In 2014 the power metal act ARION released their debut album “Last Of Us,” which was an instant hit in the Finnish metal scene. The album was an updated version of the Finnish power metal we all have come to love over the years, reminiscing of acts like STRATOVARIUS and SONATA ARCTICA. In 2016 the band released two singles for their upcoming sophomore album to introduce us to their new singer Lassi Vääränen, but after a few bumps on the road, the band was only ready to release “Life Is Not Beautiful,” October 2018. Four years have passed since “Last Of Us” and it leaves me the question whether “Life Is Not Beautiful” is a worthy follow up for its predecessor?
“Life Is Not Beautiful” opens with a beautifully enchanting atmospheric intro track “The End Of The Fall.” Picking up where they left off. Literally, as the last track on “Last Of Us” was called “Watching You Fall.” Moreover, the last notes of the debut album, smoothly transition into “Life Is Not Beautiful.” Listening to both albums on a loop is possible and even recommendable! I really enjoy how the band revised the outro on the debut album and welcomed it with open arms into the sophomore album. It’s like the band is making us clear that this is where the story continues and we get introduced with that with “No One Stands In My Way.” A song that has been previously released before and an energetic and powerful start to the album.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. A new vocalist often causes a lot of different opinions, some people hate, some people love, but I personally think they made a good choice with Lassi Vääränen. His voice puts the power in power metal, but there are also moments on this album where we see another side of him. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The previously released singles all have been ones that stick around for a while longer in your head, “No One Stands In My Way” was like that as well. Very catchy, powerful, and somehow interestingly motivational.
Next up is one of ARION’s biggest hits “At The Break Of Dawn” featuring Elize Ryd of AMARANTHE. This is a song that has been playing a lot on Radio Rock and is also one of those songs that will make you bang your head and sing along loudly. Moreover, surprisingly Lassi’s voice blends in very beautifully with Elize’s voice. Personally, I actually think Elize thrives in a power metal environment and it’s a song like this where you can really tell how much of a good singer she really is. The song has everything that makes it a complete success, great riffs, atmospheric keyboards, an energetic chorus, and an epic guitar solo.
Finally, we are served with a brand new song “The Last Sacrifice.” This song specifically, reminds me of their debut album. With heroic guitar riffs, those beautiful harmonies between the vocals and backing vocals, epic solo work, and enchanting orchestrations. This is a classic ARION track.
“Through Your Falling Tears” allows the first break in the album. The beautiful ballad shows a different side of Lassi’s vocals and proves that his clean vocals are outstanding. The ballad inserts some time for breathing before what I still believe is my favorite track of the album “Unforgivable.” This song has been in my playlist for a while now and whenever it pops up, I get equally excited. In an environment like this Vääränen shines with great power and energy. “Unforgivable” is a multi-layered song, that really has that big sound. There is a lot to the song, subtle keyboards that create a perfect atmosphere, catchy riffs, and excellent rhythms. “Unforgivable” is the whole package that shows the talent of the band as a whole.
Latest single “Punish You” follows up the energy that awoke us in “Unforgivable.” It might be the most aggressive track that ARION has ever released. I specifically like the drum parts in this song, which take it to a new level, especially in the intro and the verses. This heavier style is definitely something the band should potentially explore more in the future.
“Life Is Not Beautiful” continues in the same style. A bit heavier and more aggressive, but it contains the heart and soul of the debut album and the same catchiness that many of these songs on the new album offer. I understand why this song was chosen as the title track. “Life Is Not Beautiful” is the longest track on the album, the first part of it is very powerful, gets interrupted by a strong and powerful, heavy-ass riff and goes through a rhythmic change, continues smoothly with acoustic guitars, building up towards, a compelling guitar solo, of course, before it bursts out in the chorus again. With its structure and length, the song is perhaps the most complex one on the album, but it has been done masterfully.
When I thought I couldn’t get more surprised, I was wrong. The album ends with the emotional ballad “Last One Falls,” which leaves me only with one question: Lassi, is this you? We are introduced to a completely new side of the vocals. His voice is deep, warm and melancholic at the same time, reminding me of Ville Valo. A bold choice to leave as the last song, but it totally works. Listening to the album for the first time, the song left me confused wondering what just had happened. The deep clean vocals go really well with the atmosphere that is being built up throughout the whole song. The song concludes a series of songs that feel like a battle, up until indeed the last one falls, where melancholy rules over the fields with a million bodies.
I’m left with a bunch of emotions. This album is so versatile and diverse. It shows us how the band has grown and matured more in their songwriting. “Life Is Not Beautiful” gave us some classic songs from the new generation of power metal. It also gave us some very catchy, hit songs and a lot of surprises.
In general, I was a bit worried we would be left with the 5 songs released and then some filler material. This, however, was not the case at all. All these songs are strong, masterfully crafted and refreshing, showing us that there is a new generation of power metal bands out there who will take over the torch one day.
If there is one thing, however, that I found a bit of a shame in the whole album is the vocal production in some of the tracks. Sometimes, most noticeably during the choruses, the vocals are buried behind a wall of keyboards and guitar riffs, for example in “No One Stands In My Way” or in “Life Is Not Beautiful.” What also is a bit unfortunate, is that more than half of the album was already released beforehand. Four years between an album is a lot of silence, so I get that the band also tried to hand their fans something new, but it makes the album feel like more of an EP.
These small things aside, I can really recommend “Life Is Not Beautiful” to anyone who likes power metal, but it doesn’t exclude other listeners to enjoy this album. There’s a little bit for everyone. Some of the songs are leaning more towards a poppy heavy metal drowning in catchiness, but the album also has two classic power metal songs and two beautiful ballads. Going back to my question if the album is a worthy follow up I can answer it with a definite yes.
1. The End Of The Fall
2. No One Stands In My Way
3. At The Break Of Dawn (ft. Elize Ryd)
4. The Last Sacrifice
5. Through Your Falling Tears
7. Punish You
8. Life Is Not Beautiful
9. Last One Falls
Lassi Vääränen – vocals
Iivo Kaipainen – guitars
Gege Velinov – bass
Arttu Vauhkonen – keyboards
Topias Kupiainen – drums