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ALBUM REVIEW: Marko Hietala – Pyre of the Black Heart

Marko Hietala 2020

Marko Hietala became known outside of his native Finland once joining symphonic metal titans Nightwish as their bassist and male singer back in 2001, while also fronting Tarot, his own heavy metal band prior to that. Once Nightwish ended their world tour of their latest album, 2015’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful, at the end of 2017, Hietala finally had some time to record his first solo album, released in 2019 in his native language of Finnish as Mustan sydämen rovio and using his birth name instead of the “Marco” the world had come to know. Now, almost a whole year later, the English version of his debut solo offering, Pyre of the Black Heart, is available for the masses to enjoy.

Describing its sound as “hard prog”, this album sees Hietala head towards new and unfamiliar directions. Those who only know him for his raspy yet booming vocals in Nightwish will be quite surprised when listening to this record. His vocal style hasn’t changed much, though he explores new sounds and songwriting styles in this ten-song package. Joining him on this musical journey are guitarist Tuomas Wäinölä, keyboardist Vili Ollila and drummer Anssi Nykänen, who are all very talented musicians, as is made clear on this record.

Opening the album is the first single released for the English version, Stones. Despite featuring acoustic guitars throughout the verses, its booming chorus sets it apart from other “softer” offerings. Star, Sand and Shadow is quite possibly the proggiest and most “’80s” sounding song, especially with its minute-long synthesiser intro, groovy verses and catchy chorus – the perfect candidate for concert opener. The heavily folk inspired Runner of the Railways, also the most recent single, sees Hietala adopt a heavy staccato vocal style during the verses – always a treat to hear him head on the “heavy” path.

The Finn’s bass playing is also given two standout moments throughout this release: first on Death March for Freedom, where his distorted bass rumbles alongside his signature raspy vocals and Ollila’s Hammond organ, and second on I Dream, with a clean bass intro chiming natural harmonics, deep spoken vocals towards the halfway mark, though not before turning into a bombastic ballad fitting of the bearded bassist’s pedigree.

Hietala‘s softer side comes out on a handful of tracks as well: the seven-minute long For You, filled to the brim with reverberated tones, both on the vocals and the guitars; the blues-inspired I Am the Way, replete with a great solo courtesy of Wäinölä; the acoustic wonder of Truth Shall Set You Free; and finally The Voice of My Father, one of the more introspective tracks of the album and also the second single for the English release.

One wouldn’t hear such songs when listening to Tarot and especially Nightwish, as they are too stylistically different from both of those bands’ identities, yet they all work really well as part of a solo release. The vocal performance is exemplary, something to be expected from Hietala, and the mixing and production are top-notch as well. All in all, what Pyre of the Black Heart does is prove that there is not much Marko Hietala can’t do, and we are all for it. To say it in Finnish only seems fitting: kiitos, Marko!

8.5/10

Standout Tracks: Runner of the Railways, Stones, The Voice of My Father, Dead God’s Son

For Fans Of: Nightwish, Tarot, Delain, Northern Kings

Written by: Florin Petrut

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