There are two essential elements to pure, 100% Power Metal, and they are power and Metal. Some may augment it with a regular keyboardist and make it more melodic, while some others may throw an orchestra behind it or get a little Progressive, but the bare essentials still need to be there. Bone thudding riffs, catchy fanfare choruses for a legion of unholy head bangers to sing along to, fast as lightning beats, and a charismatic front man with lungs of pure steel are all irreplaceable necessities for any band to do justice to the gods. And like 4 raging Vikings in the spirit of MANOWAR, with its own legion of immortal followers, IRON FIRE have stormed the battlefield and single-handedly crushed an army of poser, half-Metal pieces of garbage with 12 thundering swings of their mighty swords (or 13 if you go for the special edition, which is worth getting).
All of the additives of the past have been tossed away like a rusty old gauntlet, leaving behind a formidable and completely unsubtle berserker, charging forth on the plains towards his enemies while wearing only his battle axe. There are no obligatory ballads, no 80s Glam interludes, the keyboards play support and augment the whole rather than dominate it, and the almighty guitar riff plays a coequal role with the melodies of the vocals rather than taking a backseat to them. Epic sounds are brought forth through the character of the music, rather than by elongated song durations beyond necessity, and guitar solos slay quickly and then make room for the rest of the army rather than stealing all of the glory. The vocals walk a fine line between being consonant and being demonic, as Martin Steene draws upon his early days as a Death Metal styled vocalist to play foil against his sleazy yet melodic clean voice. When put up against other true Metal bands of the likes of METALIUM and HAMMERFALL, what emerges is a fully plate armored, 15 ft. tall colossus staring down at a couple of 6 ft. tall gladiators in chain mail.
In every respect this album is 1 dimensional, in that it continually pulverizes the ears with relentless metallic chugs, thuds and bangs. The band has definitely taken a lesson from the early to mid-80s work of German Speed/Thrash pioneers RAGE, RUNNING WILD, GRAVE DIGGER, and HELLOWEEN, as well as newer adherents such as PARAGON and STORMWARRIOR. The songs are catchy as hell when the vocals come in and the guitars chug away at varying speeds on harmonically consonant chord progressions, bolstering the melodic material above them. But when the vocals leave, things start Thrashing away riff wise, to the point of putting a bit of ANTHRAX, OVERKILL and some assorted Bay Area bands to give the instrumental breaks that crushing sense of heaviness. Essentially what emerges is the best of both worlds, primitive Thrash riff poundage and epic, memorable music to fill the ears with images of heroic ventures.
Things have come full circle since this outfit when on hiatus, following their ejection from Noise Records and Steene shacking up with former MERCYFUL FATE and KING DIAMOND members in the more straight up Heavy Metal outfit FORCE OF EVIL. It surpasses everything that the band did beforehand, including their classic and underrated debut “Thunderstorm”, while simultaneously reaching into that same past and reliving their glory days. For anyone other than me who followed the band during their time in limbo from 2002 until the release of “Revenge”, there is a familiar guitar theme during the epic intro to “The Beast From The Blackness” that also kicked off their “The Underworld” demo song “Firegod”. In fact, the opening song here is a repackaged version of the latter, packing an even wickeder vocal delivery, twice the heaviness, and a dark as hell Latin chorus over the galloping breakdown section after the guitar solo. Of all the songs that have been stuck between the realm of ideas and material reality off of IRON FIRE’S 2003 demo, this was the song that I was hoping to hear in a finalized form, and my expectations have been completely surpassed.
After setting a super-owning precedent in the first 5 minutes, this album just proceeds to praise all of the various godfathers of Heavy Metal at varying tempos, while keeping the power right at the helm. “Kill For Metal” and “Hail To Odin” take their cues straight from MANOWAR, pounding down the gavel of Asgard with every upper mid-tempo, power chord steeped second. “March Of The Immortals” mixes up the riff format a little bit and comes off as a nasty GRAVE DIGGER crusher with a catchy, RUNNING WILD oriented chorus. “Cover The Sun” is solid, grade A Power Thrash, meshing a series of Bay Area inspired riff breaks with an epic chorus that sticks in the brain like a classic off of IRON MAIDEN’S early Dickinson era albums. “To The Grave” Thrashes things up a bit during the instrumental sections as well, but most of it is a perfect 50/50 hybrid of RUNNING WILD’S catchiness and HELLOWEEN’s epic and atmospheric affects as heard on the “Keepers Pt. 2”.
In terms of picking a best out of this amazingly consistent opus, two favored champions emerge that bring the goods both in the aggression and the catchiness department. “The Kingdom” is the winner if what one seeks is classic epic storytelling with large as hell melodic sections in the vain of the band’s debut “Thunderstorm”, albeit combined with a much darker sound, spearheaded by a bass production that would make Joey Demaio proud, and about twice as many riffs to please the Thrashers who may go for the occasional Power Metal song. The bonus track “Blacksmith Of Thunder” goes a little bit more in a Speed/Thrash direction, having a pretty elaborate riff set to start things off, but reverts to that same winning chorus format to allow the lungs of the audience to give their necks a much needed rest.
If you like your Power Metal catchy, but also loaded with good old fashioned German Speed Metal aggression and without all of the pleasantries of the Finnish melodic variant on the style or all of the AOR that seems to be coming up all over the place, this is the one to get. These guys have successfully edged out their older German counterparts GRAVE DIGGER this year, as well as their contemporaries HAMMERFALL’s and PARAGON’s latest efforts, to speak nothing for utterly destroying METALIUM’s last 3 releases. Perhaps it’s a tad ironic that these guys look like a bunch of modern Thrash fan boys led by a pissed off, leather toting, Johnny Rotten look-alike, but in spite of the lack of hair in this band, this is about as Metal as it can get.
(Online April 11, 2009)