Russian metal titans Aria have enjoyed near-legendary status in their homeland for nigh on twenty years; They’ve just completed that de rigeur Rockstar bauble for 2018 – the tour accompanied by a symphony orchestra – and now return to the serious matter of rocking in the studio…

On this, their thirteenth full-length studio release, Curse of the Seas, they cement their reputation as purveyors of solid, traditional heavy metal in the style of old Gods like Iron Maiden, Helloween and Blind Guardian. Vocalist Mikhail Jitnyakov again sings in his native tongue, making singalongs a bit difficult despite the fist banging nature of many of the choruses, but, this apart, it’s hard as a Western metalhead to find fault with anything presented here.

Apart from the sprawling nature of the record. It’s probably twenty minutes too long, but these men are Gods in the land of their birth and thus probably feel entitled to released whatever the hell they want. And who am I to argue? The first two tracks are Maidenesque gallopers; Race For Glory sounding like Di’Anno era Irons whilst Varyag is a more, proggy, considered take on the style. Both are excellent tracks.

Lucifer chugs nicely, feeding off of Priest and Accept influences, but then Hard To be God and the balladic Let it Be see the album drifiting a little, notwithstanding some nice Iommiesque riffage at the end of the latter from Vladimir Holstinin and Sergey Popov. Lust Run gets things on track again, loping along like a sleek, updated version of NWoBHM names like Angel Witch and Praying Mantis. Jitnyakov puts in a sterling performance here, sounding at times like Klaus Meine, but really the whole band give a great account of themselves, ramping up the drama with some great playing but also displaying a really firm grip on the skills of classic metal songwriting. Is it derivitive? A little. Is it good to listen to? Oh yes!

Next track Alive goes back to the prog side of things, giving off strong whiffs Wishbone Ash at the start before building slowly into an intense nine minute dark metal epic. Next up, Kill the Dragon is a song that has an almost Marilyn Manson feel to it, stomping neoglam riffage bolstered by rolling drum barrages courtesy of Maxim Udalov. It’s not particularly essential, certainly not among the best tracks here, but it’s also certainly not dire. More substantial perhaps is the excellent Smoke Without Fire, which moves through several distinct movements in it’s seven and three quarter minute duration and seems to be the most ‘Ariaesque’ track here, eschewing the usual mix of influences to actually bring something distinct and unique to the table. Penultimate track From Sunset to Sunrise, on the other hand, is a bit blustery and seems to lack any real punch or substance, which leaves the title track to round things out and hopefully end proceedings on a positive note.

Which it does. Curse of the Seas is another dark, sombre composition, almost a cousin to Maiden’s Ancient Mariner and Ghost of the Navigator; almost, but not quite, as the song doesn’t quite follow through on the epic promise of it’s framework. It’s pretty good, make no mistake, but it could have been perfect, given a little tinkering.

Still, like I say – what do I know. These blokes are seasoned professionals, and for the most part that fact shines through brightly on Curse of the Seas. This is heavy metal finished to a very high standard, and if the old school is your school then many delights reside within this album’s grooves.

Curse of the Seas is out now.