The Metal Pigeon Recommends — Part Five: Dark Moor (the Alfred Romero era)

Dark Moor have always been one of power metal’s most intriguing artists (to me anyway), a band that is well known in name across the power metal community, yet infrequently cited in conversation or debate. Much like their regional neighbors in Heavenly being for a time the leading light in power metal from France, Dark Moor have been Spain’s most recognizable power metal artist since 1998. In their nascent late 90s era, they were fronted by vocalist Elisa Martin and after a shaky debut effort, they released two of the finest releases of that 97-03 golden era of power metal back to back in The Hall of Olden Dreams and The Gates of Oblivion. Martin was a revelation at the time, a female vocalist in a genre that hadn’t seen very many of them up to that point, particularly in the European scene, with a voice that could be just as rugged and gritty as it was soaring and melodic. Like many power metal fans, I love those albums, and followed anything Martin did afterwards out of sheer love for her unique style of singing. And like many, I was bummed that she left the band, and when her replacement Alfred Romero arrived, I was skeptical of the idea of Dark Moor without her considerable talent.

Like Martin, Romero had a rough start to his gig as Dark Moor’s vocalist, with his debut on the 2003 self-titled album that was comprised of songs largely written with Martin in mind, and Romero’s first artistic input coming on 2005’s Beyond the Sea. Both were uneven albums with some bright moments, but they were the sound of a band finding its footing with their new singer — which they did in full force on 2007’s Tarot. The band’s sound changed for sure, from the Helloween meets Rhapsody Euro-power mix of the Martin era to something far more unique, a robust blend of theatrical power metal that was informed by classical music, shades of gothic rock, and AOR-ish hard rock songwriting. Romero began to blossom as a singer, showcasing a vocal approach that was rich with character and full of dramatics. Like Martin, his voice had a noticeable accent that was quite different from other contemporary power metal vocalists from Germany or Italy. He didn’t sound grounded and gritty like Kai Hansen or Hansi Kursch, nor quasi-operatic like Fabio Lione or Roberto Tiranti, instead delivering a vocal tone that reminded me more of Tony Kakko crossed with Fher Olvera of Maná. He sounded different from anyone else in power metal, and as the songwriting changed to suit his voice, his Spanish language vocal color infused more and more of his performances on the albums.

With this further development of Romero as a singer, the band would embark on an era where they released some truly incredible music, with some very good to great albums to their name such as the aforementioned Tarot, but also Autumnal and Ancestral Romance in back to back years. Those three records in particular are a wealth of genuinely refreshing, creatively inspired romantic toned power metal that sounded like nothing anyone else was doing. Yet for all that ingenuity and effort into renewing their sound, when people talk about Dark Moor to this day, they speak about the band’s first couple albums with Martin, and either ignore or gloss over the Romero era. I suspect there’s a few reasons for this, and some of them are self-inflicted injuries on the part of the band. To wit, this is a fairly low key band that does little in the way of self-promotion: interviews are few and far between, and compounding matters, they aren’t all that active on social media when that is the way things have been working in publicity for years now. So when someone goes looking for info on this band called Dark Moor they’ve just discovered, they get the impression that there’s a chance they don’t exist anymore. Their last album also came out way back in 2018, and with the exception of a couple recent tracks released as singles, Dark Moor has been way too quiet (ironically just like the aforementioned Heavenly).

I think it’s a shame that Dark Moor has started to be forgotten a bit, their name slipping through the cracks as the years go by and the subgenre has taken some unfortunate musical paths. To my tastes, the Romero era is far more interesting than the Martin era, sacrilege to many I’m sure, but I say that with conviction. He changed the band’s sound for sure, but he also gave them an identity that separated them from their original influences and made them stand out as unique artists in the power metal world. So with ten tracks listed below in chronological order (being the traditional way of this particular recurring feature), I’m going to attempt to convince you with actual music rather than just words that Romero-era Dark Moor is worth exploring:

The Chariot” (from 2007’s Tarot)

