Iron Fire // Voyage of the Damned
Rating: 3.5/5.0 —Space metal equipped with a death ray
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: ironfire.dk | myspace.com/officialironfire
Release Dates: EU: Out now! | US: 02.07.2012
Historically speaking, I think the main reason our esteemed AMG hired me, the ever humble Steel Druhm, as a reviewer/minion [I prefer the term “bitch,” actually – AMG] was to make me the resident power and traditional metal nerd (my amazing prose and rugged good looks didn’t hurt none either). While I’m predisposed to drool over most old school stuff (cause I’m old), I’m actually quite the elitist snob when it comes to power metal. There’s some good in that genre, but there are way more generic, bad and monumentally awful things lurking in the ether. Case in point, I’ve had a love/hate/meh relationship with Iron Fire over the years. Their Thunderstorm debut was decent and moderately rabble rousing, but things have been inconsistent since then and their discography reads like the good, the bad and the WTF? After being unmoved by their past few releases, I hoped for more from their seventh release, Voyage of the Damned. Turns out, I heartily appreciate the new lyrical slant toward outer space themes, as it’s a nice diversion from the usual “dragon ate my wizard’s maiden” schtick. It’s also safe to say, this is much better than expected and it slowly won me over, despite initial doubts. Roping in elements of Gamma Ray, Stratovarius, Grave Digger and Metalium, this features some highly enjoyable Euro-power with some surprisingly heavy moments. It also delivers far less generic freight than past Iron Fire shipments. While not exactly a “must hear” album, Voyage ends up being a solid release from a band with a spotty track record.
Opener “Enter Oblivion OJ-666” (O.J. Simpson?) is a tried-and-true Euro stomper with zippy double base, energetic riffing, glossy keys and the familiar vocal stylings of Martin Steene. The chorus is big and uplifting and Steene channels Bruce Dickinison in his delivery thereof. It’s good stuff and highly worthwhile. Other noteworthy ditties include the addictive and interestingly heavy approach of “Slaughter of Souls” (replete with death roars from David Ingram of Bolt Thrower), the blend of pompous and brutal in “Leviathan” and the gritty Tad Morose stylings of “Dreams of the Dead Moon” and “Verge to Collide.” A guilty pleasure worth mentioning is the superbly overwrought power ballad “The Final Odyssey,” which comes across like a mash-up of Queensryche‘s “Screaming in Digital” and “The Final Countdown” by AMG’s much beloved Europe (kindly enjoy the Captain Kirk delivery of lines like “I can’t… compute”). While the ten-minute-plus title track underwhelmed at first, it did grow on me with repeated listens. That said, it does too little over too long a duration to justify the length. Elsewhere, “With Different Eyes,” while not bad, doesn’t really hold my interest.
What makes this material work is the straight forward nature of the delivery. It’s heavier than most power metal these days and the riffs often have real heft and punch. While there’s plenty of keyboard work scattered about, it doesn’t make the music sound as if it should be wearing a pink tutu. Steene’s delivery has been too nasal for me in the past, but he sounds mighty fine here and shows some real versatility as well. Sometimes he sports a Dickinsonian flair, other times he uses a rough, raspy delivery reminiscient of Urban Breed (ex-Tad Morose/ex-Bloodbound) or Nils Patrik Johansson (Wuthering Heights/Astral Doors). At times it actually sounds like one or both of them are singing along with him. The death vox add some interesting flair as well. They’re worked into the songs well, in much the same way as on Threshold‘s “Slipstream,” and they add an extra layer of grit and baddassery.
This was an unexpected surprise from a band I’d all but written off and consigned to irrelevance. While it likely won’t convert anyone to power metal wonkhood, it’s well done, well-written stuff with a few sincere attempts at originality. In a genre rife with fluff, fruit and frill, this comes as a welcome dose of actual power and actual metal, with no dragons anywhere in sight (except maybe on the cover… dammit! [That’s a sandworm, dude. C’mon. AMG]). Well, you gotta keep the LARPers happy, I guess.