(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 which is unlike any of their subsequent releases, they perform mature heavy metal with a unique, grandiose and classic Russian sound, slightly tinged with Iron-Maiden, and perhaps some Judas Priest, some of the tracks being more hard rock with powerful anthemic melodies as only a passionate Russian could write, combined with strong metal or rock'n'roll guitars. Eventually, they would become known as the Russian Iron Maiden with many copycat elements, but here they sport a pretty unique sound and the Maiden influence isn't predominant although it does show up on some tracks. 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 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 generous power, depth, grit and professional control. His true range and power will only appear in later albums though, and he is relatively restrained on this album. The music too is restrained relative to their other albums, and is at times easier classified as heavy metal or hard rock rather than faster NOWBHM metal. But the melodies are strong, with a classic rather than commercial or derivative sound, and are very memorable and the compositions are dynamic, mature, tight and interesting. 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 very highly recommended to heavy metal fans. For those that know Russian and like to follow lyrics, Aria is famous for using a professional poet for all their songs, writing custom poetry (carefully fitting the lines to the songs Aria wrote replacing vocal placeholders). Ask any Russian about these lyrics and they will gush with praise. Their later albums starting from 'Hero of Asphalt' may be superior in terms of energy, vocals, guitar, production, and composition, but this one holds a special place on my shelf and in their repertoire with its unique and timeless sound.
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 now 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 step down, with a few cheesy songs that sound like a blend of AC/DC, Accept, Priest 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 some 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'. To summarize, this is again melodic and anthemic heavy metal or hard rock with a Russian flavor and increasing Iron Maiden elements. The music is still relatively restrained and slower as before but it is less mature and more commercial than the debut. The good songs still make this a worthwhile purchase for Aria fans, but it is definitely their weakest release from this period. 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. An absolute towering classic.
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) "Temptation", 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, making this another Aria classic. Generally, despite the changes, I would still describe this as powerful, fast, passionate heavy NOWBHM metal with a dominant Iron Maiden influence, with unique Russian touches. Everyone is in top form and all the tracks are great. Highly recommended, especially considering the fact that Iron Maiden were already on their downward 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 superb 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 genre, from lesser 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 relatively inferior but still good, relatively slower tracks, a couple of superb, 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, this CD features a step up in production sound quality, a small step down overall, but still solidly recommended metal with soaring Kipelov vocals and invigorating classic metal.
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. Keep in mind this also came during the chaos of the Soviet Union breakup, so the title has a special meaning in that context. 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 track list 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 and adds to the energy. In short, a really good live album, as far as live albums go. Also released on DVD.
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 semblances 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 difficult album to review and listen to as a whole, but the first and last impression is one of disappointment. There are about two good songs and four partially acceptable but not great ones ('Dirt', 'Deception' and 'Hermit', and perhaps 'Diabolical Heat') but the rest are too simplistic, some of them are also cheesy rock songs, and even the better songs don't have a classic (i.e. timeless) sound and are infused with some commercially-tinged elements that get in the way. 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. Unless you are into more commercially-tinged hard rock with a unique Russian flavor, I wouldn't classify this as a good release, generally lacking the timeless classic sound of yesteryear, and I am surprised by all the good reviews. But it is an interesting experiment nevertheless, with scattered strong moments.
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.