Like an actual chariot breaking out from the gates of a Roman coliseum (or something similarly historically epic), Tarot’s album opener rushes out at you with door breaking force. You’d be mistaken if you thought that vocalist in the intro was Elisa Martin, because it’s actually future (and now former) Nemesea vocalist Manda Ophuis, whose crystalline, powerful vocals are a perfect foil for a duet with Romero. Both singers join in on this song’s uplifting, soaring chorus with some truly unique and charming lyrics about making fun of death. Tarot was a thematic album about the major arcana trump cards in a tarot deck, with each song in the track listing representing one. It led to the infusion of some mystical sounding sonic elements in the mix, such as the charming, tinkling piano interspersed amongst the energetic riffing during the middle bridge. The band’s neoclassical inclinations are still in full effect here, not only in the unabashedly symphonic melodies coursing through everything, but in Enrik Garcia’s shredding solo three minutes in. A glorious ride indeed.

The Star” (from 2007’s Tarot)

The symphonic swagger that permeated so much of Tarot gave all the songs on the album a skyrocketing trajectory in sound and spirit, and “The Star” is a vivid example of this. Unlike the “The Chariot” with it’s juxtaposing dips down into mid-tempo groove territory, “The Star” was written in the mode of late-90s pure power metal Dark Moor. This meant melodies that raced along and slightly ebbed in speed but without ever taking the foot off the gas pedal. The series of neoclassical styled solos that Garcia unleashes beginning just before the three minute mark, with that particularly gorgeous one at the 3:17 mark is my favorite instrumental moment on an album that is full of great ones. There’s a common opinion out there that Tarot was the last real metal album Dark Moor would release (I’d disagree but I understand the sentiment), but it’s possible that “The Star” is the last old school traditional power metal song the band released, and what a glorious finale it was.

“Phantom Queen” (from 2009’s Autumnal)

Folk music inspired strings introduce “Phantom Queen”, one of the highlights off the masterful Autumnal, an album that continued the symphonic metal influences from Tarot, but in tones that were darker shaded, far more… well, autumnal and fall-like in their colors. Listening to that violently swirling orchestration in the pre-chorus as Romero heightens the tension, you can picture winds kicking up fallen leaves on some desolate forest path. There’s something at once delicate and majestic about this song, a balancing act between its softly strummed verses and the frothing boil that bubbles up suddenly during the chorus which is as regal and dramatic as we’ve ever heard Dark Moor. I love the addition of growling vocals in the bridge as a counterpoint to all the elegant, sweeping loveliness. I know that “Swan Lake” gets a ton of the attention off this album, and I understand why, but for me “Phantom Queen” was always more memorable in the heightened pomp and splendor department.

“For Her” (from 2009’s Autumnal)

When it came to sheer dramatic theatricality, few things in power metal can top the outright majesty of “For Her”, one of the earliest and most prominent examples of the band incorporating romance as a lyrical inspiration. Its a testament to this song’s sticking power that I picked it over other great Autumnal tracks such as “When the Sun is Gone” or “And End So Cold”. I think the insistent, propelling tempo the band sets here is a significant part of the song’s success, lending real urgency to Romero singing a veritable recitation of all the things he did “for her…”. His vocals here are as impassioned a performance as we’ve ever heard in power metal, equal parts pleading earnestness and chest thumping bravado that empowers the intent of the lyrics he’s delivering. Romero is joined by soprano Itea Benedicto in the chorus, a duet combination that adds a touch of classical gravitas to the vocal melodies. And I love the subtle layering in the background of some horns, be they keyboard generated (or not), their punctuating presence another detail that adds to the glorious nature of this fantastic song.

“Love From the Stone” (from 2010’s Ancestral Romance)


More accenting female vocals! Which I’m fine with, because Dark Moor were demonstrating that they knew exactly when and where to use them as counterpoints to Romero. His vocal tone being deeper, as well as full of depth and rich in character meant that he could sing alongside a lighter, floatier vocalist and complement them instead of drowning them out (I’m reminded of Sarah Brightman’s spectacular duets with José Cura). Throughout Ancestral Romance, Romero pairs with soprano Berenice Musa of Tears of a Martyr, and their combined effect was stirring, as evidenced here. Dark Moor returned again to romantic love for inspiration on this song, and this time turned in their most poetic and artfully constructed set of lyrics to date. Romero’s rhythmic delivery echoes their poetic meter in an inspired way, and the imagery is as vivid and heart-on-sleeve as lyrics from Ville Valo. I think Romero deserves a lot of credit for being able to deliver lines like these with conviction, because I think few could pull it off without sounding hammy, which he deftly avoids.

