Stray Gods - Olympus: Is It Worth 45 Minutes of Your Life?
Updated: Jul 30
Are you the type of person who enjoys music that sounds just like other music? Do you turn away from the new, the innovative, the daring, and choose instead to bang your head to the real shit, the old shit, the shit that sounds like it was made 40 years ago? If you're nodding confusedly but affirmatively to the questions above, and if you're reading a blog primarily focused on the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, then you're in the right place!
Because today I'm going to tell you an assortment of random things I'm thinking about Stray Gods' new album, Olympus, a recording that is uniquely emulative even among an entire revival genre of traditional metal. And while it's a common but erroneous occurrence for metal fans to say that all NWOTHM acts sound just like Iron Maiden, Stray Gods is a band that does, in fact, sound just like Iron Maiden.
And for my money, they do it incredibly well, with many of their songs rivaling classic material from the storied British heavy metal pioneers themselves and easily outclassing anything Maiden has squeezed out since 2000's Brave New World.
(Side query: is the name Stray Gods a reference to the "metal gods" in Iron Maiden who have creatively gone astray? Am I reading too much into this?)
I'm not even going to make fun of this vid. Cheers to these dudes for doing their thing.
Eagle-eyed readers will recall the presence of Stray Gods's first effort, Storm the Walls, on my list of the Top 10 NWOTHM Albums of 2022, where it took home the not-really-coveted-by-anyone spot of third place. So you may or may not imagine my excitement when I saw the band had crafted a follow-up and placed it before us for solemn judgment less than a year after its predecessor's release.
Did my enthusiasm withstand multiple listens of the album? Can Olympus live up to the surprisingly high heights of its predecessor? Most importantly, Is it worth 45 minutes of your life?
In order to answer these questions, I will be pummeling this recording with an array of haphazardly arranged words that some would describe as a review but I would suggest is merely the ranting of a guy with too much time on his hands. These words will roughly fall into three categories, namely Songwriting, Musicianship, and Production.
Let's do this.
Songwriting is the part of this assessment where I rely on evidence-based tools that exist entirely in my head to convey to you whether something sucks or not. And the good news about Stray Gods' Olympus is that it most definitely does not suck.
In fact, it's often quite good, sometimes even great.
And that's good!
At the risk of beating a dead horse, the thing that will stand out most to first-time listeners of Stray Gods is that they are very much an alternate-worlds version of Iron Maiden, one in which Maiden has not yet become bloated and disenchanted by their fame and jumbo touring jets and completely lost touch with the ability to craft compelling music that can be recalled for more than a moment after a song has ended.
I'm tempted to say that Stray Gods' songwriting on Olympus feels a little less Maiden-ish and more creatively unique to them than Storm the Walls, but I'd be wrong. Frontman Artur Almeida is still a dead ringer for '90s- and early '00s-era Bruce Dickinson, the album still has its share of galloping basslines and twin guitar harmonies, and there are even some production touches that accent the band's performances to recall specific albums in Maiden's discography.
Although I never fully believe I'm listening to a new Iron Maiden album with Olympus, it's close enough that I sometimes turn my head and think "That's weird, I don't remember hearing this Maiden song before."
Stray Gods perfectly scratches a decades-long itch I've had for a satisfying new album from Iron Maiden, and they've now done it twice! In fact, I revisited Storm the Walls before writing this, and I actually feel this is the stronger of the two albums, which is impressive considering the short turnaround time.
There's an appetizing platter of tunes to select from on Olympus, many of which have their own distinctive flavor and texture. The lead track "Out of Nowhere" was the sole advance single off the album (thank you merciful Stray Gods for not force-feeding us a million pre-release singles), and although that song is quite savory, I'd prefer to focus on the plump, juicy morsel that is "Ghost from the Future."
Remember when I was tempted to say this album was less emulative of Maiden and a little more unique to Stray Gods? Yeah, well, no...
Serious shades of Somewhere in Time on that intro, amiright, or amiright?
