds weird to say, but I think it's the best way of summing this up. Mob Rules has made an album that fits that style so well that I'm not sure you can like one and not the other. If you are someone who thinks Iron Maiden has lost their way, you are likely to think Mob Rules has done the same. But if you're someone who appreciates that progressive take on what traditional heavy metal can be, "Tales From Beyond" is the best example of it that Iron Maiden themselves didn't make.

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