Several months ago I was drawn to Washington, D.C. by the promise of a prog metal version of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd being staged by The Landless Theatre Company. I will occasionally attend theater performances with my wife, but I am not normally a regular theater-going type. In this case my interest was aroused by the fact that Mrs. Lovett would be played by A Sound of Thunder’s Nina Osegueda. As expected, Nina’s performance (and that of the rest of the cast) was spectacular.

I am frequently surprised how in any given situation one thing can often lead to something else entirely unexpected. In this case I was sitting in the audience perfectly happy and content with the performance, when out onto the stage ambles the dubious character known as Pirelli. It won’t be long before Pirelli will meet an unhappy, yet not entirely undeserved end, but the moment he walked out on stage he belted out this long, high note that gave me goose-bumps and brought to mind the vocal range of King Diamond. I wanted more! I scoured the show’s program to find out that Pirelli was played by the charismatic Rob Bradley. And Rob has a band: Aries.

After my write-up of the Sweeney Todd show I found myself in conversation with Rob and he offered me a copy of their at-the-time-unreleased album “Rise” for review. Due to pre-existing obligations and recent personal dramatic turmoil I was unable to get around to “Rise” before its release. Then, despite my determination to attend the band’s recent show at Café 611 in Frederick, Maryland, I was unfortunately out of town on the date of the show. I mention all this because I do not wish for it to be misconstrued as an indicator of my opinion of Aries or their music. On the contrary, I love what these guys are doing.

The Sweeney Todd performance did little to prepare me for what Aries might sound like, other than that the vocals were obviously going to be bad-ass. Once I started spinning the songs on “Rise” an impression began to form and I found myself both surprised and pleased. The album’s opening song and title track, “Rise” brings to mind a tragically rare (these days) style of late 70s/early 80s hard rock and metal. My initial gut-reaction, off the top of my head, free-association description to my wife was early Judas Priest mixed with Mindcrime-era Queensryche. I drape these comparisons loosely over Aries in order to give readers a jumping off point of reference, but unlike the aforementioned bands, Aries takes the old school hard rock sound and gives it a beautiful modern production as well as a style and character of their own.

Can I just say that these guys must be particularly testicularly endowed? Because it takes real balls to make a hard rock album and cram not one, not two, not even three, but four power ballads in a row, one after another in the middle of an album book-ended by heavier tracks. The fact that they even went down the ballad road at all proves that Aries is making the music they want to make and fuck anyone that doesn’t like it. You can count me among the “like” column. Being that I attended high school in the late 80s I feel particularly qualified to say that the tracks “When the World Needs A Hero”, “Mask of Sorrows”, “Wasting Dreams” and “Silence” not only kick ass, but they woke something in me long dormant: the desire to bust out a BIC lighter and unabashedly sing along to some catchy tunes. Thanks guys!

The heavy ramps back up again with the track “Dogs of War” that opens with some very Iron Maiden-esque guitar work; if there was any lingering doubt about my Aries-fan-hood, it has now completely evaporated. The final four tracks on the album bring a mix of both heavy and lighter fare. Twelve tracks long, “Rise” is a wild rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and lows, heaviness and beauty, and I highly recommend it for fans of hard rock and metal. Aries are rock stars in a world that has unfortunately begun to move past rock stardom. Yet they plow on, seemingly intent on keeping great music alive.

Make sure to check out Aries and “Rise.” You can buy the album on iTunes and Amazon, and below I have a taste for you: “The Road (One Way).”