I’ll be honest: I don’t listen to nearly as much happy Italian power metal as I once did. For a few years after the turn of the millennium, happy Italian power metal was a cornerstone of my musical diet. I spent many pleasant hours immersing myself in the likes of Projecto, Labyrinth, Secret Sphere, Wild Steel and so forth. Over the years, however, I slowly gravitated away from that sound and back toward the traditional, pounding, old-school metal that’s always been closest to my heart. That said, I’ve neither disowned nor disavowed happy Italian power metal. I just don’t listen it as much as I did, and don’t investigate new bands in the style particularly often. For some reason, though, my interest was piqued when I heard of the oddly named Skeletoon, so I picked up their debut album, ‘The Curse of the Avenger,’ and gave it a whirl.
The CD booklet liner notes say it perfectly: “Skeletoon is an Old Fashioned, Happy, ‘don’t give a f**k,’ Power Metal Project by Mr. Tomi Fooler.” For better or worse, ‘The Curse of the Avenger’ really does appear to be largely the work of one man. Mr. Fooler (nice pseudonym) appears to have just about single-handedly willed this album to life, being credited with all vocals, songwriting, concept, storyline (???) and production, and nearly all drums. Most of the booklet photos depict Fooler alone, kind of like a latter-day Running Wild booklet with all the Rock’n’Rolf shots. Still, Tomi Fooler did not build Skeletoon alone. He has a bassist and guitarist onboard, and also credits a couple of industry luminaries for their input. The esteemed studio whiz Dennis Ward (also known as the bassist of Pink Cream 69 and Unisonic, among others) engineered, mixed and mastered the album; and Roland Grapow (Helloween, Masterplan) contributed a couple of guitar solos to add some credibility to the affair.
Where you stand on ‘The Curse of the Avenger’ is largely going to be a function of your disposition toward happy Italian metal in general. Most of the stereotypical genre tropes and stereotypes are proudly displayed here: warbly, slightly out-of-control high-pitched vocals from the Michael Kiske school; bucketloads of happy speed on a few cuts; eye-rolling voiceovers; shaky English lyrics that are both intentionally and unintentionally silly; inconsistent writing; a painful ballad; and so on. Thankfully, Skeletoon ditch the keyboards and symphonic elements that weigh down so many of the countrymen, opting instead for a streamlined guitar/bass/drums sonic landscape. And Dennis Ward’s participation guarantees that the album will sound excellent, thereby elevating Skeletoon’s work above the shoddy production values that have hampered so many of their countrymen. If you enjoy the genre, ‘The Curse of the Avenger’ certainly has its charms, especially in the speedy revelry of “Heroes Don’t Complain” and “Heavy Metal Dreamers,” the anthemic “What I want,” and the effective tempo-shifting title cut.
Tomi Fooler makes no secret of his adulation of fellow practitioners Trick or Treat, to whom he refers in the liner notes as “the Best Heavy Metal Band in the Whole World.” That admission is illuminating as to what Skeletoon is going for here. To my ears, Trick or Treat are one of the finest purveyors of the classic Italian melodic power metal style today, with three strong albums under their belts and a fourth due later this year via Frontiers Records. Skeletoon aren’t on Trick or Treat’s level yet, and I’d like to see Tomi Fooler hit the accelerator more often and rein in some of his more, errr, ambitious high notes. Still, fans of the genre should be pleased with ‘The Curse of the Avenger.’ There simply aren’t many new bands these days playing old-fashioned, happy, don’t-give-a-f**k, Italian power metal, so let’s give credit where it is due.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~