SKELETOON – The Curse Of The Avenger

Skeletoon_Curse of the AvengerTomi Fooler was once the vocalist with a Helloween tribute band. Realising the potential for self-written material, the almost laughably named Skeletoon set upon a quest to bring classic sounding power metal to the world. Never letting his love for that German band too far out of his sights, 2016’s ‘The Curse of the Avenger’ often sounds like the kind of album Helloween should have made instead of the fan-polarising ‘Chameleon’ in the early nineties, crossed with the better bits of Roland Grapow‘s Masterplan. It mightn’t come as a surprise, then, that Grapow has been enlisted for lead guitar duties throughout the album – and it’s mostly his presence, old hand that he is at this style, that gives the album it’s best musical moments.

Following an unexpected intro that’s absolutely chock full of 80s keyboards, not a million miles away from a soundtrack to a straight to video dystopia performed by Tangerine Dream, ‘Timelord’ explodes into a frenzy of eighties metal. The barrage of drums signifies Euro metal of the Edguy tradition – Henry Sidoti carries a huge presence behind the kit – and the cutting twin lead guitar is instantly classic, recalling the work of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith on Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son’. Moving into the verse, those drums never fade and the guitars drop into a heavy staccato to suit, with glimmers of the impressive sounds that powered the twin lead. The weak link is Tomi himself: throughout most of the track he belts in a full scale wail, the kind that would suit Helloween, but when going for the highest notes, he isn’t always the most tuneful. Strangely, though, it isn’t enough to spoil the track; especially when taking the guitar playing into consideration. Teaming up with Dimitri Meloni, the seasoned Grapow ensures this tune has plenty of style: the lead break is near faultless and during the closing bars, the sounds of the six-stringers going hell for leather captures the spirit of classic metal very well indeed. Taking similar guitar leads and coupling them to a thrash speed during the intro, ‘Heroes Don’t Complain’ gives Sidoti a ridiculous workout. The verses, thankfully owe more to the classic metal sounds of Helloween and touches of ‘Painkiller’ era Judas Priest, thus providing the perfect opportunity for Grapow to offer a couple of effortless solos. Given the pacey nature of the arrangement, Tomi ups his game and although is rather full-on, nails his performance. Rarely settling for anything less than a siren wail, his voice is that of a man whose clearly had extensive training to deliver long notes with ease. Almost as if Skeletoon have unearthed a buried time capsule, this is metal with a capital M and delivers most of their best musical ideas in one intense hit.

The title track is another terrific piece of retro metal. A twin vocal mixes a deeper style with the more expected falsetto wails – something which quickly sets this tune apart – while Grapow and Meloni seem to relish the opportunity to play in a slower, more chugging style. This allows more room for vibrato melodies and the expected twin lead; all very welcome. Those hoping for a bit more power in their metal get their wish, too, as half way through a reasonable chorus Sidoti wheels out the pneumatic pedals and the whole band launches into shreds-ville. ‘Hymn To The Moon’ brings some respite with a soft and almost folky workout. Capturing the guitarists playing against each other with acoustics in hand, their strong rhythms overlaid by rather nimble finger picked motifs and synth orchestrations, this is big, but in a very different way to the Skeletoon norm. All about those acoustics and a strong vocal line, it stops a little short of being overwrought, and while Grapow adds a full electric solo towards the end, it comes as a pleasant surprise when things come to a soft close, instead of the band shoe-horning in a few bars of power metal, as perhaps expected. ‘Joker’s Turn’, meanwhile, borrows the drum part from Judas Priest‘s ‘Living After Midnight’, couples it to a stodgy, deeper riff and allows bassist Charlie Dho a little time in the spotlight with a fat, throbbing tone. Pretty soon, the tune descends into Helloween-esque metal and a chorus that’s a touch faster. It seems a bit pedestrian in direct comparison with some of Skeletoon’s material, but for fans of all things Maiden-esque, it’ll have charm. There’s no bassline live from Aintree, but everything else is solid – particularly Grapow’s lead guitar break, but then, that was to be expected. ‘What I Want’ is another well-rounded example of Skeletoon’s core sound. More melodic than a few of the album’s tracks, this thunders like the best Masterplan material, but has a surprisingly catchy and melodic chorus that occasionally tips its hat to the Iron Maiden classic ‘The Prisoner’ (possibly by accident, possibly not). The quirky riffs that appear following each of those choruses show a humour that’s often missing elsewhere, while the occasional twin leads are as classic as ever. Tomi, meanwhile, puts in a more than commendable vocal performance, multi-tracked with a few harmonies for even more of a necessary melodic edge. In short, this is certainly one of the album’s best tracks.

Opening with something a little softer and a cleaner guitar sound all round, ‘Bad Lover’ allows Tom to drop his vocals into a breathier, more melodic style. In doing so, it becomes clear that he’s a man who values power over melody – in this quieter arrangement, his heavy accent is a little distracting – but, thankfully, it’s not too long before everything ramps up towards big riffs allowing him to tackle the lines at full pelt. As before, his huge wails and curls aren’t always among the more tuneful, but thankfully, once again, the guitar playing saves the day. Aside from a hugely punchy riff that reaches for the late 80s instead of being more than happy to rest in 1983, the lead work is superb; especially during the intro, where Grapow lifts everything with impeccable tones during his soaring lead. At the tail end of the track, as the whole band increase the volume and a heavy drum gives extra clout, a dirtier solo gives everything an enormous send off. Obviously, it would come across better with a superior vocalist – like Jorn Lande – in tow, but you can’t have it all. Going for the big finish, ‘Heavy Metal Dreamers’ puts the power in power metal with what feels like the thunder of a thousand bass drum pedals, the gusto of one of Jorn’s more outlandish performances, dusted off with Devin Townsend’s sense of the absurd. The speed is such that it could lead to breathlessness; the heaviness of the rhythm section so forceful it’s almost impossible to follow the vocal…while that vocal, bolstered with harmonies a plenty, captures Tomi in good form all round – clearly a man who spent his formative years studying Bruce Dickinson and some of the greats. Very much a case of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus-out, this packs the absolute essentials into approximately four minutes and shows the band in excellent form in terms of tightness, speed and general enthusiasm.

‘The Curse of the Avenger’ isn’t as theatrical as Avantasia, but can be as bombastic as some of the biggest Euro power metal, and so for those who like things gloriously – even shamelessly – old fashioned, Skeletoon more than fill a certain requirement with their general enormity. While Tomi’s voice isn’t always up there with the very best, the twin leads and solos are consistently impressive enough to ensure – in classic metal terms – the album has more than its share of high spots. Along with the feeling of nostalgia that so often carries this kind of metal to glory, fans of the style should find enough to sink their teeth into here.

March 2016