Megalomania(Moroz - 1985)
Back before the days of Glasnost, a raucous hard rock or metal band in Russia was sure to have a hard time. What with censorship and strict and imposing authorities, Aria was forced underground before it even started. The members endured annoyances that would sound alien to a western audience, such as their band name being disallowed on concert posters, their own record label trying to dump them, and no royalties to the artists thanks to the economical policies of the country at the time! This was to persist for years to come, their talents spreading only by word of mouth. In this strong debut, they perform Iron Maiden tinged mature heavy metal or hard rock with powerful anthemic melodies as only a passionate Russian could write, combined with strong metal or rock'n'roll guitars. The first element in the music that must be mentioned is the vocalist Kipelov. This man is definitely one of my favorite vocalists of all time, with an astounding range and a most powerful high vocal, putting most power metal vocalists and weak falsettos to shame. That doesn't mean that he screeches or annoys with a high pitch yell though, so don't run away. His favorite range is in a moderately high octave that he uses with power, depth and professional control. His true range and power will only appear in later albums though, he is quite restrained on this album. The music too is restrained relative to their other albums, and is at times easier classified as hard rock rather than metal. But the melodies are strong and very memorable and the compositions are dynamic, mature, tight and interesting. Their notorious Iron Maiden copycat tendencies aren't as predominant here either although they do show up on some tracks. Standouts include the 8 minute epic and magnificent 'Volunteer' and the sad and non-cheesy ballad 'Dreams'. The last track is the only weak point, with a cheesy primitive glam metal sound, but otherwise, this album comes highly recommended to heavy metal fans. Do check out their later superior albums first though, as the vocalist, guitar player, production, and compositions all improve greatly over the years.
Whom Are You With?(Moroz - 1986)
With more than their own share of scandals, destruction and mayhem in hotel rooms and concerts a la typical heavy metal style, Aria had by then gained a name with underground fans yet were of course still scorned or suppressed by the rest of the country. Unfortunately, their sophomore release is a slight step down, with a couple of cheesy songs that sound like a blend of AC/DC and Iron Maiden, and about 2 or 3 straightforwardly enjoyable heavy metal songs that aren't as memorable as before. The rest however are very good, although half are instantly recognized as Maiden rip-offs with one even blatantly titled 'Icarus'. What makes the Maiden copies good and original sounding though is Kipelov, who lends the music a whole new dimension and sound with his vocals. Instrumentally, the delivery ranges from acceptable to very good. One standout is the irrepressibly sad and haunting ballad 'Without You'. So to summarize, this is again melodic heavy metal or hard rock with heavy Iron Maiden elements. The music is still relatively restrained as before and even less mature than the debut but the good songs still make this a worthwhile purchase for Aria fans. A short album with a mixed bag of tracks so check this out last.
Hero of Asphalt(Moroz - 1987)
The album starts with the sound of a scratched record featuring a female soprano singing a classic aria. The sound then comes crashing down and the music erupts into a furious metal frenzy. This is quite ironic because there was a huge line-up change previous to this release due to musical differences, and the members leaving were complaining that they wanted to play a heavier thrash metal style. In any case, this album marks a profound change and improvement in style, and Aria here goes for the throat with pure heavy/thrash metal aggressiveness and speed. The Iron Maiden element is now dominant however, but that's not necessarily bad since they take this style, mix it with their own touches and play it with such gusto and talent that they even surpass Maiden at times. Add to this the stupendous vocalist Kipelov who has increased his power and lets it rip with a clear, high but deep voice that he brings up from his guts. There are no less than 3 epic 7-8 minute tracks here that to me either rank up there with the best Maiden has done or even surpasses them thanks to the vocals, the inherent passion in the delivery and long dynamic and energetic compositions. Even the rest of the tracks are generous with power and melody with nary a weak song among them. This has got to be the most unknown metal 'classic' ever (in my mind anyways) and is a must buy. Just don't forget that the lyrics are in Russian but for me that is only a plus since Russian is such a rich and strong sounding language. In any case it definitely beats foreign vocalists that sing in English with a lame accent.
