Attack – “Destinies Of War” (1989)

AttackAttack’s Destinies Of War is one of the great unsung masterpieces of eighties heavy metal!  This album was the high water mark for a German power metal project that (unfortunately) toiled in obscurity during their run in the eighties and nineties.  Attack was the brainchild of Ricky van Helden — the band’s composer, bassist, and singer (as well as producer, sometimes drummer, and sometimes guitarist).  Ricky van Helden was a master of many trades musically, and he was in possession of an amazing ear for rich, melodic heavy metal.  Destinies Of War was the third Attack album.  Any fan of Iron Maiden, classic-era Helloween, or Blind Guardian owes it to themselves to check out this record!

The reasons I love Destinies Of War are many.  First, this is a true “album” in the sense that it is paced and sequenced for maximum enjoyment when played from start to finish.  The guitar work is excellent.  The duo of Gerd Sossnierz and Chreddy Riepert dish out ripping solos as well as tons of great harmony parts.  While impressive, the guitar playing never gives way to excess.  The same is also true for van Helden’s vocals.  There is a certain restraint to Destinies Of War — a trait not always practiced by eighties metal bands.  Ricky’s singing is never over-the-top, as he opts instead for a tuneful and understated delivery (with a heavy German accent).  There are a few times, however, that van Helden unleashes a ferocious scream.  This feature is used sparingly — but to great effect!

Ricky and Attack produced Destinies Of War themselves.  They did an excellent job of balancing all the instruments while maximizing the power of the big melodic hooks to the fullest.  The background vocals were particularly well done.  The production has definitely withstood the test of time.

The lyrics of Destinies Of War are fantasy based.  Each song feeds into the fantasy — creating a mystical and medieval atmosphere.  My interpretation is that Destinies Of War is a loose concept album.  Things start off with the lightning fast Wonderland — a song in the style of Helloween that sets the scene in some far-off utopian land.  However, that tranquility is summarily destroyed in the sequence of songs that follow.  In numbers such as Back To Attack, You’re Not Free, and Live Or Die, evil invaders shatter the peace as they bring war upon the land.  Warriors clash with evil on the battlefield.  Swords and shields collide as the body count mounts.  Attack does an excellent job of mixing up the tempos during this stretch so that each song has its own personality.  They utilize a classic staple of “epic” Euro-power metal — the galloping rhythm — to heighten the story-telling and really draw the listener in to a completely different time and place.  The album reaches its climax on the seventh song — the epic Death Rider.  This nine-minute opus is probably my favorite Attack song of all time!  It builds ominously and slowly, but eventually all hell breaks loose.  This is like Attack’s very own Hallowed Be Thy Name.  Listen for one of van Helden’s mighty screams around the five minute mark.  The mysterious “death riders” decimate the evil but the war has come with a terrible price.  The next two songs, The Last Surviving Man and Destiny Of War are more somber and reflective numbers.  They represent the aftermath of war.  This is where the original vinyl LP (released on ZYX Metallic label) comes to a close, however the CD version adds an extra track called In This Night.  I think In This Night makes for a better ending to the “story”.  Unlike the mournful Destiny Of War, In This Night finishes the album on an optimistic note.

Since its original German release in 1989, Destinies Of War as been re-issued a few times.  In the nineties it was released by van Helden’s own Iceland Records with a different cover.  At the same time Destinies Of War was released in Japan by the Victor label with yet another cover (and two bonus cuts).  In 2016, both Metalizer Records and Canometal Records re-issued Destinies Of War.  I hope these new re-issues will bring some much needed attention to this woefully underappreciated record!

I have been reviewing heavy metal albums from the eighties for several years here at “PLAY IT LOUD!”.  The ones I take the most pride in reviewing are the forgotten gems that have slipped through the cracks of time.  Indeed, the reason I really started “PLAY IT LOUD!” was to document my search for albums and bands such as these.  I feel like I’ve found some great stuff along the way from the likes of Wildfire, Waysted, Trance, Breaker, and of course, Attack.  These are the albums that bring me a lot of pleasure as a collector and fan, though that enjoyment is a little bittersweet because I know that these records never received their just due.  I’ve loved Destinies Of War since I first discovered it several years ago.  Maybe someone else will stumble across this review and listen to Destinies Of War as a result.  My hope is that they’ll find as much enjoyment in it as I have.  It is to albums such as Attack’s Destinies Of War that this site is sincerely dedicated!  My score: A+

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