The ’90s were a dark time for heavy metal, especially in the United States. To remedy that, Virginia legends Twisted Tower Dire formed in 1995 to try and breath new light into true heavy metal, starting off as a long-winded epic heavy metal band and gradually getting catchier and catchier as time went on. These days, the band play something between classic US power metal and European power metal, delivering more big choruses than the hammering true metal that they formed to make- not a bad thing, because their newer stuff is fantastic, but it’s a different animal.
When Twisted Tower Dire wrote The Isle of Hydra, they were, for me, at their peak. Their core sound was rooted still in epic heavy metal, but the power metal elements that they picked up between the Triumphing True Metal demo and The Curse of Twisted Tower are again upped, creating a perfect balance between constant gorgeous melodies, emotive vocals, and catchiness. Guitarist Scott Waldrop described the earlier material as Candlemass meets Iron Maiden in an interview, and that’s not too far away still from where we’re at here.
There aren’t a ton of crushing riffs to be found here, and even when one of the guitarists settles a bit lower on the fretboard the other one is usually harmonizing over him or playing a lead. This suits perfectly the soaring voice of the sadly deceased Tony Taylor, who had a uniquely reflective sounding voice that lent a lot to the music. Much like Solstice’s Morris Ingram, who performed on New Dark Age, Tony was not particularly metal in attitude, and his relative lack of aggressiveness helps give an otherworldy edge that suits the sound. Tony also performed wonderfully on the most sensitive parts of the album, singing about love, loss, and death through parts ranging from emotional to outright ballad with more than enough charisma to sway even the most skeptical listener.
Most of the songs are mid paced, with faster sections being more dressing than meat. While a deluge of mid-paced songs would be the death of a weaker band, the songwriters here were wise enough to include a bare minimum of dynamics that keep the similarities, lengthy songs, and simplistic structures from feeling anything like how I just described them. The simplicity feels strong and lean rather than being due to a lack of vision, leaving room to let the band’s sound wash over listeners while Tony croons.
No part of the performance on The Isle of Hydra is that of a virtuoso, and I honestly can’t say I’ve ever really noticed the bass through my listens of the album over the years. Nor has any section of the drumming ever stood out as exceptional. This is not a bad thing, and the bass and drums are always doing exactly what they need to be doing to make the material itself stand out; a Thrasher Foxe here would ruin the mood, and the mood is as central to the album as any individual part. When listening to The Isle of Hydra, you are transported to the world of fantasy shown on the Martin Hanford’s album cover, and I wouldn’t trade that for any number of crazy drum fills, basslines, or Yngwie solos.
After this album, the band reached what became the height of their popularity by upping the power metal in their formula, becoming more pristine production-wise, and by building on the legacy that The Isle of Hydra and The Curse of Twisted Tower started. As great as that later material is, none of it stands up the majesty of The Isle of Hydra, and it probably never will; this one just hits me too hard, and falls too personally at every crossroads of my taste. If you want more compact songs, more choruses, and more polish, don’t stop- the every album after this one rules. But if you want one of the finest American power metal records to ever be released, settle in and embrace The Isle.
Album Rating: 96
Favorite track: The Dagger’s Blade