What I love about Stray Gods, though, is that their cloneliness (ooh, did I just invent a new word?) is incredibly well done. Creations from the small number of other NWOTHM bands who actually bear strong similarities to Iron Maiden are, well...messy. The folks in those bands – the innocent shall remain nameless here – are just not great songwriters and musicians. But the best Stray Gods tunes stand fully on their own as terrific pieces of old school heavy metal.
"Ghost from the Future" checks all the boxes on my imaginary checklist of "is it good or what?" with an awesome intro riff, a verse section that does an excellent job building energy for the chorus (love the singer's whispered vocals), a memorable chorus hook, and a quality bridge loaded with epic guitar work from Bob Katsionis and John Mcris.
In fact, it's worth mentioning just how good Stray Gods' bridges and guitar solos really are, as this is one area where NWOTHM bands often struggle to compete with music from the '80s and early '90s. The fellas in Stray Gods have a superb sense of songwriting and an equally impressive understanding of how to use their solos to enhance the melodic character of a song. By clearly connecting their solos to the main riffs and vocal leads of each track, they're able to establish the best songs on Olympus as complete, cohesive pieces that are easy to recall long after they've stopped playing.
And although I appreciate the efficient songwriting and not-super-duper-long running times on many of their tunes, I also sometimes wish those bridges were a touch longer (provided they don't become the bloated 15-minute slogs of latter-day Maiden).
Elsewhere on the album, "The Other Side of the Mirror" is a patient piece that holds more of a slow burn appeal, while "Abel and Cain" (see music vid above) kicks up the tempo a couple notches for one of the most immediately gratifying entries on Olympus. Both of them are excellent additions to the tracklist, and I'm particularly fond of the harmonized guitar leads throughout "Abel and Cain" and especially during its bridge.
Another major highlight lands late in the album with "Angels of the Light." This one offers some wonderful vocal melodies and classic "whoa-oh-oh" moments that feel custom-made for singing along in the car. Special praise for the rhythm work from Thanos Pappas and Gus Macricostas on "Angels of the Light," as they provide a satisfying foundation for the relatively chill piece. I honestly can't remember the last time I was this excited about drum fills.
Altogether, I'd say there are five tracks on this one that fully kick ass. The lengthy and ambitious closer "Olympus" also has its share of terrific moments, particularly the escalation of the opening moments and the prolonged, well-executed instrumental section in the back half. However, the chorus never feels strong enough to support the ambition of the rest of the track, and a more melodic and hooky section there could've turned a very good song into something truly special. Instead we have, "Ohh-lim-poos! The mountain of the gods, Ohh-lim-poos!"
Ah, well, we can't have everything.
Fun side note though: if there were any lingering doubt whether Stray Gods were deliberately emulating Iron Maiden or not, the guitar work at the end of "Olympus" (at 8:35) feels like a clear homage to the final moments of Maiden's "The Prophecy" (check 4:02 of the link below). As a long-time fan of the British NWOBHM dudes, this hits me as a fun and nostalgic little Easter egg hidden away at the end of the album.
Okay, so "Olympus" isn't perfect, but it's still a damn good tune in its own right.
A pair of other songs, "The Sign," and "Fortune Favors the Bold" are perhaps best left with little or no mention, though I do have to make fun of the vocals on the intro to "Fortune Favors the Bold" for a moment. I mentioned in my recent write-up of Enforcer's new album that Olaf sings like a hobbling old crone on the intro to "Heartbeats." Not to be outdone, Artur embraces a haggard, old-man-on-the-mountain performance on "Fortune Favors the Bold," though it doesn't work in the same inexplicable way as it did for Olaf.
Not sure what the actual intent for that intro was, but it gets a confused chuckle out of me every time I hear it.
Unfortunately, the rest of the track doesn't do much to redeem the weirdness of the intro, and "The Sign" simply pales in comparison to the many great songs around it. So, skip those with mild prejudice and your appreciation of the album will likely improve.