“Mio Cid” (from 2010’s Ancestral Romance)


This is an interesting one, because I loved the original version of “Mio Cid” on Ancestral Romance which is largely sung in English, telling the tale of El Cantar de mio Cid, (a Castilian epic poem which is now a national epic of Spain), but recently in 2023 the band re-recorded the song in Spanish. I gotta say, the Spanish re-recording is even more epic, the orchestration richer and full of depth (have orchestral sample libraries improved that much since 2010?!), and the lyrics just seem to fit better in Spanish. On that note, something interesting is happening with Dark Moor lately, their three 2023 singles being all releases with Spanish lyrics — it made me think back to comments Garcia made in an interview with Metal Shards in 2018, where he commented, “We committed the great sacrilege of being a Spanish band singing in English, a mortal sin for this Catholic country.”. He detailed in that interview that singing in English closed doors for the band in Spain, and I’m left wondering if they might be considering trying to open those doors again with a full length Spanish language album in the future. It would be a fantastic move for them at this point in their career to be honest, because the Spanish language singles sound great. So great in fact that I chose to link the 2023 remake of “Mio Cid” above, but the original version is crucial to what makes Ancestral Romance such a spectacular album.

“Tilt at Windmills” (from 2010’s Ancestral Romance)

One of my favorite Dark Moor songs of all time, “Tilt at Windmills” is widely regarded as one of the band’s Romero era masterpieces by those who are clued in enough. This is a gorgeous song that’s at once tongue in cheek sly through its lyrical imagery referencing Don Quixote, and yet heartbreakingly epic in its dramatic, cinematic swell. Romero does a ton of heavy lifting here with an incredible vocal performance, particularly in the chorus where he bends and stretches syllables and manages to make it sound painfully anguished. I love the sheer passion he’s singing with there, the inflection in his voice at specific moments is inimitable, there’s just no one else in metal who sounds like him at times. The softly rising brass section that reinforces him during those parts is a beautiful, delicate touch that makes them sound transcendent. The figure that Romero is singing about in the lyrics comes across as more tragic as a result rather than foolish, like someone whose convictions are true but entirely misplaced. I think what has always struck me about “Tilt at Windmills” is how the overall sound here suggests that this should be a wistful love song, and not as it is, an allegory of a knight fighting in vain (and whatever modern social situations you could apply that to).

“First Lance of Spain” (from 2013’s Ars Musica)

The stirring, dramatic album opener proper to Ars Musica, “First Lance of Spain” is one of Dark Moor’s catchiest uptempo cuts, a symphonic power fusion that reminds me at times of Austria’s Serenity for its vocal melodies and strong, punctuating chorus. At this point in their career, Dark Moor was fully incorporating Spanish history and folklore into their lyrical topics, and just like “Mio Cid” on Ancestral Romance, they tackled another historical military figure here in Diego de León, 1st Count of Belascoáin. Famed for riding at the head of his lancers column and charging first into spots where the enemy was the most numerous, he definitely earned the title Dark Moor are bestowing upon him here, in addition to the heroic overtone that characterizes the sound of this epic song. The nature of the band’s symphonic side seemed to shift a little more on this album to be more Hollywood-esque, that bombastic soundtrack style arrangement as opposed to the quieter, subtler touches in Ancestral Romance and Autumnal. In that sense, Ars Musica felt a little like a throwback to Tarot, albeit replacing the power metal with more of a hard rock style that you’ll likely remember was seeping into a ton of veteran power metal bands around this time.

