Released By: Massacre Records
Release Date: February 12th, 2021
Genre: Power Metal
Gus Monsanto – Vocals
Torsten Wolf – Guitars
Volker Trost – Guitars
André Hort – Bass
Dirk Liehm – Keyboards
Apostolos Zaios – Drums
1. The Grimoire
2. Disappear in Dark Shadows
3. Vain Endeavor
6. We Are Legion (Gus Version)
7. Cruel Fantasy
8. Pray for Salvation (Orchestral Version)
1. Lord of Earth and Heavens Heir (Edit Version)
2. The Dragons Lair
3. Defenders of the Crown
4. Border Raid in Lions March
5. Gladiator of Rome (Part 1)
6. Gladiator of Rome (Part 2)
7. Wasted Years
8. The Chosen One
9. Dark Knight
10. Thieves of the Night
11. Rise or Fall
12. Thrice Blessed
13. Lucifer’s Waltz
It’s becoming more and more common for a band to release a compilation album packaged with bits of new or previously unreleased material to keep longtime fans enticed. Usually, I’m not too interested in standard compilation albums, because I can easily just throw on any of a band’s previous releases if I want to hear a particular favorite, but this type of release holds extra interest, by offering up material that may be hard or impossible to find anywhere else, while still serving as a great introduction for new fans, by bringing a bunch of classic material together in one package. The latest band to do this is German power metal band Human Fortress, who have released six full length albums, plus one EP in their 24 years of existence. They’re an interesting band, in that longtime fans generally tend to agree on one particular favorite (the band’s second album, Defenders of the Crown), but aside from the much loathed follow up Eternal Empire, most of the band’s releases have been fairly well received, with their last three in particular all being consistently solid, if not as strong as Defenders. Coming 14 months after their last full length album, Reign of Gold, Epic Tales & Untold Stories serves as both a nice compilation, and a tease of what new material from the band could sound like.
As far as what to expect from Epic Tales & Untold Stories, it is broken up into two discs, with the first disc featuring all new, previously unreleased or rare material, while the second disc is essentially a Greatest Hits compilation, featuring many of the band’s best tracks. I’ll be giving special attention to the first disc, since I was already familiar with all the older tracks, before, but I will briefly break down the second disc, for folks unfamiliar with the band, as well as to give existing fans an idea of what to expect.
I’ll start off with disc 1, which I find to be not as strong, overall, though it still has some great tracks. For those unfamiliar with the band, Human Fortress started off as an epic power metal band, with their first two albums being largely mid paced and a bit subdued in terms of tempo, compared to many other bands in their genre, with the focus being more on epic melodies and choruses. Their newer material has often been a bit heavier and faster paced, while still maintaining elements of their older sound, often times being pretty epic, and having light elements of folk and symphonic metal, just like their first two albums. The new material here feels closer to their older material, being a bit laid back and on the lighter side, though I find it’s not quite as epic or melodically impressive, especially compared to Defenders of the Crown, though it’s still very enjoyable.
Opening up the first disc is “The Grimoire”, a mid paced track, very much in line with their early material, led by some very light, melodic guitar work, with some nice acoustic parts during the opening, giving way to a slightly heavier, though still fairly tame chorus. It’s simple, but quite epic and catchy, and while not on par with the band’s best work, it’s a great track, overall, and one of the best on this disc. Next is “Disappear in Dark Shadows”, a more modern sounding track, very much in line with their last three albums. The verses have traces of heavy guitar work, while the chorus is very light and melodic, almost falling into arena rock territory, while being extremely fun and catchy. It’s not a personal favorite, but it’s a solid track, and that chorus is the definite highlight.
The most upbeat track on disc 1 is “Vain Endeavor”, a track which never fully speeds up, but moves at a slightly faster than average pace throughout, with a lead riff that reminds me of a couple tracks from Defenders, while the verses are quite fun, and the chorus is epic and catchy, like their best tracks. There’s a pretty heavy, intense instrumental section in the middle, which proves to be a highlight. Overall, the track is another personal favorite, out of the newer material. The weakest track is “Free”, a ballad, which has some nice symphonic arrangements, and the main melody is quite nice, but I find the track never fully takes off, feeling like it’s building up to something, but it just never fully reaches its potential. I also find vocalist Gus Monsanto (who took over vocal duties starting with the band’s fourth album, Raided Land) sounds a bit uninspired here, not using his full power, and not really fully engaging with the track, compared to normal.
