Astral Doors – Worship or Die (Metalville Records)

Wednesday, 1st May 2019
Rating: 7.5/10

Many hard rock and metal musicians cut their teeth on some form of Rainbow or Black Sabbath records. It’s inevitable given the impact of the discographies of both bands – as the younger players keep that style of metal alive and kicking. Case in point being Astral Doors – together since 2002 and now onto their ninth studio record for Worship or Die. Featuring the Dio-esque bard-like charm of Nils Patrik Johannson helming the microphone, two-thirds of the sextet remain in tact from inception, with the latest member guitarist Mats Gesar entering the fold five years ago. As such, you never really expect much variance in the formula – these twelve songs traversing a melodic heavy/power metal landscape full of energetic anthems plus the occasional epic track, determined to seep deep into your psyche if the above-mentioned acts rock your world.

The lyrical content shifts through history, religion, terrorism, and what the future may hold for mankind – tackling Russian magical/mystical fare for “St. Petersburg” while hitting some Sabaton-like keyboard pomp and circumstance as the band tackles mind over matter for “Concrete Heart”. As musicians Astral Doors understand the need for atmosphere and ambiance to set up many of the longer songs – the haunting background vocals and marching strains that open “Marathon” lead to this catchy rhythm guitar template and groove-laden tempo that should elevate most listeners as it gallops in resplendent glory, the organ providing that Rainbow/Deep Purple-like affinity. Guitarists Joachim Nordlund and Mats Gesar set their axes ablaze through divebombs, tapping and fleet of finger lead breaks throughout – some of their best work occurring on the power effort “Triumph & Superiority”, which carries many European power aesthetics for the chorus and uplifting main musical sequences. Tony Martin-era Sabbath comes into focus for the slower “Let the Fire Burn”, the main hook with organ parts and crunchy, doom-oriented guitars a template for drummer Johan Lindstedt to sit comfortably in a slower tempo with simple yet effect fill parts.

Considering Astral Doors impressed this scribe right away with the double shot salvo for Of the Son and the Father plus Evil Is Forever as their first two albums in 2003 and 2005, they’ve tried to occasionally add more modern or heavier touches but never eclipsed the magic of those early records. Worship or Die goes back to the more melodic days and songs of the group – adequately satisfying those already indoctrinated into the coven. You can’t help but wonder what hologram RJD would think though if he could check out this album today – like a rainbow in the dark.

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