Wings of Steel - Gates of Twilight: Is it Worth 50 Minutes of Your Life?
Updated: Nov 11
Holy fucking hell, what is this??
I initially felt this album might not be worth writing about (after all, my time is so valuable I spend it telling complete strangers what I think about obscure albums made by other complete strangers), and to be fair, half of it isn't. But the other half is like, holy shit. I mean, it's like god damn, dude.
So, in an ongoing and mostly futile attempt to say different things about similar things in different ways, I've elected to tackle this write-up in a more relaxed format that's free from headers and serious audial investigations (unlike my Best of NWOTHM series where I sometimes pretend to have meaningful analytical skills). I can promise you this will be filled with all the highly subjective perspectives and shallow insights you've come to expect from me, but more than anything, I just want to tell you about something cool I'm listening to.
So I'm only going to chat about a few songs...or honestly maybe several, but they deserve many words, so let's get right into it with "Liar in Love."
I have a completely serious question about this song: what form of black magic did Wings of Steel use on the bloated husk of Geoff Tate to make him sing like he's 28 again?
Side note: remember when Geoff got fired from Queensrÿche and started a new band called Queensrÿche, but then he lost the legal rights so he named his new band after Queensrÿche's most beloved album, except everything they've done sucks and they still only have 750 monthly listeners on Spotify?
Yeah...I don't either.
Okay, setting aside cheap shots at aging legends, the singer of Wings of Steel (his name's Leo Unnermark by the way) might be the first and only person I've ever heard who could successfully tap into the tone and emotional quality of Geoff Tate's voice, and his performance on "Liar in Love" is absolutely unreal to me.
Now, I don't want to make this sound like Leo is a dead ringer for Geoff, like he's doing a deliberate homage in the way Artur Almeida's work with Stray Gods is a tribute to Bruce Dickinson. And I also don't mean to imply he's a one-dimensional clone. Because I don't believe either of those are true. In fact, "Liar in Love" is the only song on the album where I feel that comparison is fully warranted. But for my money, Geoff is the most talented dude to ever belt out traditional heavy metal, so I make the comparison because I think it speaks to the incredible level of skill and passion involved with Wings of Steel.
And that talent extends beyond the vocals to, well, pretty much everything. I mentioned in my write-up of Stray Gods' Olympus that guitar solos, and specifically the writing of guitar solos, are a key area where I feel NWOTHM bands fail to reach the heights of the classic era of the '80s and early '90s. Stray Gods are an exception to that for me, and I believe Wings of Steel are as well.
The album only lists one guitarist, so fucking cheers to Parker Halub man, holy shit. Between him and Leo, they don't need anyone else. Which is useful, because there are no other band members listed for this album. Who needs 'em, right? They probably just hired Angelo Sasso from Running Wild to handle drum duties.
(Btw If you get that joke you are a total dork and spend way too much time on the internet. Stop reading this and go outside, there are other humans out there.)
In addition to the band's highly compelling verse and chorus sections, they do a fantastic job igniting each tune with a red-hot bridge loaded with great guitar work that effectively breaks up the song while adding energy, excitement, and anticipation for the final passes through the chorus.
The interesting thing about this for me is the solos are not particularly technical or mind-melting in their execution. They are, however, fantastically well written, with each note adding to the emotional intensity of the track. They create peaks and valleys through the back half of the song, and I often emerge from these with chills running along my arms and legs.
Chicken skin all the way.
So the combo of Leo's incredible vocals with hair-raising guitar work in the back half makes "Liar in Love" straight up one of my favorite heavy metal tunes...ever? Yeah, ever. I don't even think I'm joking about that.
The boys don't stop there though, so I won't either. Let's see what's happening with "Fall in Line."
Wings of Steel generally favor a slower pace to their music, sort of an epic heavy metal feel with a pinch of doom sprinkled in, though "Fall in Line" features a rhythm section that feels like a goddamn metal stampede bearing down on my eardrums. And once again, Leo's voice goes to places I've only heard a few dudes reach in traditional metal music.