Rounding out the newer material, we have “Fernweh”, a rather solid mid paced track, which moves at a nice pace during the chorus, though I find it lacks any real strong melodies to help make it a standout, and Monsanto again doesn’t quite sound his best. It’s a solid track, though, with a nice lead riff and fun verses. Two tracks later, “Cruel Fantasy” is one of the heavier tracks here, another fairly slow paced track, with heavy riffs during the verses and a nice melodic chorus, with strong vocals and melodies. It’s not quite as strong as “The Grimoire” or “Vain Endeavor”, but it’s another great track.
I saved two re-recorded tracks for last. One of those is an orchestral version of “Pray for Salvation”, which was already a fairly soft and slow track, found on Raided Land, and this version makes it even softer, being heavily carried by the orchestras and vocals. It was always a very good track, and this version is about on par with the original. Lastly, we have “We Are Legion”, which was originally a rare bonus track from Defenders of the Crown. This track is a real treat, because while the original version sounded very rough, about on par with a demo, this version is fully polished, with a much more powerful sound. It’s a very epic track, with an excellent use of symphonic and folk influences, and it very much feels in line with the album it originally came from, moving along at a decent pace, making use of folk instruments throughout, and while the guitar work is great, it’s the epic melodies and chorus that serve as the highlights, with Monsanto delivering a powerful, emotionally charged performance during the chorus, where he really gets to shine. It’s by far my favorite track on disc 1, and stands up strongly against much of the disc 2 material, so I’m glad the band decided to give it a second chance, to help it reach its full potential!
For longtime fans, disc 2 is essentially a way to have many of their favorites together in one place, as it’s essentially a Greatest Hits collection, taking material from the band’s first two albums, featuring original vocalist Jioti Parcharidis, as well as their three more recent albums, featuring Monsanto. Unsurprisingly, the much loathed Human Empire, featuring Carsten Frank, has been completely ignored here, as the majority of the band’s fan base wasn’t too pleased with it, to say the least. Otherwise, fans can expect a total of five tracks from the first two releases, and ten from the three most recent releases, with Raided Land in particular having four tracks represented (five, if you count the “Pray for Salvation” re-recording from disc 1.)
As far as favorites are concerned, anyone looking for a good idea of what to expect from the band should look no further than the likes of “Lord of Earth and Heavens Heir”, and “Defenders of the Crown”, the title tracks of the band’s first two albums, to get a good idea of what the band used to sound like, with both tracks fully showcasing their brand of epic, mid paced power metal to perfection. The latter in particular is an absolute masterpiece, and one of the highlights of the band’s career, as Parcharidis demonstrates just how capable he was of single-handedly making a song sound as epic as possible, while musically it’s already a very strong track ,and the vocals just help make it even better. Other strong slow to mid-paced tracks include “Border Raid in Lions March”, also from Defenders, Raided Land’s “Wasted Years“, an epic symphonic power metal track alternates wonderfully between slow and fast passages, “Dark Knight”, which has an absolutely incredible chorus, and “Thrice Blessed”, a darker, more subtle track from Thieves of the Night, with some heavy riffs and a nice use of symphonic arrangements.
On the speedier side, the biggest highlight is the two part “Gladiator of Rome”, with the original coming from Defenders, and the sequel coming from Raided Land. Both are super fast paced, heavy tracks, with excellent, similar sounding riffs, fast paced verses, and super catchy, epic choruses, where both Parcharidis and Monsanto sound absolutely fantastic. The second part in particular stands as my favorite track from the current era of the band, and is an absolutely spectacular track in its own right, with one of the best choruses and vocal performances I’ve ever heard on a power metal track. I was elated and blown away the first time I heard it, and over seven years later, I still love it just as much! Other faster paced tracks of note include “The Dragons Lair”, a very fun, heavy track from Lord of Earth and Heavens Heir, the title track of Thieves of the Night, which essentially sounds like a slightly less epic, but still awesome, version of the “Gladiator of Rome” tracks, “Rise or Fall”, a very epic, guitar driven track from the same album, and “Thunder” and “Surrender” from Reign of Gold. Out of those two, the former is a very solid track, while the latter is a personal favorite, alternating between slow, brutal verses, and an intense, speedy chorus where Monsanto is at his angriest, most intense and most powerful, to help elevate what would already have been a great track.
Overall, Epic Tales & Untold Stories is a nice release, serving both as a great place for Human Fortress fans to hear many of their favorite tracks in one place, as well as a nice introduction for new fans, to get an idea of how the band started, and how they’ve evolved, as well as a chance to hear some of their very best tracks. The new material isn’t quite as strong as the classics, but it’s all enjoyable, with one particular re-recording standing out as a personal favorite. Longtime fans and newcomers alike should find plenty to enjoy here, while waiting for the band to record a new album, likely sometime within the next two years, if previous release patterns hold up.
Written by: Travis Green
My Global Mind – Staff Writer
Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.