(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 from which nobody would believe they could recover, especially considering Kipelov's unique and immense talents. If Aria were considered Iron Maiden followers, then this breakup exceeds even Maiden's catastrophic 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 but with limitations and flaws: Artur Berkut from the Russian prog-rock band Autograph brings similar range and pitch, but less power, and he has a similar timbre in the medium-to-high range as well as a slightly different husky lower range, but has limitations and strains at the higher ranges compared to Kipelov and doesn't have his raw, generous, flowing power (who does?) and he tends to clip his operatics a bit too much. His voice is more 'professional' and detached than Kipelov whose every mood, personality and raw passion expressed itself in the very warm vocals, whereas Berkut is 'merely' a good professional voice. So with this lineup now in place, it all comes down to the music: Thankfully it is quite heavy and better than the last couple of releases that used too many commercial heavy metal elements. It is also seemingly influenced by some power metal, which adds a new kind of heaviness and melody to the sound. Unfortunately it is also infused with some generic-sounding heavy-metal rather than exclusively focusing on their classic Russian variation of NWOBHM. 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 than Blaze, and once again I realize the astounding parallels between Aria and Iron Maiden. Then the rest of the album strums along with one frustratingly 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 or someone with more soaring power, especially since the sound is still Aria. The compositions, too, are frequently good, sometimes weaker but almost never great as well, lacking some spark and drive. Standouts include the yet another blatant Iron-Maiden-copy 'Baptism by Fire' that is good but doesn't quite justify its plagiarism with new elements, and it makes use of repetitive latter-day Maiden chanting anthems instead. The 9-minute 'Executioner' is also full of epic potential but doesn't really soar either and Berkut seems to be straining here as well. 'Your New World' actually succeeds in its slightly modernized Maiden with good vocals but could be stronger, and there's an interesting doomy ballad 'High Up There'. The final two tracks are different-sounding interesting heavy-metal tracks with some clunkier sections. Overall, this is an above-average, flawed album that is close but not quite there, and a valiant attempt at a comeback that is worth checking out, but it pales in comparison to Aria classics. This album was remade and improved in 2020 with a new vocalist.
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 noticeable 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.
(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 lot, 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 the completely generic, slightly cheesy heavy-metal last track 'Your Day has Come'. Standouts include the superb opener 'The Last Sunset', the really catchy 'Messiah', the Black-Sabbath-esque riffing on 'The Viking', the not-bad 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 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. The primary reason for this release though, is the fact that Kipelov joined them as a guest and performed the whole of 'Hero Of Asphalt' live. Unfortunately he doesn't seem able to belt out those high notes as before, but it's good to hear him nevertheless and he has plenty of power in other pitches. And with such classic material too. Berkut and Kipelov also share vocal duties and even sing together at times for the last two tracks. The first CD is all Berkut though. As before, Berkut does pretty well in general but falters often and his endurance and consistency in a live setting seems to be a challenge, which is why they probably replaced him soon after this. The musicians are generally good here, with only scattered sloppier moments especially with some older challenging guitar lines. In general, this is not a great live album, but it is slightly above-average and fans that miss Kipelov may want to grab it.
(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 with a more mature and developed approach to composition. However, as soon as we get used to Berkut on vocals and he opens up nicely, 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 in terms of generous powerful vocals, bringing a fresh youthful energy to the album, as well as a unique vibrato on his voice that takes a bit getting used to. His pitch is slightly lower than Kipelov and Berkut, however, with an extra roughness, relatively speaking. He is a good, strong choice, and full of growth potential. The album itself, on the other hand, has two potential issues: One is that it is roughly split into a good first half, and a weak second half/third. The other is that the music, overall, is more laid-back and soft relatively speaking, lacking the soaring and aggressive power of previous releases. Like some later Iron Maiden, there is more storytelling metal rather than aggression and power. Not that this is soft rock, and there is plenty of power left over, it's just not the headbanging eargasmic material of yesteryear. These two factors made me turn away from this album the first time around. But the first six tracks along with the superb new vocalist grew on me over time as I adjusted my expectations, and I now enjoy them much more, as long as I approach them for their musicality and don't expect another Hero of Asphalt to knock me off my chair. The first two tracks are classic Aria heavy metal with NWOBHM. Then comes the superb slow-building and dark 'Perfume The Story of a Murderer' with some Dio-era Sabbath-esque segments towards the end. 'Black Legend' is the eight-minute track that takes getting used to, and which offers pleasantly enjoyable music rather than an eargasmic epic, but its infusions of Spanish dance and neo-classical into heavy metal are very nicely done and even become addictive. Then come two more seven-minute tracks with good energy and interesting epic compositions, ending with the aforementioned final four tracks that are so plodding I skip them some of the time. Actually 'Distant Light' is theoretically a nice track, but it sounds like it's being played at half-speed. The other three tracks are similarly not bad, but they are slow and don't develop or build as one hopes, leaving a lackluster impression, especially when the four slow tracks are played back-to-back. In summary, this one grows on you as long as you approach it with adjusted expectations and just kick back and enjoy it for what it is. Even if you skip the last four tracks, there are 37 minutes of solidly-good heavy metal to enjoy here with enjoyable musicianship and a classic sound, and a superb vocalist. It's good in a mature-music way, as opposed to the aggressive sweep-you-off-your-feet old way; so don't expect the old powerful Aria, and give it some time.
