Veteran German power metallers Mob Rules are back after a rather long absence with their 8th album, the new outing Tales from Beyond. Mob Rules are veterans of the European power metal scene and the band was formed way back in 1994 by guitarist Matthias Mineur and bassist Thorsten Plorin. Mineur and Plorin had previously joined forces in Van Blanc. These two gentlemen soon found lead vocalist Klaus Dirks and drummer Arved Mannot. Mob Rules added a second guitarist in the spring of 1996, making the band a five-piece, with the addition of Oliver Fuhlhage. Soon after they produced a demo tape called The Savage Land part 1 which caught the attention of some major European labels. The whole power metal scene came to life in Europe once again in 1997 with the HammerFall album Glory to the Brave and Mob Rules were fast to jump on the bandwagon. In 1998, they sealed a record deal with Limb Music and in March of 1999 the debut album was released, aptly named Savage Land. This first effort garnered some great reviews and was well received by fans and critics alike. During the forthcoming tour to support the album keyboard player Sascha Onnen was brought in and did so well that he was awarded an official membership.
The next three years saw the band release another two top-notch power metal albums in Temple of Two Suns (2000) and Hallowed be thy Name (2002). Mob Rules toured with Savatage, Dio, and Scorpions. They also got a slot at the legendary Wacken Open Air Festival in their native Germany. Just before the third album was released they inked a deal with the bigger label SPV who released Hallowed be thy Name. This meant a huge leap forward for the band that could receive greater promotion and distribution. The album also contained a Frumpy cover tune called “How the Gypsy was Born” on which Peavy Wagner of Rage fame provided backing vocals.
In 2004, the band was plagued by membership changes for the first time when Oliver Fulhage decided to leave the band and was replaced by Sven Lüdke. This got the band off to a new and inspired restart. The revised line-up recorded the fantastic epic Among the Gods which I, personally, still today rate as the band´s strongest effort. Touring in support of this fourth album also saw the recording of a live album and DVD called Signs of the Time. Bass-man Thorsten Plorin chose to leave the band after the tour and was replaced by Markus Brinkmann. The band soon found themselves back in the studio and they recorded the concept album Ethnolution A.D. with the epic title track being 24 minutes long and divided into six parts. On the following tour, the band played this epic part in one piece from time to time. The tour to support this album saw them leave the European continent for the first time when they played the Bay Area Festival in San Francisco in 2007.
Mob Rules smelled blood and continued to write another epic track for 2009´s Radical Peace. The album is dominated by the 18-minute monster “The Oswald Files” that obviously deals with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Just before releasing Radical Peace they changed recordlabel yet again, opting for Germany-based AFM Records. Keyboard player Sascha Onnen left the band after recording this album and he was soon replaced by newcomer and current master of the keys Jan Christian Halfbrodt. At this time, Mob Rules was invited to co-headline the classic festival Prog Power 2011 in Atlanta, US and which motivated a second visit to the country. The seventh full-length album Cannibal Nation was released in 2012 and proved to be a great return to form. On the digipak version, you could get “Children of the Flames” as a bonuns track, a track that was recorded live at the Prog Power Festival. Things then went silent for a long while in the Mob Rules camp and finally in 2014 a compilation box emerged which, among other things, contained a DVD of the Prog Power performance and a CD where they re-recorded old songs with some of their friends including Udo Dirkschneider (UDO/Accept) , Amanda Sommerville (Avantasia, Kiske/Sommerville) and Bernhard Weiss (Axxis).
Now we reach 2016 and there is a new Mob Rules album on offering called Tales from Beyond. It is the first full new album since Cannibal Nation. Let´s examine it a little closer and see if it can live up to my high expectations…
Tales from Beyond – the album.
The Timekeeper box set was released to mark Mob Rules‘ 20th year anniversary and in some sense, Tales from Beyond represents a new era in the band´s history. The song “My Kingdom Come” was present already on Timekeeper and is included on the new album as well. The closing track is also a remake of “Outer Space” found on the debut album, Savage Land. The record company wanted a new album out soon after the box set was released so the band had a sharp deadline to work against this time around. This time, the guys have found inspiration in several different sources. The epic title track that is divided into three major pieces deals with the ordeal of being left behind on the planet Mars (anyone recognizes this theme?). It might as well have been the lead theme to the movie The Martian and is loosely based on the novel by Andy Weir. According to guitarist Sven Lüdke, the piece was written well before the production of the movie.