“Gara & Jonay” (from 2013’s Ars Musica)

Dark Moor, for all their inclinations towards romance as lyrical inspiration, did not write a lot of ballads — tending to prefer couching their most ardent ruminations on love in the context of dramatic, epic rockers. So it would take a tragic, Romeo & Juliet evoking love story such as that of Gara and Jonay to get Dark Moor to write this incredibly affecting, emotive piano led paean. It’s the Canary Islands folk tale of Princess Gara of La Gomera and Jonay, a poor peasant’s son from Tenerife and their families refusal to allow their relationship to blossom due to a foretold doom that it would cause. You can guess where its headed I’m sure, Gara and Jonay escape together, climb a mountain, hold a laurel lance sharpened at both ends between them and take their final embrace. The tone of this song reflects that tragedy in a way that’s not entirely somber, but almost hauntingly celestial, particularly towards the end when layered backing vocals start being interwoven into Romero’s narration. His delicate touch in phrasing and vocal inflection here lend so much weight and power to the narrative, yet another example of why he’s such an incredible vocalist.

“Birth of the Sun” (from 2018’s Origins)

Wild, raucous, and decidedly different from anything the band had attempted before, “Birth of the Sun” was the lead single off Origins, which as the title suggests, seemed to be an exploration of the band’s influences and roots, with a ton of 70s rock influences on display. Their folk influences, prominent throughout their career, really took hold in this song, which is easily my favorite off this album. (Sidenote, if you’re amused that 2015’s Project X wasn’t represented on this list, I’ll just say that I don’t think its as terrible an album as many have labeled it as, but it definitely was an experiment that just kinda missed the mark overall.) This song reminds me a bit of the band Boisson Divine, the folk metal band from Gascony (France) who deliver similarly rockin’, spirited folk swirled jams. For sure this isn’t metal, but Romero is the link that connects wildly different material like this to older Dark Moor. I love his hearty vocal delivery here, full of swagger, bravado and gusto all rolled into one. In the mystical themed music video, he displays why he’s such a great frontman too, songs like this demand grand gestures and theatricality to match. I was mixed about this album overall, but this remains a highlight, and a big reason why I’m so eager for another one.

The Metal Pigeon Recommends — Part Four: Charon

In keeping with my approach for the blog in 2023 to stay away from the reviews treadmill (for the most part) and let my intuition as a metal fan guide how and what I write on this site for a change, I’ve walked into the new year uncertain of what I was going to discuss next here. I waited for inspiration to strike really, listening to mostly sports talk radio, podcasts, and random non-metal music in the gaps in between. Recently, while driving to work on a cold morning, I felt the out of nowhere urge to jam some Charon, the oft-forgotten Finnish goth metal band whose sound was largely inspired and tied to that of fellow countrymen Sentenced (incidentally, the last band I profiled for this series many years ago). I pulled up Spotify’s “This is Charon” playlist and let it rip.

It struck me while sitting there in traffic jamming to these songs that this was a band that no one ever really talked about anymore, a thought that saddened me. Charon might have got caught in the shadow of Sentenced, and understandably so, but they put out a handful of pretty strong gothic metal records of their own, and more importantly, their presence in the international metal landscape helped to solidify this sound as distinctly Finnish, related yet quite different from goth metal godfathers Type O Negative. So in keeping with the still relatively short-lived tradition of this series, I’m presenting below ten cuts from Charon in chronological order to serve as a convincing introduction or gentle reminder that this band is worth checking out, remembering, and celebrating.

“4 Seasons Rush” (from 2000’s Tearstained)

Charon’s sophomore album Tearstained was the beginning of Charon as we all grew to love them, that’s not meant to be a slight on their debut, 1998’s Sorrowburn, but that album was their transition from the band’s early death metal roots (much like their peers in Sentenced) in that they were finding their footing, trying to figure out how to write for melodic vocals while still retaining some minor vestiges of their extreme roots. On this album, they had a better idea of how to write for the deep, gravelly singing voice of JP Leppäluoto, who himself was allowed to have a greater runway for his vocal melodies — his impact being immediately felt on the album’s best song, “4 Seasons Rush”, an emotional onslaught of a tune crafted with tension building and release in mind. JP affects an almost warbling, uncentered approach in the verses here, as if leaning towards overdramatic pastiche, only to roar back with his raw and real anguished vocal in that ultra powerful chorus. That chilling cello that serves as an unnerving segue outro from the refrain is one of the more unexpected yet inspired moments in the band’s catalog.