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 very interesting experiment: A re-recording of old tracks from several Aria albums with the new vocalist attempting his own interpretations, allowing us to compare him to Kipelov. What a brave man! Then again, he would have to perform this live, so this is a good warm-up exercise. There are also some tracks from the Berkut era. The band seems to be invigorated with this fresh blood and play mostly faithful and energetic versions with solid competence, although there are some changes for the worse such as in the lackluster instrumental sections in 'Playing With Fire'. Zhitnyakov does a very good job on vocals with power and range and mostly without flaws, but even his impressive skills can't compare to Kipelov's endless power, and I would have liked to hear him on 'Ballad of Ancient Warrior'. He has a slightly lower vocal pitch, and a tiny bit more chest and subtle guttural in his vocal compare to Kipelov, and despite his impressive voice, he doesn't have Kipelov's virtuosity and abundance. Despite all these comparisons, I don't have any real complaints (except against Kipelov for leaving since evidently we need both Aria's music and Kipelov's vocals together) and I do enjoy his vocals. So, this album is 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 an experimental listen only.
In The Yellow Circle Of The Arena (live)
(Nikitin - 2012)
Aria's first live release with Zhitnyakov and it's a powerful one, proving their choice of vocalist many times over as he seems to really shine in a live setting with super endurance and power, performing even better than in the previous two studio releases. This double-album concert has a typical set-list for a live performance, favoring recent compositions and sampling individual songs from many albums in their long repertoire, but only going as far back as 'Hero Of Asphalt' and the earlier albums featuring Kipelov at his peak are barely touched (hmmm). Everyone plays with energy and skill on this one, and Zhitnyakov shines, and the sound is crystal clear and full of energy. So it's a very good live album, definitely their best since 'Made in Russia', but if you want a lot of their earlier material you will have to look elsewhere.
Through All Times
(M2BA - 2014)
In the past, Aria has frequently crossed the border between a more classic or NWOBHM sound to a sometimes cheesier heavy-metal or hard-rock/rock'n'roll anthems, but most of the time they added their own Russian influences and classical musical take to the sound, elevating the material and making it their own even when they were copying other bands. But when they wander too far into generic heavy-metal and hard-rock territory, the music suffers, such as on 'Whom Are You With' and 'Generator of Evil'. This second studio outing with Zhitnyakov on vocals, unfortunately, is one of those outings. This is much more Accept than Maiden. Another problem with this album is that they sound like they are trying to be different this time and experimenting with song-writing, but not always succeeding. I can frequently hear the NWOBHM riff they started with, which they altered to try to make it more 'interesting' this time with a more original or surprising development, and sometimes it works, other times it is a bit clunky, not fitting with the rest of the song's segments or losing its musicality or musical flow after being altered. They are not working within their comfort zone here, and while experimentation is a good thing, here it sometimes sounds forced and unnatural to my ears. And yet, despite all of the above, like Phoenix, this album grew on me after a few listens thanks to Aria's solid song-writing skills and their Russian sound that adds a classical and timeless element to even the most generic heavy metal, and especially thanks to their memorable, catchy and soaring vocal lines and superb powerful vocalists, as well as their gift for writing timeless and very musical instrumental sections in most of their songs. These factors definitely overcame the flaws of this album for me. Let's go through the songs in order from best to worst: The best tracks here are the soaring opening/title track and 'Attack of the Dead'. 'City' has some clunky fusion of genres, but it is interesting and contains many glorious musical and vocal moments in its epic length. 'Point of no Return' is a beautiful timeless ballad that grows on you very nicely. 'Call of the Abyss' is slower throughout its long length but is enjoyably epic with sad soaring vocals. 'Don't Go Crazy' grew on me and is fun heavy metal. The average 'Eclipse Time' and 'Angels of Heaven' contain more generic heavy metal which I generally don't enjoy, but even these two grew on me partially. 'Running Man' is Aria just having fun, it contains some cheesy heavy metal, but it builds nicely for a soaring second half with a superb instrumental section. That leaves only one song that completely failed to grow on me and it is as clunky as its title: 'Glare Of The Sun On The Water'. In summary, another grower, like Phoenix, with plenty of great tracks (although relatively less so than Phoenix). A flawed, but above-average good album, similar in this sense to 'Whom Are You With'.
