As 2021 prepares to curl up into itself like the equally unwanted demonic Bald Mountain of Fantasia, the Iberian Machine known as the Lords of Black continues to hum away, producing some of the very best melodic metal with a flair for the progressive. In fact, it was only in the also-unwelcome year of 2020 that Lords of Black kicked off the alchemical trilogy with Alchemy of Souls Part 1. We enjoyed it, and are glad to see a sequel in such short order. Naturally, the question is whether the alchemists of Lords of Black can capture lightning in a bottle twice.
Well, before we can even consider questions of lead, gold, or the fusion of souls, the question of ingredients is thankfully put to rest. The band is intact since the previous record, led by guitarist-writer Tony Hernando, joined by vocal phenomenon Ronnie Romero. Dani Criado and Jo Nunez return to deliver rock-solid performances on bass and drums, respectively.
The album begins as a minute of instrumental miasma, synth and strings and effects, oscillating in some strange location between gypsy fiddle and the creation of the universe, before signature Hernando guitar riffs come crunching ominously out of the void, swirling left and right and all over, emerging from a phased flange fantasy-land. Only when the guitars become clear and defined does the first real track, “Maker of Nothingness,” come slamming into existence. Tony Hernando’s riffage remains as crushing as ever, and the mix is tight. When Ronnie joins the party, it’s remarkable how the disdain and loathing in his singing is absolutely palpable. When the vocals and melody build up into the titular vocals, Ronnie steadily increases in pitch and power, reminding us why Ritchie Blackmore called the young Chilean protégé a mix of Dio and Freddie. When Tony’s guitar solo takes over, his tone and technique are just stellar. Perhaps it was “The Tick” who coined the term “Sweevil,” for when something is equally sweet and evil, but that may be the only way to describe Tony’s leads, not only on this track but across the span of the album. His melodic structures and execution are absolutely evil, but his tone and emotive feel are as sweet as honey.
The second track (not including the instrumental opening prelude) is called “What’s Become of Us,” and is certainly one of the stronger contenders of the album. From the dark ominous opening of dissected minor chords, to the flanged first riff, to Ronnie’s exceptional vocals, to the isolated chugga riff following Ronnie’s opening, it’s clear in the first minute or two that the band have not removed their feet from the gas pedal since “Alchemy of Souls, Part I.” The chorus is archetypal prog metal, and Ronnie lets rip a healthy scream just before Tony goes ape with some tapping and a tasteful lead section. The following number, “Bound to You,” opens with some interesting alternating open note riffing before doing a fun hard left-right stereo pan effect and dropping some signature Euro power metal keys on us before Ronnie gets all ominous again. With its mid-tempo blast beats, the brief spoken-word interlude, and the ultra-melodic leads, this track keeps things interesting and does a good job maintaining the energy level of the album and the listener.
“Before That Time Can Come” has some interesting tricks to keep things interesting. The opening medium-high-gain guitar riff is deceptively simple, but it actually paves the way for some lovely isolated piano, which is soon joined by Ronnie, who invokes a level of reduced power which is somewhat more balladic than his usual over-the-top gritty delivery. By the time guitars, drums and bass rejoin the composition, the tempo and the mood are a bit more dark and introspective, like something from later Criss Oliva era Savatage. Like virtually every LoB track, this one gets a lead from Tony around 50% to 60% into the track, but what’s inspiring is that every one has a unique character, and he always keeps them fairly unique, which is very welcome. On albums where there is a guitar solo on every track, you’d better keep it fresh and bring your “A Game” every time.
As Paul “Muad’dib” Atreides teaches us on his way to the planet Arrakis, “Fear is the Mind Killer.” Ronnie Romero also imparts this wisdom derived from the movie which is Star Wars for Tool fans. The track is heavy handed, lumbering and thundering away like a sand worm, delivering some cool layers of vocals, woven with an interplay between synth keyboards and piano. As with previous tracks, Tony remains inventive with his guitar leads, walking the line between the pyrotechnic and the soulful. “Death Dealer” picks the pace back up, and layers heavy relentless riffing with a variety of interesting keyboard textures, before going into a nicely multi-tracked lead section.