“As We Die” (from 2000’s Tearstained)

I think it’d be fair to call Tearstained a relatively uneven album — frankly there were moments where you felt like some songs needed a longer bake, but it did have a handful of strong tunes and “As We Die” was top of mind for me when considering the record as a whole. And while it wasn’t as inventive as “4 Seasons Rush”, it was a sublime slice of goth-rock/metal (whatever you think it deserves to be tagged as), built on a steady rhythm and purposeful chord progression to let JP’s vocal delivery carry the load. It’s really the depressive lyrics that pull you in here, talking about lovelorn despondency and just general malaise. Charon eschewed the sardonic word play of Sentenced or the unabashed romanticism of HIM on the lyrical front, instead working with a blunt directness in their lyrical approach that cut straight to the heart.

“Bitter Joy” (from 2002’s Downhearted)

I love the downward rhythmic tumble in the chorus of this overlooked gem from the band’s 2002’s gothic masterpiece Downhearted, all set up with a rather straightforward groove based riff sequence with weird synth effects thrown in for texture (surprisingly effective too). My favorite minor detail here is how JP’s vocals careen right through the ending of the pre-chorus with the lyric “My heart is all for open – for you two” and when the rest of the band crash back in a full second later, that impact is so damn satisfying in a visceral way. So much of really good gothic metal is about riding a feeling and emphasizing the punctuation marks whenever they come. That’s why a song such as “Bitter Joy” with it’s relatively simple, uncomplicated riff sequences can still impact you in a massive way via subtle details such as timing and intention.

“Craving” (from 2002’s Downhearted)

A slice of quintessential Finnish gothic metal, and one of the songs that exemplify JP as one of the genre’s best most expressive vocalists (dare I say even better than Sentenced’s Ville Laihiala from a purely technical standpoint), from the clarity of his enunciation to the utter outpouring of emotion heard in his voice during this excellent chorus. Founding guitarist Jasse von Hast was on a songwriting tear across Downhearted, penning three of it’s most stellar songs, splitting the writing duties with fellow guitarist Pasi Sipilä. While Sipilä has kept a low profile since Charon ended in 2005, von Hast went on to form the death-doom outfit Tomb of Finland where he’s continued his creative streak as a songwriter in delivering some pretty great records (we covered them on our podcast this past year). For both guys however, their songwriting work in Charon tends to get overlooked, with most of the band’s accolades going to JP (deservedly so, don’t get me wrong). Together they knocked out one of the finest gothic metal albums ever written here, and deserve to be acknowledged for it.

“Little Angel” (from 2002’s Downhearted)

Here it is, the band’s apex moment, a song that not only rocketed to nearly the top of the Finnish singles chart but remains one of the subgenre’s most compelling songs ever penned. This was another von Hast penned song, and it’s a credit to his versatility as a writer that someone so rooted in extreme metal is capable of crafting a song this entrenched in gothic angst and glorious drama. It’s not just that “Little Angel” is memorable, it’s about how and why it’s so memorable (and no its not because of the very brooding and suggestive music video, check it out). This is one of those songs that legitimately has three separate hooks, each uniquely addictive for reasons unto themselves. The verse is based on a synth groove and JP’s solitary compelling vocal melody, and it focuses your attention on the pseudo-maniacal lyrics with clever poetic framing (“Pain… / Fire…”). The sudden drop into the chorus with guitars crashing in is purposefully jarring, but the clever twist here is that they only deliver this chorus by itself at first, segueing right into another verse before adding a little guitar color towards the end to differentiate this go round in your mind — and then that downright epic, aching lead guitar motif rips through your heart, revealing itself as the true melodic hook after the chorus. A post chorus for the ages then.