Cauldron Of History - Live MMXV (live)
(Universal Music Russia - 2015)
A release for fans, recorded and streamed live over the internet from a brewery, with beer accompanying the concert, followed by an album release. The crowd is smaller, the energy is lower than their previous superb live 'Yellow Circle' album, and the sound is not as strong and well mixed, but the energy and good performances are still here. In addition, they seemed to have selected mostly tracks that were not covered by that album. Above-average and fun, but definitely check out 'Yellow Circle' first.
Classical Aria (live)
(M2BA - 2016)
As with many aging bands, Aria's numerous live releases seem to have gotten out of hand. The reason for this release, however, is that, like Metallica, they performed with an orchestra. I'm usually not a fan of these experiments, as the orchestra is typically simply tacked on for dramatic effect and nothing more, rather than being well integrated and contributing to the core music. This one is no exception, with the band being front and foremost, and the orchestra merely adding color, depth and dramatic effect to the music. Not that the music sounds bad in any way and it's definitely fun and strong thanks to the compositions, I just find it gimmicky rather than interestingly enhanced music. What these things need is a proper rewrite and transposition, but that would take a lot of work. The set-list they chose is interesting however, picking mostly epics and songs that have more orchestral potential to them. These include the Spanish 'Black Flag' (which sounds great here), 'Play with Fire', 'Blood for Blood' with its acoustic sections converted to orchestra, etc. Unsurprisingly, it's the quieter instrumental segments in their songs that benefit the most. If you enjoyed releases like the orchestral Metallica however, do check this one out. Also released on DVD.
30 Years! Anniversary Concert (live)
(M2BA - 2016)
The amount of live releases by Aria has become ridiculous, but this one has several good excuses: A 30 year anniversary, Kipelov guest-sings with them again as he did on their 20th Asphalt-anniversary, and they even brought in past band members for an all-out Aria-fest on five tracks with two vocalists, four guitarists, two bassists and two drummers! Musically this only adds depth to the sound rather than more dimensions, but visually, it's truly a joyful Aria fest, making the fans go wild. This time Kipelov has the young and powerful Zhitnyakov to contend with, but this is a friendly outing and I must say, somehow Kipelov, even though he doesn't have the same strength, range and precision as before, manages to outdo even Zhitnyakov often with the depth and quality of his vocals, proving himself untouchable once again. He even sings better than 10 years earlier on the 20th. But this is a joyous and friendly celebration of Aria, not a rivalry, and their interaction on stage is warm, generous and great fun. The sound is superb. The set-list focuses mostly on later tracks for the first CD, then on the classic 80s output for the second, with Kipelov singing solo, then duets. I'm not sure why they ignore their excellent debut album on all of these releases though (except Torero, but even Volunteer became neglected). A must-have for Aria fans. Also released on DVD.
Curse Of The Seas
(M2BA - 2018)
It's been four years since the last studio album, but this one has 75 minutes of music. By old standards this would be a double-album. 'Through All Times' was a move away from NWOBHM/power metal and towards Accept-style heavy metal with Russian coloring (especially in the vocals), as well as some experimentation and 'modern' sounds, and this one takes that a little further. Though Aria has never let go of their Maiden influence altogether and this shows on a few tracks here. It also features more slower-paced numbers, and more epics and longer songs, including their longest track ever: The 12-minute title track. But whereas the song-writing on the previous album was sometimes clunky, this one is more solid, composition and music wise. It's only a question of whether you enjoy this type of heavy metal or whether, like me, you prefer the more timeless and classic NWOBHM sound. Sometimes the music here rocks, but it pounds or plods, sometimes playfully and even progressively, often it meanders, but it doesn't gallop, build and soar like it used to. Zhitnyakov keeps getting even better at vocals, as expected, with great range and power, and he has filled Kipelov's massive boots very nicely (though 80s Kipelov at his peak is untouchable). As with their previous 'Through All Times', the songs grew on me despite their heavy infusions of Accept-style heavy metal, Aria always taking a generic heavy-metal riff and developing it into something more musically interesting and classic as the song progresses, especially in their always incomparable and superb instrumental sections. In other words, as they did in their Maiden years, they take a classic metal sound and add to it, and even improve on it. I still prefer their more aggressive Maiden-influenced early period, but they can't do the same thing forever obviously, and I am amazed at how Aria can always deliver solid, catchy, fun, musical and inspired heavy metal after so many decades with even the simplest sound. As with 'Phoenix', however, this album has a much stronger first half and a much weaker second half. Even the more mellow second half grew on me however just for its music. The final 12-minute track suffers from the same problem as later Iron Maiden albums, too much repetition, mellowness and not enough development for its length. But the riffs are still enjoyable. In summary, not Aria at their peak despite their musical progression here, but it is definitely another highly enjoyable album as only Aria can deliver, assuming you enjoy this style of metal.