Play With Fire(Moroz - 1989)
Another minor lineup change and more problems in the form of a manager who stopped believing in them, but the music stayed the same. In other words, this is more high quality Iron Maiden cloning with a slight increase in power, complexity and maturity. Again, and some may crucify me for this blasphemy, I believe they surpass Maiden often here. The riffs and arrangements are often so blatantly ripped off however, that it's hard to give them credit for being so good. Kipelov keeps 'roaring' out his passionate high and clear vocals - possibly the only high vocals that one could apply the word 'roar' to. Holstinin keeps getting better and better with his guitar and cranks out many very impressive guitar solos as before and his compositions are masterfully passionate and dynamic. Standouts: the aggressive ballad (for lack of a better description) "Tempation", the epic 9 minute title track and what the hell, all the rest of the tracks too except for the last one that lets a touch of cheese creep in. Buy this or die.
Blood for Blood(Moroz - 1991)
This time around, there is more use of acoustic guitars and only one epic 8 minute song. More importantly however there is slightly less ripping off of Iron Maiden, making this relatively a more original-sounding album. The music is still top notch thankfully and all the greatness of the previous album is present here as well. Generally though, this is still described as powerful, passionate heavy/thrash metal with a dominant Iron Maiden influence. Everyone is in top form and all the tracks are good. Very recommended, especially considering the fact that Iron Maiden were already on their downard slope during this time.
Night is Shorter Than Day(Moroz - 1995)
This album was almost never released after Aria lost their frontman Kipelov temporarily and other members permanently. Thankfully Kipelov returned however and they found a replacement guitar player to release this last slab of classic metal. Aria took a step down in aggressiveness, now copying Maiden's more subdued recent sound and even copying their booklet design! There are plenty of their own touches and arrangements though - they basically use Maiden style riffs as a base but make the overall sound their own thanks to original melodic refrains and very unique and magnificent vocals. Speaking of vocals, Kipelov is still in great form but he uses a more roughened voice often this time around. The tracks vary in sound, from mediocre heavy metal numbers to gripping, enjoyable Maiden tributes to good Ozzy metal. It reminds me of Maiden's Fear of the Dark album in more ways than one in the sense that it consists of a bunch of inferior but still good slower tracks than before, a couple of great ripping, fast ones and one classic vast epic. This last epic track is worth the price alone - probably their best eargasmic grandiose song to date. Finally, a step up in production sound quality, a step down overall, but still recommended.
Made in Russia(Moroz - 1996)
A double live album, and their first official live release since they formed over a decade ago. It also marks the final point in their career before it all broke down and went to hell. The whole band is in quite good form here, with a strong Kipelov at the helm, and precise, energetic musicianship backing him up, somehow both less powerful but more energetic than studio recordings. The set-list is rich, featuring tracks from all of their previous albums, with an emphasis on the stronger releases, and the full tracklist from 'Night is Shorter Than Day'. Two long epic tracks close each CD 'Night is Shorter Than Day' and 'Ballad of Ancient Warrior'. The crowd-interaction is in Russian. In short, a very good live album, as far as live albums go.
Generator of Evil(Moroz - 1998)
After numerous strange side projects and musical explorations, Aria got back together to record a vastly different album. Mostly dropping the Iron Maiden act along with most semblancess to harder metal, the songs here evidently present a group of individuals tugging in different directions and exploring new sounds. Perhaps they are following Bruce Dickinson's new eclectic career rather than Iron Maiden... In any case, the sounds, even within a single track, vary from heavy-metal and NWOBHM, to a style I'd describe as AOR with metal guitars, but also used are various elements such as progressive rock, commercial rock/metal, and Russian folk. 'Deception' is the most Maiden-esque track and reminds us of past Aria classics, but even this tune suddenly switches briefly to hard rock. 'Behold!' is another standout and superb track with complex instrumentation even though it uses more modern sounds. Sunset is a folk-song-cum-ballad that isn't bad for what it is, but feels out of place. All this experimentation and variety makes it a very hard album to review and listen to as a whole, but the first and last impression is one of disappointment. There are about 3 great songs and 2 acceptable ones, but the rest are too simplistic and there are also a couple of cheesy rock songs. In over half of the tracks though, the instrumental breakdown, solo and development in the middle of the song is often masterful and fascinating and sounds like it was written by someone else. But that can't save the songs or the album which pales in comparison to their recent instant classics. Not a good one, but it has points of interest.
2000 and One Night(Moroz - 1999)
A strange release. Basically a compilation of mostly Aria ballads and two new ones, but all the old songs were re-recorded with vastly inferior vocals and more acoustic guitars. Kipelov actually sounds tired and uninspired and his voice, although still in fine form and under control, is barely used at half power. Perhaps the intention was to release a collection of ballads with a softer touch than before but even this doesn't make sense since they didn't soften the edges of most of the guitars and a couple of heavier songs were included as well. In any case, this was a huge waste of time and very perplexing. Avoid at all costs.
