Album Review: Tarchon Fist – ‘Celebration’

…OK, so let me get the first comment out of the way: Celebration is a compilation record. The vast majority of the songs are taken from the band’s first 2 records, with only one new track (technically two, but I’ll get to that later). I appreciate the reason for putting out compilation albums is valid and the fact that every song has been re-recorded at least prevents it from being completely unnecessary, but, in the digital era, there’s not a huge amount of point to them any more unless there’s a lot of material on it that is either hard to find, never previously released or impossible to obtain legally now (in which case, putting them all onto one album is actually not a bad move, since it puts everything into one convenient package and is based on stuff that many fans will not have). This isn’t the case here, which already begs the question of just who this record is trying to appeal to.

However, I do have to review this album, so let’s approach it from the same viewpoint pretty much everyone reading this is: as someone who has never heard of the band before now and is picking up this record to try to get the basic idea behind them.

To get everyone on the same page with the band’s history, a quick summing up for you: Tarchon Fist are an Italian heavy metal band who formed in 2005 and have thus far released three studio albums and two compilation records (the first was 2011’s World of Fighters). The band have managed to hold on to their bassist, drummer and one of their guitarists since forming, but have had two vocalists (the first being Luigi Sangermano, who left the band in 2009 and is currently in Badmotorfinger, Sange:Main:Machine and Old Flame: their current vocalist is Mirco Ramondo, if you’re curious, although I can’t find any other details related to the guy’s previous performing history) and three guitarists (Lucio Martelli, who was with the band from 2005 to 2007 and is also known for being a former member of Sange:Main:Machine, and Federico Mengoli, who was with the band from 2007 to 2011 and is currently a member of Badmotorfinger: their current guitarist is Sergio Rizzo, who is also part of the band Berserker and a former member of Nasty Tendency). Of the original members of the band, the one who people are most likely to be familiar with is bassist Marco Pazzini, who is also part of the bands Relic, Basic Dreams and Angel of Anger, the latter of which is also what drummer Andrea Bernabeo is known for previously playing in. Probably the veteran of the band in terms of years would be guitarist Luciano Tattini, as he made his recording debut in 1986 with the band Rain, although he hasn’t been part of the band since Tarchon Fist formed. The band’s three records are their self-titled debut (released in 2008), Fighters (released in 2009) and Heavy Metal Black Force (released in 2013), all of which were previously released on the label My Graveyard Productions, a label founded in 2005 that mostly handles Italian metal bands, although they did also release Manilla Road’s 2008 album Voyager. This record has been released independently with support from (though not through) Pure Steel Publishing because the band and My Graveyard Productions split from each other (the claim is that it’s down to personal reasons, which seems a bit vague to me and leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but I’m not here to question that!), which means that this was probably intended as a celebratory release for the band’s now passed 10th year anniversary. Whether this is a good way to celebrate 10 years together is up for debate, but there’s a decent idea in it, at least, and re-recording the old songs with the current line up isn’t actually that bad an idea in theory, since it allows fans to compare the originals and the new recordings to see how far the band have come in the years since.

Of course, whether it works in practice is not a question I can answer (although, considering it still isn’t safe to mention Let There Be Blood around Exodus fans over seven years since it was released, not even in a “this isn’t THAT bad in and of itself” kind of way…). However, as an outsider to the band, this allows me to approach the record from the perspective of an audience which isn’t already familiar with the original recordings to see how it works out. And I have to say…I’m not impressed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the record and I have to give it credit for more than a few things, but, as a whole, this record just didn’t grab me and didn’t get me especially interested in listening to more of their stuff.