Guest From The Realm Of Shadows (live)
(M2BA - 2019)
Not being a fan of their recent material, I didn't expect this live concert release to make an impression on me. Not that this is a bad album; The energy is vibrant, the musicianship is superb, Zhitnyakov is flawless and strong, the sound is clear, and the delivery is excellent. It's just the material that I have a problem with, so if you are a fan, do check this one out. But even 'Yellow Circle' with Zhitnyakov was stronger than this one. Of course, they include plenty of material from earlier releases as well as classics.
Baptism by Fire (Reloaded)
(M2BA - 2020)
The original 'Baptism by Fire' was recorded in a tumultuous period with a new, good-but-not-great-yet vocalist, and Aria as a band sounded understandably shaken, and also not quite over their recent musical experiments. But the material had potential and was almost-great. So this unusual idea of re-recording the material with the current line-up is actually a good one. I'm happy to say that this album fixes almost all the flaws of the original (all except the more generic heavy-metal sounds in the compositions): The sound production is better, the musicianship is not only cleaner, it is also full of increased energy, and Zhitnyakov has become a superb vocalist by this time, surpassing Berkut in many ways and fixing many of the weaker vocal moments with great power and control. The result is a very good album, and the good material has been salvaged successfully. They also added a softer melodic extra track to end the album with, which isn't bad and is pleasant enough. Recommended Russian-tinged heavy metal with NWOBHM elements.
Armageddon (Reloaded)
(M2BA - 2020)
This second remake, however, was unnecessary. 'Baptism by Fire' had many flaws that needed fixing due to the good material and problematic period in Aria's career; but 'Armageddon' featured Aria in good form and even Berkut had improved and delivered a very good vocal performance. In fact, listening to this, I actually prefer Berkut's vocals which were a little higher and cleaner and closer to Kipelov. Not that Zhitnyakov is bad here; quite the opposite. But the music, with its power-metal influence, not only sounds a little better with Berkut's cleaner pitch and timbre, the extra raw boost in production sound also hurts the music a little bit. To be fair, some tracks actually do sound slightly better here, but for the majority of the songs I find myself favoring the originals. The last track is replaced with an instrumental for some reason. This is a good album due to its material and vocalist, and like 'Live in Studio', it is an interesting listen, but unnecessary.
XX Years (live 2005)
(M2BA - 2021)
A strange retro-release for fans from the Berkut era. Now, I liked Berkut's vocals, but live, he is problematic and inconsistent. This release is no different. However, this album has a few unique aspects which motivated the release: First of all it is the proper 20-year anniversary concert ('Hero Of Asphalt 20 years' with Kipelov was released a few years later). It was also held up with legal issues which withheld the release until now. There were also many guests, much like the 30-year anniversary, not all of them musicians. Guests include Margarita Pushkina, the poet who has always been writing their lyrics. And also Kirill Pokrovsky who recently died and was their original keyboardist once upon a time. It also features a symphony orchestra, although this is only used judiciously on some of the tracks, so this is not the same as the 'Classical Aria' album. The orchestra also play a long overture before the concert. And finally, it features a surprising amount of early tracks from their first five albums, including two from the debut and one surprising appearance from 'Whom Are You With', and a 'Potpourri' track containing a medley of Aria music.

The Last Exit 1996-

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