“Desire You” (from 2002’s Downhearted)

Another von Hast classic on Downhearted, this power ballad was built on a pulsing bass line and gentle, floaty chord sequences, supporting a beautiful duet with JP’s gravelly accented vocals paired against the dark wine colored tones of frequent Charon collaborator Jenny Heinonen. The push and pull within this song is what has made it so compelling to me over the years, being one of those growers on the album that I didn’t appreciate upon release but have come to love since then. That being the juxtaposing dynamics between hushed quietude and a layered blanket of riffs — an effect that gives emotional weight to the build up and a cathartic release of tension. The lyrics here are spare, devoid of flowery diction, a seemingly deliberate choice that worked incredibly well given the context. Charon were never recognized as a particularly literate band, JP and company choosing to write lyrics that were more blunt than most of their goth rock/metal peers, but they knew how make it feel natural and even purposeful.

“In Trust Of No One” (from 2003’s The Dying Daylights)

There’s only one song on this list here from 2003’s The Dying Daylights, and that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this album as a whole, because I think it’s a solid record for the most part, but it had the misfortune of being sandwiched between Downhearted and Songs for the Sinners and that’s left it looking a little more underwhelming in comparison. There’s some really fantastic material on the album though, “Religious/Delicious”, “If”, “Every Failure” to mention a few, but “In Trust Of No One” is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of memorability. One of the band’s most uptempo, rock n’ roll injected tunes, Sipilä builds this around an Iron Maiden inspired circular lead motif that sort of sets the tempo and the tone throughout. I love the rhythm guitar shading on the pre-chorus, a deliberately simple chord progression that fills in so much sound and injects so much vivid color into that space. Not gonna avoid it, this was their most Sentenced sounding moment, it could’ve easily passed as one of that band’s tunes. I won’t hold it against them though, a great song is a great song.

“Colder” (from 2005’s Songs for the Sinners)

My favorite cut from Songs for the Sinners, the band’s 2005 swansong, “Colder” reigns supreme not only as one of the band’s greatest ever tunes, but a sterling example of just how powerful music in this stylistic vein could be when executed to its fullest. Little touches like guest vocalist Jenny Heinonen’s beautiful melodies as a recurring motif and her harmonized backing vocal add a lush depth to JP’s lines in the verse sections, giving this song a distinct character all it’s own (particularly in that Charon chose to avoid the beauty and the beast vocal archetype that was really popular around this time). I love the complexity heard in Sipilä’s lead melody during the post-chorus sequence, adding a bit of intensity right after an already passionately delivered chorus. This is also the band’s finest set of lyrics, vague and mysterious in intent yet still full of concrete and direct imagery that grounds it. There’s something magnetic about this song, one of those songs you replay over and over again when you first hear it, and even years later when you’re revisiting it.

“Deep Water” (from 2005’s Songs for the Sinners)

Following directly after “Colder” on the tracklist, “Deep Waters” always stuck with me due to the little details that popped up throughout, the repeating clean guitar that chimed up below that crunchy riff, the offset silence in the post chorus outro, and of course that downright awesome lead guitar melody that was the song’s true hook, hidden away behind one of JP’s more theatrical vocal performances on a Charon song, kinda akin to the stuff he’s been doing lately in his career in various different avenues (dude is a celebrity on Finnish television as a theatrical singer). For a large part of his time in Charon, he stuck to a gothic rock/metal mode, and we really didn’t get a chance to hear just how versatile of a singer he was until stuff like Northern Kings and Raskasta Joulua. This song was a brief glimpse at where he’d end up, and one of the many gorgeous slices of ache on Songs for the Sinners.

“House of the Silent” (from 2005’s Songs for the Sinners)

One of the band’s most lengthy and complex tracks ever (relatively speaking of course, this is a band that usually sat in the three to four minute range), it was also one of their most mournfully beautiful. Charon spent more time speaking about lovelorn anguish than pondering on the meaning of existence, but here they seem to merge the two, speaking about a “silent house where the love in bloom died”. By the end of the song, we’re not entirely certain either way whether JP was singing about the end of a relationship or the end of a life, so intertwined is the imagery of both in these lyrics. The depth of this storytelling occurs within the guitar interplay of Sipilä and then new guitarist Lauri Tuohimaa, who both go wild on the instrumental bridge with a gorgeous melodic motif and inspired soloing all around it. That their playing ushers along the fade out towards the end seems fitting, the final song on the final album of a band that was going to call it a day, albeit unknowingly at the time.

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