Siren "Up From the Depths: Early Anthology & More" Album Review
Siren, "Up From the Depths: Early Anthology & More"
Style: Progressive/traditional heavy metal
Label: Stormspell Records
34 tracks, run time: 2:23:02 (on 2 CDs)
Florida's '80s and '90s heavy music scene is mainly remembered today for its death metal bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide and Obituary, but the Sunshine State also boasted a healthy traditional/progressive/power metal scene back then. Tampa's Siren never became one of the Florida metal boom's "big names" like Savatage, Iced Earth, or Crimson Glory, but they released several well received demos and two studio albums between 1984 and 1988 that spawned a devoted cult following which lingers to this day, particularly among the die hard European metal audience. Siren recently re-united to perform at the 2018 edition of Germany's "Keep It True" classic-metal festival, where they played alongside such legendary names as Raven, Flotsam & Jetsam, and Grim Reaper. To honor this milestone, Stormspell Records has released an impressive collection of Siren's classic works, entitled Up From the Depths: Early Anthology and More. The 2-disc compilation features all the tracks from the band's hard-to-find early releases like 1984's Iron Coffins demo and 1986's cult favorite No Place Like Home album, plus four newly-recorded songs and a handful of previously unreleased demo and live cuts. This lavish collection was obviously a labor of love for Stormspell Records, whose owner is a Siren fanboy from way back, and the label's dedication shows through in every detail of this impressive release.
"Tornado of Blood"
With 34 tracks spread out over two CDs, there's a lot to digest on Up From the Depths - which seemed a bit daunting at first, as I was unfamiliar with Siren's material. I'm pretty sure I had heard of Siren during their late '80s heyday by reading about them in metal fanzines, but until this compilation came across my desk I don't think I'd ever actually heard them. Fortunately, Siren's tunes were right up my alley - straightforward "true" heavy metal - so it didn't take long for me to dig what I was hearing.
Disc 1 kicks off with two of the band's demo tapes, 1984's Iron Coffins and 1986's Dead of Night. I hear a lot of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest on the Iron Coffins tracks (see: "Before the Storm" and the title song), with some additional melodic flourishes ala Randy Rhoads-era Ozzy (especially on the Wizard of Oz-themed "Over the Rainbow"). Obviously the young band was wearing their influences on their sleeves at this point and were still developing "their" sound.
On the four Dead of Night tracks, Siren was definitely starting to "gel." The band sounds more confident and the playing has improved. Some hints of the growing thrash movement started seeping into Siren's sound, as heard on tracks like "Black Death" and the crunchy "Slice of Hate."
By the time Siren released their debut album No Place Like Home (on the now-defunct Flametrader label in 1986), it seems like their Floridian neighbors in Savatage were becoming a pretty major influence on them. Vocalist Doug Lee's Ozzy-esque wails were now tempered with occasional Jon Oliva-style "shrieks of terror," and musically the band echoed the mix of flashy melodies and dark heaviness heard on Savatage's Sirens and The Dungeons are Calling albums. Several tracks from the earlier demos ("Black Death," "So Far To Go," "Iron Coffins" and "Over the Rainbow") were re-recorded for No Place Like Home and the album versions were much improved over their original "rough drafts." After a few listens, I started skipping directly to the No Place Like Home album when I played this CD so I could hear what I felt were the "definitive" takes of those songs.
A four-pack of newly recorded Siren tunes opens the second disc, all of which are quality, especially the killer speed-metal burner "Tornado of Blood" and the oddly titled "Sun in my Face, Knife in my Back," which has a tongue-in-cheek Alice Cooper feel. Listening to the new tracks, it was hard to believe that this band hadn't played together since the early 1990s! The two-song Metro-Mercenary single from 1984 follows and then the disc wraps up with a batch of vintage demo tracks and live cuts, five songs from a 1987 pre-production session, and one song from guitarist Rob Phillips' upcoming solo album. Some of the tracks in this portion are alternate takes of songs from the earlier demos or the No Place Like Home album, so you've already heard them on Disc 1 (in some cases, more than once!) but I'm sure the band's die hard fans will be glad to have them anyway.
In addition to the audio awesomeness contained on these CDs, Up From the Depths is also a visual treat. The discs are lavishly packaged in a cool 3-panel "digipak," which includes a fat booklet loaded with lyrics, an in-depth history of the band (which was a fascinating read), and a bunch of vintage photos, band flyers, and artwork. In short, Up From the Depths is not just a must-have for long time Siren fans, but it's a damn fine starting point for new fans (like me!) as well. Now I'm on the hunt for a copy of Siren's Financial Suicide album from 1988 (the only piece of their discography that isn't included in this package) so my collection will be complete!
Hurry if you want a copy of this one...
Collectors, take note: Up From the Depths: Early Anthology & More is a limited edition pressing of only 1200 hand-numbered copies, so if you want this baby on your CD shelf, you'd better hurry so you don't miss out. I'm certainly not giving up my copy, because this collection will definitely be getting a LOT of play from me in the foreseeable future. Once again, Stormspell Records comes through with the true metal goods!
Metro-Mercenary (single) - self released, 1984
Iron Coffins (demo) - self released, 1985
No Place Like Home- Flametrader Records, 1986
Dead Of Night (demo) - self released, 1986
The Garage Experiment (demo) - self released, 1987
Financial Suicide - Aaarrg Records, 1988
Up From the Depths: Early Anthology & More - Stormspell, 2018
© 2018 Keith Abt