Twisted Tower Dire of Chantilly, Virginia is a band caught between two generations. Having formed in 1995, they were too late to match the commercial success of their 80s metal idols and perhaps too early to fully capitalize on the genre revival that’s been gathering momentum in recent years. Fortunately, the group has persevered and 2019 is looking to be a good year for them. They’re releasing their first album in eight years this March and performing at the Chicago-based Legions of Metal Fest III in May. In celebration and anticipation of these events, I’d like to look back at the group’s five full-lengths to see how they evolved over time and hold up today.
1) The Curse of Twisted Tower
Truth be told, Twisted Tower Dire’s 1999 debut is a little rough compared to the efforts to follow. The production has an echoey rawness, but the band’s classic metal ingredients are already assembled with on-point musicianship to spare. The songwriting is somewhat jumbled as structures and melodies sometimes feel elaborate purely for its own sake (a ten-minute instrumental might’ve been too much at this stage). Fortunately, none of the songs are bad and there are even some worthy staples as the title track is a fine epic while “The Witch’s Eye” channels those Queensryche flourishes quite nicely. It’s a pretty good start but best enjoyed when already acquainted.
Final Grade: B
2) The Isle of Hydra
Things feel a lot tighter on Twisted Tower Dire’s sophomore outing. The production is more polished, allowing for a more ambitious scope, and the musicianship is even more energetic this time around. The drums hit harder, the guitars have a melodic bite, the vocals are more clearly conveyed, and the choral backing on the title track is a nice touch. The songwriting is also snappier, as songs like “The Dagger’s Blade” and “Ride the Night” match driving rhythms with flamboyant vocals and guitar harmonies. “Dying Breath” also makes for a gorgeous closing ballad. I think the band was still a few choruses shy of fully realizing their potential, but this is a really fun listen all the same.
Final Grade: B+
3) Crest of the Martyrs
Now, this is where Twisted Tower Dire really became something special. While the production job courtesy of Iron Savior’s Piet Sielck is raw compared to The Isle of Hydra, this 2003 release retains that album’s tight musicianship and grandiose vision. The band’s power/speed metal side is pushed to the forefront with an even greater emphasis on fast-paced tempos and uplifting anthemic choruses on songs like “Some Other Time, Some Other Place” and the glorious “To Be A Champion.” This heightened catchiness reminds me of Visigoth’s similar shift on Conqueror’s Oath, but such parallels were likely unintentional. Either way, this is feelgood heavy metal that is essential listening for all fans of the genre.
Final Grade: A
Netherworlds isn’t a dark album per se, but it is easily the band’s most ominous effort to date. The guitar tone has a noticeably darker tinge and the drums aren’t quite as relentless. It’s easy to see why this was vocalist Tony Taylor’s last outing with the band as his delivery has a real sense of urgency while the lyrics deal heavily with mental illness and personal struggles. Fortunately, the songwriting is still strong with the title track taking a labyrinthine approach and “Tales of Submission” sticking out as one of the sole sources of triumph. These elements in combination with Taylor’s passing from a motorcycle accident in 2010 make for a harder listen than usual, but it remains strong.
Final Grade: A-
5) Make it Dark
Despite only changing singers between albums, Twisted Tower Dire sounds like a completely new band on Make it Dark. They still ride a melodic metal style with energetic musicianship, but they draw much more on their old school influences with an incredibly slick production job to match. The results sound like something White Wizzard would’ve put out at the time as opposed to their more established epic fare. It makes for some intense mood whiplash, but the hooks go all out and then-new vocalist Jonny Aune fits in with the rest of the band quite nicely. It’s not the best representation of Twisted Tower Dire, but it’s a fun, breezy listen.
Final Grade: B+