Chimera(Classic Company - 2001)
The deterioration continues, obviously not helped by the looming breakup and Kipelov constantly threatening to leave the band. 'Chimera', 'Burning Arrow' and the slower epic 'Calm' are the great metal tracks of old, but the rest are plodding heavy metal or soft rock that sounds like the whole band is tired, with Kipelov sounding shockingly apathetic and lackluster in his delivery. Even with some of these secondary compositions that show potential despite their routine sound, the band simply doesn't deliver the energy, making me feel like kicking their ass around the studio and confiscating their downers. Where's the powerful Aria sound? This isn't just mellowness and many more slower tracks than before, it actually sounds like they are depressed on some tracks! Even the 9-minute closer that promises another Aria epic fails to build towards the expected payoff and meanders when it should develop. After this dead album, I needed to listen to their earlier albums for a pick-me-up.
Searching for a New Victim(Classic Company - 2003)
Another double live album, this one recorded earlier in 2001 so it still featured Kipelov as the frontman. Unfortunately, Kipelov seems to have had a cold during this performance, and he sounds like it as well with a weak, broken and very restrained voice, ruining all of the power of the music and making this a very poor release indeed, despite the pretty good performance by the musicians and the fact that this is the last release with this line-up.
Baptism by Fire(Misteriya - 2003)
Kipelov breaks off along with the drummer and one guitarist, a painful breakup indeed that nobody would believe they could recover from, especially considering Kipelov's unique and immense talents. If Aria were considered Iron Maiden followers, then this breakup exceeds even Maiden's catastrophical one with Dickinson. But they left behind the song-writers who promptly hired three replacements and attacked the next album with renewed energy. The new vocalist is quite good actually, Artur Berkut from the Russian prog-rock band Autograph brings range and power and even has a similar timbre in the medium range as well as a slightly different husky lower range and a high-pitched yell, but doesn't have the raw flowing power of Kipelov (who does?) and tends to clip his operatics a bit too much. So with this in place, it all comes down to the music: Thankfully it is heavy, but unfortunately it is also infused with some generic-sounding heavy-metal and hard rock rather than the pure classicism and soaring NWOBHM of old. There is an attempt at regaining the energy of older releases with plenty of Maiden-esque tunes, except with the help of popular metal influences. The good 'Patriot' kicks off with the drum & scream opening of Priest's Painkiller, then switches between melodic heavy metal, to Aria classic NWOBHM, to a Judas Priest guitar solo, except that Berkut's clipped singing shows its limitations with this style. Berkut suddenly makes me think of Blaze Bayley even though Berkut is much better, and once again I realize the astounding parallels between Aria and Iron Maiden. Then the rest of the album strums along with one almost-great track after another, making you listen to the album several times to see if it grows on you. But the vocals, however good they are, keep making you wish for Kipelov, especially since the sound is still Aria. The compositions, too, are frequently good, sometimes weak but almost never great as well. Standouts include the yet another blatant Iron-Maiden-copy 'Baptism by Fire' that is good but doesn't quite justify its plagiarism and makes use of repetitive latter-day Maiden chanting anthems instead, the 9-minute Executioner which is also full of potential but doesn't really soar either, 'Your New World' which actually succeeds in its slightly modernized Maiden with good vocals, and the quite-good doomy ballad 'High Up There'. Overall, this is an above-average, flawed album and a valiant attempt at a comeback that is worth checking out, but it pales in comparison to Aria classics.
Live Fire(Moroz - 2004)
A live album is where a new vocalist is really put to the test, because he has to sing old tracks and will be compared to death to his predecessor. Since nobody can compare to Kipelov, this one is, in theory, dead on arrival. In practice, Berkut sings quite well live and performs very well on many tracks, but, as expected, he can't compete with Kipelov. For me, one of the definitive, signature vocal deliveries by Kipelov is on 'Ballad of Ancient Warrior' when he lets out a high-pitched and rising operatic yell in full power, and Berkut doesn't even attempt this one, letting out three successive and clipped wails instead. The musicians aren't as tight either, and the very subtly out-of-sync guitar-playing that was barely noticable in 'Baptism by Fire' is much more evident here, and some of the more challenging guitar solos aren't even duplicated, replaced with more ordinary ones. Perhaps I am being unfair, and objectively speaking, these last two releases may be good albums, but Aria set the high standard themselves.
