We metal fans are not above snobbery. We love our pedigrees as much as any blue-blood. When a new band comes along, we tend to look and see who the members may have played with in the past, hoping for an indicator of quality before we ever hear a note. Seeing a familiar old name attached to a project makes us feel better about getting involved with yet another new band, even if it does tip the scales before our brains are ready to make an informed decision.
What we miss out on, inevitably, is that pedigrees rarely amount to much. Ashes Of Ares is a fine example of what I'm talking about. Boasting former members of modern luminaries Nevermore and Iced Earth, they sound like they have everything in place to be a first-class ass-kicking metal machine. But it's only when we take a step back that the foolishness of our snap-judgments becomes evident. Ashes Of Ares boasts the singer of a band that was dominated by their guitarist, and the drummer of a band that was dominated by their singer and guitarist. Matt Barlow and Van Williams, despite appearing on some great records, were never the major creative forces in their former bands, so somehow using those albums as a basis for expecting greatness is utter insanity.
Ashes Of Ares is neither Iced Earth nor Nevermore, though it bears hallmarks of both. Barlow's voice is unmistakeable, so those comparisons can't be avoided. In a curious decision, the album opens with a minute of unaccompanied vocal swells, then another minute of drum buildups. The song is already testing my patience when it kicks into gear, and then more questions fill my head.
I don't need perfection from the music I listen to, but I wonder how a band with such veterans can put out an album that sounds like this. The guitars are buzzy and harsh, the drums are plastic and too far in front of the mix, and the whole production lacks any clarity. It sounds like it was recorded ten years ago, and I don't mean that in a nostalgic way.
Leaving that issue aside, the biggest problem Ashes Of Ares has is that the songs just aren't there. Iced Earth and Nevermore were largely guitar showcases, and the riffing throughout this album is solid, but never spectacular. It's meat and potatoes heavy metal, which is fine if the other elements can lift the songs up. Barlow isn't able to do this. His voice sounds unchanged from his days in Iced Earth, but he gives himself little to work with. His melodies are stiff, simple, and rarely offer the kind of sing-along glory his overwrought performance beckons for.
Song after song passes by, and there is nary a hook to be heard. It's as though someone had found a template of what heavy metal is supposed to be, traced it out ten times, and figured that was good enough. Barlow, despite my apathy towards his voice, is capable of singing great songs. He doesn't get the chance to do that here, as the entire album disappoints on practically every level.
When you read the credits and see who is behind this album, and where they came from, you expect a certain level of quality. But after listening to “Ashes Of Ares”, it's clear that these musicians are fine at what they do, but they need better songwriters to work off of, because they aren't capable of greatness on their own.