Cover TARCHON FIST_Celebration

Musically, the album sounds like a mix of old school heavy metal with some elements of power metal (Edguy stands out here, although that’s more due to Ramondo’s vocals bearing more than a slight resemblance to those of Tobias Sammet, albeit with a few more pronounced hints towards Bruce Dickinson), which basically means that the album wouldn’t have sounded too out of place had it been released in the late 80s/early 90s. There’s a few more modern influences which can be heard, but, for the most part, the record sounds like the product of a band older than it actually is, which is probably a good thing on paper if you’re an old school metal fan. However, the problem is that the songwriting, while not bad, doesn’t exactly hit the heights that such a comment would imply. Now, admittedly, the songs aren’t bad (they’re not badly written, at least) and, on repeated listens, they do definitely grow on you, but, even ignoring the production hampering the songs a bit (I’ll come to that later), I can’t help feeling that the songs failed to grab me properly. The problem is less that the record is bad and more that the record isn’t particularly great, if you get what I mean: on a technical level, nothing is wrong with the songwriting (and we’ll come to the performances in a second), but it doesn’t come together as a complete whole to make it especially worth listening to. I will admit that there are songs I do enjoy off this record (‘Eyes of Wolf’ has a fairly good chorus and ‘We Are The Legion’ is at least a fun listen), but none of them really stick with me after I’ve finished listening to them, which is problematic because it means that there’s no songs that I really WANT to listen to again in the future. I can definitely see why people would be happy to listen to this record, but it just didn’t do much for me personally.

The performances are where I can’t fault the band, as, while nobody is doing anything especially new, they definitely know how to play their instruments to the level expected of them in the genre and do so with obvious passion and love for their music. Ramondo’s vocals are pretty good as well, I’ll admit, as he’s able to hold some notes for a surprisingly long time and has a pretty good vocal range (his high note at the start of ‘It’s My World’ is pretty impressive!). There’s nothing really to complain about here, as the band are playing heavy metal and they do it well.

One of the things which I think REALLY hurts the record is the production. This is a case where I feel the songwriting is hampered by the production a bit, and the problem is quite odd on paper because it sounds like the sort of thing that would go over well with some people and the sort of thing that I’d normally be praising. The album goes for a deliberately retro style to the production, so it sounds quite convincingly like it could have come from the 80s (some coldness from the digital style notwithstanding), which SOUNDS good on paper, but, in practice, it means that the impact of the record is greatly diminished if you’re used to the sound of modern production and makes you appreciate that, for all the issues with it, there are things about modern production which really enhance the music better. I normally want to hear more quiet mastering and, in that regard, I have no complaints, but the guitar riffs lack the impact that they are clearly aiming for due to the production and Ramondo’s vocals can feel a bit lacking in the mix (in some cases, the backing vocals are as loud as he is!). It’s ironic, because the record sorts every major complaint I normally have with record production (the bass is very audible on the record, which is something I normally rag on records for not doing, and I think I’ve made my thoughts on mastering well know), but I’m actually wishing it HAD been mastered like a modern record because I feel that it would have actually made the record better!

I feel that I should also comment on the tracks unique to this album, ‘Celebration’ and ‘The Game is Over (Reprise)’. Honestly, neither of them struck me as anything that special in comparison to some of the songs on the rest of the record: ‘Celebration’ gets lost in the shuffle and doesn’t leave any real impact on me and the reprise is just 22 seconds that feels like something appropriate for closing a record off (or a live show, now I think on it) as opposed to being something really worth commenting on (and, if the time I’ve got for the original song is any indication, is actually just the last 22 seconds of the original song made into its own song, which feels like cheating a bit to me). I wouldn’t say that they’re completely worthless songs (…well. OK, maybe I might for ‘The Game is Over (Reprise)’), but they’re not strong enough to justify purchasing the album on their own.

So, overall, I think there are a lot of people who COULD like this record and I don’t think it’s fair to say that the record is bad, but it didn’t grab me personally due to flaws which I feel hamper the record quite seriously and the good aspects not being enough for me to feel like I really enjoyed the record. If you’re a fan of old school heavy metal and want to hear a new band who actually SOUND like an old band, then this is certainly a decent choice, and long time fans might get a kick out of it if you want to hear the current line up playing songs from their first two albums on a studio recording, but, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t feel I can really recommend this album to most people. It’s not a bad album and definitely has some good aspects to it which could make it a good listen if you like this sort of music, but I don’t think there’s enough good aspects to really make it recommendable to most people.

Celebration will be released independently on the 5th of February. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.