“Prayers Turned To Whispers” starts with either bass guitar with some unusual phaser/chorus effects, or guitar with an octave effect. Or maybe it’s a crazy lower-octave keyboard tone? Well, no matter what it is, it gives the album a funky detour from what almost becomes a little predictable. As a whole, the song is structurally a medium-tempo affair which gives Ronnie a nice platform for delivering big, rich, soaring vocals. Tony goes with the flow, delivering soaring guitar leads with perfect vibrato, reminding us why his lead guitar and Ronnie’s vocals make one of the best such pairings since Perry and Schon.
“In a Different Light,” gets creative with tempo, time signature, and drumming patterns, offering up something fresh and new. Even while Ronnie is singing his haunting verse structure, Jo is back there banging out innovative grooves on the floor toms. It’s some of the cooler such writing we have heard since Nick Menza was banging the living shit out of “Trust” in 1997. Speaking of such, “How Long Do I Have Now” comes right out with some weirdly staggered staccato almost syncopated rhythm guitar intertwined with piano and drums. This is a theme of the track, which while consistently heavy, frequently brings back piano in a nicely complementary fashion.
The penultimate track, “Fated to be Destroyed” is heavy as hell. No, it’s not doomy or sludgy or death-metal or any number of other edgelord genres, but as Euro power metal goes, it really knows how to chug along. Maybe it isn’t quite “The Mirror,” but kind of. You get the idea. Likewise, it might be the track where Ronnie pushes himself most on the album. Surprisingly, halfway in, the song becomes strictly acoustic, just clean guitars and Ronnie’s vocals in a tender duet. Of course, after a minute of that, the guitars, drums and bass resume trying to wreck your speakers. The album then draws to a close with “No Hero is Homeless,” which opens up with the same clean guitar sound we just heard during the interlude of the prior track, before getting all “Master of Puppets” on us. After a bit of heavy riffing and some verses by Ronnie, the drumming goes into berserk blast-beats while the chorus is delivered. Upon the completion of the first chorus, the song goes right back into crazy riffing. This one seems to have all the hallmarks of a live crowd-pleaser, just bursting with intensity and raw energy, and Tony’s leads are no exception. It might be the busiest solo of the album, and yet it still finds the time for a musically-pleasing multi-track slow and emotional exchange.
It is inherently impossible to review something called “Alchemy of Souls, Part I” in 2020, and then review “Part II” in 2021 without going back to the prequel for a point of reference. Heck, it’s still fresh our memory, we only really had to go back to the first album once for a refresher. At this point, with the same band lineup intact, and the overall sound (blessedly) still in place, it becomes a simple matter of comparing the previous work to the new. While the album is very similar to its predecessor, it does in fact seem to stretch the creativity, the variety, and the comfort zones just enough to inch out “Alchemy of Souls, Part I” in our album scoring. The musicianship, the singing, the songs, the mix, remain great just like the previous album, but considering Tony and company seemed to really try hard to top the previous album, and it shows, we definitely feel comfortable awarding a little extra originality this time around. Well done Lords of Black, we look forward to Volume III. In the meantime, definitely do yourself a favor and check this album out, especially if you listened to “Alchemy of Souls, Part I.“ The new volume should be hitting stores right now.
Released By: Frontiers Music Srl
Release Date: October 15th, 2021
Genre: Progresive / Power Metal
- Ronnie Romero / Vocals
- Tony Hernando / Guitars
- Dani Criado / Bass
- Jo Nunez / Drums
“Alchemy of Souls, Part II” Track-Listing:
- Prelude (Alchimia Confessio 1458 A.D.)
- Maker of Nothingness
- What’s Become of Us
- Bound to You
- Before That Time Can Come
- Mind Killer
- Death Dealer
- Prayers Turned to Whispers
- In A Different Light
- How Long Do I Have Now
- Fated to Be Destroyed
- No Hero Is Homeless
- Sympathy (Uriah Heep cover)
Lords of Black have outdone themselves with Alchemy II, surpassing their previous work. From Tony Hernando’s blistering lead and rhythm guitar work, to Ronnie Romero’s colossal vocals, they have set a new gold standard. If they can keep this up, if there's a "Volume III" should be quite the record