Side rant: the vocals on this album feel like they transcend the reality of traditional metal as an underground form of music in 2023. For me, what Leo's doing here brings to mind some of the best performances of the early and mid '80s when uber-talented singers were drawn to and inspired by heavy metal as a new and exciting genre, one that held the promise of becoming a full-blown rockstar. In my mind, those kinds of performances were lightning in a bottle sparked by widespread cultural excitement around this music, excitement that frankly hasn't existed in over 30 years now.
So where is Leo getting this incredible inspo from??
Hell if I know.
Of course, maybe I'm just being hyperbolic here, and if so, I'll blame it on the ghost of Geoff Tate ringing in my ears as I listen to this album. All the same, the best songs on Gates of Twilight hit me with a vibe that feels incredibly rare to find among the thousands of traditional heavy metal albums produced over the decades, particularly in the NWOTHM era.
There's so much more I could say, but the most important thing to note here is drums, powerful. Vocals, exhilarating.
Let's move on.
Ah, the title track. The subtle pacing of this tune really hits me in the feels. It never rushes to get anywhere and never tries to be immediately impressive. Instead, it feels like the fellas understood just how powerful each element of this one was and were content to simply let it play out in all its epic heavy metal glory. A cascade of spine-tingling moments roll out across "Gates of Twilight" like a storm surging in its intensity, and its easily on par for me with "Liar in Love" for its sheer holy-fuck-this-is-bad-ass-ness.
As on Gates of Twilight's other best tracks, there is such an incredible interplay of Leo's voice with the instruments. The highlight for me is Leo's shift into higher notes at the 0:40 mark and the repetition of that same verse coming out of subsequent chorus sections.
Gets me every time.
Lastly, I gotta point you toward the deceptively low-key "Into the Sun."
This near-ballad immediately asserts itself as something different with its Old West-style guitar work and ultra-relaxed pace. As usual, Leo expertly leads the track with his immense vocal skill, though the slower pace of this one gives him a chance to explore a more nuanced singing style. And it fucking does it for me, man.
"Into the Sun" isn't a sappy, I'm-sad-and-I-want-you-to-see-me-crying-in-the-bathtub kind of heavy metal ballad.
And yeah, I means it starts out ballad-y, but it turns out to be something so much better than that. Just stick with it.
As always, Wings of Steel have chosen every note and every bit of percussion so well that they don't need to blow minds with intricate instrumentation. (Angelo Sasso on drums, my god, that guy is a machine!) And instead of packing the run time with fist-raising metal fury, the fellas chose to do something that requires a lot more patience on the part of the listener.
The song can essentially be broken into two halves: the front half with the initial vocal sections, then a mostly instrumental back half with a protracted bridge that leads into the final chorus and outro. And what an incredible bridge section it is, carefully escalating through a series of brilliantly written guitar leads that grow in speed and intensity. The result of listening to the back half is like climbing a mountain, reaching the peak, and taking a running leap off the summit. The final chorus practically soars on the back of that long build-up.
"Into the Sun" provides an amazing counter-balance to the more aggressive songs I mentioned earlier, and it cements Wings of Steel as some of the most gifted dudes creating traditional metal in the modern era.
Conclusion about Wings of Steel's Gates of Twilight
So, with all that said, why am I not including this on my growing list of the Best NWOTHM Albums? Because although Gates of Twilight has some absolutely unbelievable songs on it, it also has some inexplicably dull ones. In fact, of the 10-song tracklist, I can only pull out five that I think are worth listening to, and only four of those are really special to me. And that breaks my metal heart, because it feels like a lot of potential was left on the table here.
So, is Gates of Twilight worth 50 minutes of your life? Well, listening to the album front to back isn't a great 50 minutes. But, if you like old school heavy metal, then you will almost certainly find tunes on here that are worth pulling out and listening to again and again, and the total listening time there can blow past the 50-minute mark.
The metal universe is richer for Wings of Steel's effort. When it's awesome, it's really awesome. And while I may not feel comfortable adding it to my ongoing discussion around the absolute best NWOTHM albums, I am definitely happy to tell complete strangers just how good it often is.
Like Wings of Steel? Check out more awesome heavy metal of the modern era in my NWOTHM playlist – updated regularly since 2014!