Alright, to paraphrase Meat Loaf, "five-and-three-quarters out of eight ain't bad." Especially since the best songs on Olympus are so damn catchy and enjoyable to hear that I can happily overlook many of the album's shortcomings. To sum up the songwriting section, "I like it a lot dude, I think it's really good."
Rather than try to convince anyone that I know what I'm talking about here, for Musicianship I should just start placing a thumbs-up or thumbs-down emoji. (Is there a thumbs-sideways emoji?)
I'll be like the Commodus of emojis.
Contrary to the dramatic gif though, my thoughts about Stray Gods' Olympus are quite positive. Since we're talking about traditional heavy metal, you can expect that Olympus won't turn your mind to goo with elaborate or breakneck performances. However, every note and every beat of the instrumental work here is both precise and heartfelt.
Take the bridge on "Out of Nowhere" for example. The intricate guitar and drum performances feel impressively tight and clean as the fellas weave their way through multiple creative ideas in a short stretch of time, effortlessly shifting from one to the next with nary a stumble. The result is both emotionally and cerebrally satisfying, and it's a joy to hear the players' skill capitalizing on the great songwriting at work. (Though once again I do wish it were a bit longer...)
Artur's voice is often a different story, as his performances tend to favor passion over precision, but I would say that's exactly how it should be. There's a raw energy behind his work that gives every track a dynamic edge, and any looseness in accuracy is forgivable in the same way that Dickinson's was in the classic era (except maybe in Maiden's live shows...yikes.) In short, much praise and worship for Stray Gods and their excellent performances on this album.
Oh my god, is this review still happening? How much can one dude say about an album?
Here's the good news: I'm not a producer, I'm just some schmuck with a pair of earholes, so we can keep this Production section short.
As with the band's first album, the production on Olympus is solid overall. Well-rounded with great drum tones and a satisfying vocal mix. The recording also carries a nice fleshy bottom that gives the tracks a fatter, more modern feel. My only real complaint is I feel the guitars swell a bit too much in the mix, sometimes causing them to lose clarity. But that's a minor gripe for how great this recording sounds overall.
So, to sum up my not-at-all intelligent or insightful thoughts about the album's production, "Feels pretty good to me, I like to play it loud."
Conclusion about Stray Gods' Olympus
For better or worse, many people's enjoyment of Stray Gods' Olympus will likely hinge on one thing, which is how they feel about music that sounds like other, previously existing music. If you're the type of person who wants everything to be unique and avant-garde, then no sir, this album is not for you. In fact, NWOTHM isn't for you. This blog isn't for you, either. Come to think of it, what are you even doing here?
My guess, however, is that you're like me and have a deep craving for old school metal – an itch on the inside of your thick skull that only be scratched by the truest of true heavy metal, in which case, Stray Gods' Olympus was made precisely for you.
Is this album worth 45 minutes of your life? Shit yeah it is. Even with a couple non-extraordinary songs lurking in its run time, the bulk of Olympus is so well written and performed that it's easy to skip those and not feel the album is low on overall quality. (Besides, if we're being honest, every Maiden album from the classic era contained a couple stinkers as well. I mean, that's not just me, right?)
The fact that Stray Gods' music happens to take the form of Maiden impersonations adds a layer of intense nostalgia for me, but I also kinda think it's irrelevant to discussions of the album's overall quality and worthiness as a standalone creation – at least for anyone willing to accept the homage for what it is.
So, to slap an official-sounding review-guy conclusion on all this: Olympus is a consummate album with numerous well-written, deeply memorable tracks delivered by talented dudes with a clear passion for their music, and it's a worthy contribution to the world of old school metal regardless of obvious comparisons to other, more popular bands.
That said, you should really just listen to Olympus and decide for yourself.
Love music that sounds like Iron Maiden? Check out more awesome heavy metal of the modern era in my NWOTHM playlist – updated regularly since 2014!