Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.
Alright, this time around we’re moving ahead in time a bit, to the very fine year of 1985, where over in the USSR a band by the name of Aria was one of the first metal bands to emerge from Moscow. Megalomania (note: that’s the English translation of the album title, which is Мания Величия, or Mania Velichia) was the band’s debut, and it stands up wonderfully both as a period piece of ’85 metal in general, but also as a fascinating time capsule of what Moscow youth were rockin’ out to at the time.
Things start off promising with “This Is Fate” (just going with the English translations from this point on), the song a pretty rockin’ and rollickin’ romp through melodic trad metal, it definitely possessing a sort of isolated charm, and also possessing a rad chorus.
“Torero” follows that up with tons of dramatic melodies and a chorus very much of the times, and done very well. The production starts trying to get in the way a bit here, but even though it’s a touch muffled it really can’t hold Aria back. So far so good.
“Volunteer” is the band’s epic here, all eight-plus minutes of the song painting a picture of… the benefits of volunteerism? Not sure, but that’s some heroic guitar work kicking things off before a good slow-gallop tempo comes along, with powerful vocals and just a general sense of, yes, 1985 metal absolutely ruled. Love the melodic chorus and the general opening-for-Maiden vibe this song has. Excellent stuff.
Speaking of Maiden, the next song, “Tusks of Black Cliffs” (what now?), has some big-time Maiden worship going on, which is to be expected and which is kind of awesome. The instrumental/a capella/something interlude title track follows it up, showing the band quite adept at sequencing, giving the listener a nice break from the trad metal for some traditional… I have no idea what this is, but it’s cool.
“Life for Free” rocks the vocals hard, like a slightly reigned-in Bride (thank you, I’m here all week, because I have nowhere else to be), and “Dreams” is a slower, moody piece, not quite ballad but definitely “that song,” if you know what I mean. Doesn’t work as well as the rockers or the epic “Volunteer.”
Then there’s the song with the greatest title of 1985, album closer “America Is Behind.” The tune is an upbeat rocker, complete with cowbell powering the pre-chorus, filled with feelgood melodies that haven’t really popped up until this point on the album. Cool left-field closer here, Aria proving they are more than adept at a few different ’85 strains of metal on this fun and enjoyable album, which captures underground trad metal of the era wonderfully. Surprisingly, it transcends the Moscow angle and doesn’t come across as an isolated, charmingly naive rock album; rather, it sounds like any number of starry-eyed trad metal youngin’s from the era.
Aria’s Megalomania – The Decibel breakdown:
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Not at all.
Heaviness factor: It could very easily fit in on an early Metal Massacre compilation.
Obscura Triviuma: Legendary metal vocalist Udo Dirkschneider showed up in the band’s video for “Shtil,” from 2001’s Chimera (extra bit of trivia: some dudes from Rammstein have covered the same song.) See below for the Udo clip, which just happens to feature him driving a snowmobile.
Other albums: Tons. Aria are still active!
Related bands: Kipelov, Grand Courage, Master (no, not that Master), Autograph (no, not that Autograph)
Alright, fine, if you must: Nope. This is USSR metal. No drugs allowed.