The album starts with “Dykemaster´s Tale” which is a 7-minute epic. It starts off with a beautiful acoustic piece before Dirks‘ soulful vocals kick in. It´s a song that changes tempo several times with a spooky feeling to it. Still, as it turns out, this is one of the greatest tracks on the album and it has got that strong hook that makes it a really memorable tune. The returning acoustic guitar piece is just pure magic. Up next is “Somerled” and it is a traditional power metal tune with the Mob Rules trademark but it feels just like another day at work. The song starts off with bagpipes playing the intro. It´s a good song with a decent hook and chorus but not fantastic. The next song is “Signs” which kicks off with a keyboard intro from Brinkmann but soon the heavy chugging guitars join in and it turns into a heavy, mid-tempo piece. Dirks‘ vocal performance is great as always. Unfortunately, the chorus is not as strong as on “Dykemaster´s Tale”. We are then treated with the single and first video release “On the Edge”. It is an upbeat metal tune with a catchy hook to go with it. This song should have some commercial potential and the more I listen to it, the more I like it. Definitely one of the highlights on the album. Dirks‘ shouts “Living in a dream – here we come – Living on the edge” and I feel an itch to sing along.
“My Kingdom Come” starts slow with an acoustic piece. Klaus Dirks‘ vocals really shine on this track but at this point, it is not a new song to me. As an owner of the Timekeeper box set, I have heard it many times before. Still it is a very melodic piece with an infectious hook and undeniably a great metal track. Track number 7 is “The Healer” and this is may be the weakest spot on the album. An uptempo power metal tune that makes me think – “I have heard this before – right?!”. With the high quality of Mob Rules it is never bad but a bit too generic compared to the rest of the songs. Then it is time for the epic title track which is divided into three separate songs (track number 8-10). The first part is a heavy, hard-hitting piece called “Through the Eye of the Storm”. Mob Rules show their heavier side on this one and it starts off in tempo furioso. Dirks belts out some fantastic vocals and really transfer the feeling of being alone on planet Mars onto myself. This might be one of the finer jewels in the Mob rules crown. The second part is “A Mirror Inside” which is a heartfelt ballad. Dirks‘ vocals on this piece sound a little bit strained to me and he pushes his vocal chords to the limit and sometimes over the line. The final piece is called “Science Save Me”. It starts with some heavy guitar harmonies from Mineur/Lüdke. Dirks tells the tale of extreme homesickness and a strong desire to be saved off the red planet. A melodic mid-tempo piece with the usual Mob Rules trademarks. The final song “Outer Space” is a re-recording of the song off the debut album. It seems a bit misplaced and out of order to include this song here. My feeling is that it is mainly included to prove that Dirks‘ vocals are still in fine shape.
On the positive side, I will duly note that it is great to see these veteran Power metallers back in the game and they are in great shape. They have produced a batch of great albums through the years and never got that big commercial break they have deserved. There is a bunch of fantastic songs on this album, especially the epic “Dykemaster´s Tale”, the fast and yet melodic “On the Edge” and of course the mega epic three-piece title track with the intriguing story being told as they deliver one hooky punch after another. The execution is flawless and Klaus Dirks voice does not have seemed to aged one bit.
On the downside, the album feels a bit rushed and as a whole maybe not complete. There is a remake of an older song from the first album (“Outer Space”) and a song that has already been released in the Timekeeper box set. The band has been open with the fact that they early on worked towards a deadline set by the record company. In the end, that might have taken a toll on the overall impression.
Still, I am sure that Tales from Beyond will be on my top 10 list of 2016. Mob Rules is a band of great quality and the highlights are really top notch on the album. Because of the lack of “new” songs and one or two fillers the new album does not reach the heights of Cannibal Nation and Among the Gods. If you are not familiar with the band before – do yourself a favor and check them out. You won´t be disappointed. I would award this album 8/10 geeks. Welcome back!
Mikael “The Lionsheart” Svensson