Recalling my review for Reformation, I clearly stated that Kiuas were beginning to refine their sound, becoming altogether more streamlined. On The New Dark Age Kiuas fully realize that, giving us their altogether strongest and fluent album. These guys have really found their feet amongst the metal scene, standing loud and proud above false pretenders to the throne. Striking the perfect balance between melody and aggression, Kiuas have managed to obtain a feat countrymen Children of Bodom, Kalmah and Norther have been striving to obtain their entire careers. Of course Kiuas fans will immediately be pushing the question as to whether The New Dark Age can match the greatness of debut The Spirit of Ukko or sophomore effort Reformation, and with a smile on my face I can tell you a simple yes, Kiuas have skyrocketed themselves to the Power Metal premier league, leaving many an act startled in their wake.
Kicking off the festivities "The Decaying Doctrine" smashes you in the face, thrashy riffage is the name of the game here, and with one of the catchier choruses these guys put to paper, you'll be singing this for weeks. Kiuas have really stepped up to the challenge on the chorus side of The New Dark Age; every song is nigh on a sing-along anthem, definitely one of the stronger sides of this album. "Conqueror" is quite possibly my favorite Kiuas track, which is a pretty bold statement but it strikes the perfect balance of some of their sickest, filthiest riffing ever and a fucking grade A chorus. A highlight as always, shredder Mikko Salovaara never fails to dazzle; just when you thought he couldn't get better he manages to step up his game yet again, a true guitar wizard. The previously mentioned "Conqueror" features some impressive guitar work, especially the build up part to the chorus. "Kiuas War Anthem" is a trademark Kiuas track, with all the usual recipes for greatness simmered to a perfect taste. The title track is fucking insane; I was absolutely floored by the ever impressive sticks work courtesy of Markku N�reneva, rolling across your speakers ascending into some wild blast-beats. The guitar solo to "The New Dark Age" is another point of interest when harmonized.
Singer Ilja Jalkanen is as awesome as ever, and in The New Dark Age he really makes his presence felt. Be it his signature snarl, the raging Death Growls on display in "To Excel And Ascend", or soothing and hitting higher notes in the beautiful ballad "After the Storm" where his vocals are complemented by truly classy female vocals and some of the most tasteful guitar playing I've heard in ages. A great track to sit by the fire with good company. "Of Sacrifice, Loss and Reward" calls back to mind the youthful exuberance of The Spirit of Ukko, a guaranteed highlight, although the bizarre chorus riff takes a few spins to fully appreciate. Atte Tanskanen's delicious keys really illuminate the later moments of "Of Sacrifice...", bridging into a crushing outro. "The Summoning" is downright bad-ass! The opening riff hits like a fucking hammer slamming into a solid groove, with some awesome keyboard overtones this wouldn't sound out of place on a Symphony X or Adagio record. I love the sound of the drum kit here, a great example of my preferred drum sound. I really have to mention how impressive the keys are in this track, especially on the lead up to the guitar solo again springing to mind Underworld-era Adagio. Album closer "The Wanderer's Lamentation" puts everything on display in The New Dark Age together for a fiery finale, initiated with brilliant acoustic guitars, similar to "After the Strom"; we're suddenly besieged by a blinder of a chorus, rolling riffs intact. Jumping between beautiful acoustics and that crushing Kiuas sound, we're left on a very high note.
To name standout tracks would be to name every one of them. I guess you're wondering why this album didn't receive the elusive 5/5. Well I really believe Kiuas can do better next time around. The New Dark Age is a sound of a band who has really hit their stride, confident, proud and above all still heavy as hell; Kiuas are a force to be reckoned with and a measuring stick to all future acts from Finland trying to strike that balance between aggression and melody.