Armageddon(CD-Maximum - 2006)
As soon as the first track kicked off, I knew that Aria was back. Not that this is anything like 'Hero of Asphalt', and it actually almost belongs in a different genre, but the professionalism, energy and integrated sound is back. The genre is heavy-metal with slight leftover traces of Iron Maiden especially in the guitar solos, but the new influence here seems to be power-metal. There are some anthemic power choruses and the melody is ubiquitous and soaring this time, but not in a cheesy way, and combined with Aria's penchant for classical sounding heavy metal (as opposed to various forms of pop-metal), solid songwriting and superb guitar solos, this one is a winner. Even Berkut seems to have loosened up a bit, and although occasionally your ears still miss Kipelov, the slightly new sound helps you forget him and just enjoy Berkut's good voice. There are no weak tracks except the more generic-sounding 'Alien', and standouts include the superb opener 'The Last Sunset', the really catchy 'Messiah', the Black-Sabbath-esque riffing on 'The Viking', the good ballad 'Light of your Love', and the 9-minute powerful epic 'Blood of Kings' that deserves to be ranked with their best. A very good and strongly recommended album. And kudos for the impressive comeback! In the meantime, Kipelov, by the way, lost both original Aria guitarists and released his own CD with good but generic-sounding and mostly forgettable heavy metal. Aria seems to be the winner in this wasteful breakup.
Dance of Hell(CD-Maximum - 2007)
Another double-live album, this one providing more recent material for Berkut to focus on, and the first CD contains only Berkut material. The second goes further back in their catalog for some great classics. As expected, Berkut and the latest lineup all do better with the recent stuff, but they are all working hard throughout the concert. Berkut even tries the full 'Ballad of Ancient Warrior' challenge but strains himself. In general, it's all pretty good for a live album including the set-list and performances, but I can't say that there is something extraordinary that marks this as a great instance.
Hero Of Asphalt 20 Years(CD-Maximum - 2008)
And yet another double live album. I suppose it celebrates their classic 'Hero Of Asphalt' but there really was no compelling reason for this one. The set-list focuses mostly on, you guessed it, the full track-list off 'Hero Of Asphalt', as well as many other older songs with only a couple of recent tracks, which makes this different from the previous live release, but which also makes this one much more problematic and inferior. The reason for this is because the new lineup simply cannot perform the challenging old tunes with adequate skill and power. Some passages and vocal lines are even sloppy, and shows a musician or two and vocalist way out of their depth.
Phoenix(Coio 3 - 2011)
Both Aria and Kipelov take a 5-year break in between studio releases and then release a new one in the same year. But whereas Kipelov's 'rival' release attempts to experiment with a schizophrenic variety of styles (including power-metal and folk songs) and forgettable songwriting that over-uses keyboards, Aria sticks to traditional heavy metal and NWOBHM. This may a good thing depending on how you look at it, except that it greatly depends on the songwriters to keep things solid and memorably fresh. In addition, as soon as we get used to Berkut on vocals, he is replaced. This would be a bad sign, except that the previously unknown Mikhail Zhitnyakov is actually very good and is similar to Kipelov, bringing a fresh youthful energy to the album, as well as a unique vibrato on his voice that takes a bit getting used to. The album itself is roughly split into a pretty good first half, and a very weak second half. There are four good tracks: the dark 'Perfume The Story of a Murderer' with some Sabbath-esque segments, 'Fights Without Rules', 'Black Square', and the title track. The 8-minute 'Black Legend' is all over the place with varying quality, and the last four tracks are slow, forgettable and plodding. In short, a mixed bag and an average release for Aria, lacking enough great tracks for a recommendation.
Live in Studio(CD-Land Records - 2012)
Don't be misled by the word 'Live' in the title. With Mikhail Zhitnyakov at the vocals, Aria release this strange but mildly interesting experiment: A re-recording of old tracks from several Aria albums with the new vocalist attempting his own interpretations and reproduction of Kipelov. There are also some tracks from the Berkut era. The band seems to be invigorated with this fresh blood and play mostly faithful versions with solid competence. Zhitnyakov does a very good job on vocals with power and range and without flaws, but I would have liked to hear him on 'Ballad of Ancient Warrior'. It's not quite a compilation, nor is it a live album, a radical re-interpretation, or a release with new material, so take it for what it is. I found it good for a single listen only.