Ashes Of Ares – Well Of Souls – Album Review

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Artist: Ashes of Ares

Album Title: Well of Souls

Label: ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records

Date of Release: 9 November 2018

Tom Englund, Jonas Renkse, Silvio Massaro and Daniel Estrin. This is the inner circle of heavy metal vocalists as far as I’m concerned. But, I hear you cry, there’s a name missing here. And you’d be right, because as I listen to this very record and the back catalogue of Iced Earth, there is no getting away from the fact that Matt Barlow, one of the nicest, most genuine people in heavy metal, deserves a spot in this list. I adore his voice, which has an incredible range, from lung-busting high notes, to more sensitive restrained tones. But it is his rich, deep mid-range that I find most appealing and irresistible. Plus, at all times, you feel it. By that, I mean that you just know that Matt is putting everything into his performance, lacing the music with heart, soul and passion. It is an incredibly powerful combination and one that ensures that I will always pay attention when I see Matt’s name linked with any project.

It is because of my love for Matt’s voice that I am checking out ‘Well of Souls’, the sophomore release from Ashes of Ares. I must admit that I wasn’t overly enamoured with the debut and I’m not altogether sure I can put my finger on why, aside from the fact that it sounded just a little safe and unsurprising from my vantage point. Featuring the talents of Iced Earth’s Freddy Vidales on guitar and Van Williams (ex-Nevermore, Ghost Ship Octavius), perhaps I had expected more, I don’t know.

Again, Ashes of Ares features Matt Barlow behind the microphone, supported ably by the six-string work of Freddy Vidales. Van Williams has provided his drumming abilities again but is sadly no longer a full-time member due to his commitments elsewhere. There is also a guest appearance from Jonah Weingarten (Teramaze) who provides his skills within the intro to the opening track, ‘Consuming The Mana’.

However, despite broadly the same personnel this time around, the same criticisms cannot be levelled at album number two. I am delighted to report that whilst the expected core sound remains intact and looms large, ‘Well of Souls’ feels a little more varied and adventurous. You still get the heavy power-meets-thrash style of riffing, the compelling vocals of Matt Barlow and the muscular rhythms from Van Williams, which naturally combine to remind me of Iced Earth and others within this scene. But it doesn’t feel anywhere near as safe as the debut.

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When I say that ‘Well of Souls’ is more varied, I mean it. Within the twelve tracks on the album, we are treated to some seriously heavy and thunderous material, plenty of melodic, chorus-driven songs and a few occasions where the band explore much calmer, more ballad-like compositions. But where the heavy songs are concerned, there’s further variety in the pace and intensity on display as well as experimenting with other genres, injecting elements of doom and thrash to name just two apparent ingredients. There’s even room for a cover of the late Chris Cornel Track, ‘You Know My Name’, famous for being the song chosen to accompany the opening credits of the James Bond film, ‘Casino Royale’.

In terms of personal favourites on this record, I have to pick out ‘The Alien’, which benefits from a catchy-as-hell chorus and which features some classic Iced Earth-style rhythmic, picked riffs in between from Vidales, not to mention some superb bursts of pacey intensity. On the topic of catchy and memorable heavy metal, you could do a lot worse than check out ‘Time Traveller’ too. It has a truly epic feel to it, thanks to a relentless pace, some excellent lead guitar solos and one of the most memorable high-octane and melodic choruses anywhere on ‘Well Of Souls’. And then there’s ‘Into The Darkness’ which always makes me stop and listen intently when it emerges from within the pack.

The opening riff to ‘Sun Dragon’ is pure thrash attack, topped off by some incredible high-pitched wailing screams from Barlow, showing he has lost none of his power and ability in the years since leaving Iced Earth to become a Law Enforcement Officer. If he shouted at me to ‘halt in the name of the law’, I’d comply without hesitation!

‘Transcending’ is a monstrous, dramatic and heavy composition with the added theatricality of choral vocals for good measure. Speaking of drama, look no further than the intro to the opening track, ‘Consuming the Mana’, which is pure grandiose cinematic fodder courtesy of the aforementioned Jonah Weingarten of Teramaze. From there, the track rips a hole in your speakers with a forceful riff, urgent rhythmic interplay and a towering, assured performance from Matt Barlow.

Then there’s ‘God Of War’, which is an absolute stomping behemoth of grinding doom-like riffs, dark atmosphere and an altogether angrier, more confrontational vocal delivery which works with the song’s ominous intent perfectly. But true to form, there is just enough melody within it to make it stand out and beg for repeated spins.

I’ve yet to mention the other side of Ashes Of Ares, which is their softer, more sensitive side which manifests itself in a couple of slower, calmer ballads. The first is ‘Soul Searcher’ which begins with an almost whispered vocal delivery, gentle guitars and drums that get you swaying gently from side to side. The second is ‘Let All Despair’ which has more of a ‘Something Wicked…’ feel to it in that it balances the more introspective sounds with bursts of heavier power. To refer to this song as a ballad is a little misleading as it builds as it develops to the point where only the central melody -which is marvellous by the way – is recognisable from the opening section as the riffs are exclusively distorted and Matt Barlow lets out some impassioned screams along the way. It’s a classic slow-burner that eventually gets right under the skin.

There’s barely a weak moment to be heard on this record, regardless of the direction that Barlow and Vidales take from track to track. On the evidence of ‘Well Of Souls’, this is a dream partnership and one that I sincerely hope continues long into the future. I appreciate that both musicians have other commitments to juggle, but to deny the metal world more of this kind of quality music would be a travesty. But that’s a discussion for tomorrow; in the meantime, sit back, relax and enjoy the power and elegance of Ashes of Ares’ in full flight.

The Score of Much Metal: 9

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Veonity – Legend of the Starborn
Bloodbath – The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn
Nochnoy Dozor – Nochnoy Dozor EP
Vola – Applause of a Distant Crowd
Lost In Thought – Renascence
Into Eternity – The Sirens
Fifth Angel – The Third Secret
Ashes of my Memory – Raptures /// Disillusions EP
Anathema – Internal Landscapes
Samskaras – Lithification
Seventh Dimension – The Corrupted Lullaby
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
Witherfall – A Prelude To Sorrow
Northward – Northward
Seventh Wonder – Tiara
Warrel Dane – Shadow Work
Haken – Vector
Beyond Creation – Algorythm
Ultha – The Inextricable Wandering
Amaranthe – Helix
Ghost Ship Octavius – Delirium
Decembre Noir – Autumn Kings
The Odious Construct – Shrine of the Obscene
Fauna Timbre – Altering Echoes
The Moor – Jupiter’s Immigrants
Revocation – The Outer Ones
Riverside – Wasteland
Ethernity – The Human Race Extinction
Dynazty – Firesign
Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
Brainstorm – Midnight Ghost
Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned
Kingcrow – The Persistence
Cast The Stone – Empyrean Atrophy
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold
Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster
Madder Mortem – Marrow
A Dying Planet – Facing The Incurable
Árstíðir – Nivalis
Mob Rules – Beast Reborn
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex
Aethereus – Absentia
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

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