I never seem to get a hold of any good neoclassical metal these days (or any neoclassical metal at all). But, in the last couple months, I’ve scored Narnia‘s self-titled album and Iron Mask‘s Diabolica. Though similar in approach, Narnia and Iron Mask have many differences. The first, and most obvious, being that Iron Mask ain’t no Christian metal act. Instead of the Holy Trinity, Iron Mask uses everything from historical characters like Alexander the Great and the Red Baron to literary ones like Dr. Faust and Oliver Twist for lyrical content. The other being the amount of neoclassical wanking that exists in their songwriting. While Narnia has shifted their direction to a more power-metal sound, Iron Mask stayed true to the Mighty Malmsteen. Hell, Iron Mask even used an actual Malmsteen vocalist for their epic Black as Death release. But, the Belgian’s 2013 record, Fifth Son of Winterdoom, was not good. And I’m sorta afraid to hear this newest release. Well, duty calls. Here goes nothing…
Twenty seconds into “I Don’t Forget, I Don’t Forgive,” I have one thing to say: this gonna be fun. It’s got everything a typical Iron Mask song should have. It’s got catchy power-metal riffs, a hooking chorus, and some impressive solo work. The opener may be standard-fare, but it shows a band with rediscovered energy, backed by a capable vocalist (unlike Fifth Son of Winterdoom). Diego Valdez brings character (at times reminding me of a mix between Ripper Owens and Dio) to Iron Mask‘s music and life to a band that, I felt, fell flat in 2013. The guitar work has also returned in a big way; transitioning melodic passages into crushing riffs and filling every void with finger-numbing fret-work. So far, this feels pretty good. And it only gets better from here.
Those that know the band will not be surprised that most of the songs on Diabolica clock in around six minutes in length. Though this may result in a little power-metal fatigue, the band was kind enough to toss in a couple shorter ditties to ease your Powermetaltosis. “All for Metal” has some pint-worthy riffs and a chorus designed for the local pub. And, to top it off, Dushan Petrossi unleashes the kind of blistering-fast guitar plucks that’d make you think it was the amplified sounds of bumblebees fucking. The second short song, “The First and the Last,” takes a slightly different approach than “All for Metal,” slowing the pace and serving up a sappy, creamy, grilled cheese sandwich. This song doesn’t exist without its chorus and, goddammit, does it deliver a good one. Don’t roll your eyes at me. You fucking love this [Swear Jar! – Steel Druhm].
Besides these two tracks, everything else on Diabolica is long. Thankfully, most of it is long without being exhausting. “Doctor Faust” and “Diabolica” may be as stacked as a Symphony X track, but there’s something new at every turn. For how much I’m enjoying the vocals on Diabolica, they are actually rare. When the guitars, keyboards, and orchestration get a hold of a song, they do their damnedest to own it. But, I’m not complaining. The guitar work on this album (be it some impressive solos or the breakdown riffs of a track like “Diabolica”) rips faces off.
But, there are many pros and cons to Diabolica. There are some songwriting weaknesses (“March 666” and “The Rebellion of Lucifer”), but the biggest problems is the length. By the time you get to “The Flying Fortress,” you are done. But, the fourteen-minute closer, “Cursed in the Devil’s Mill” still remains. Though “Oliver Twist” and “The First and the Last” remain my favorites, “Cursed in the Devil’s Mill” is the quintessential Diabolica track. For the most part, the guitars own this song. But, when the vocals do appear, they deliver one of the best choruses of the album. It may take sixty minutes to get to the closer, but it’s worth the wait.
Other than a couple mediocre tracks, this new release is (almost) as strong as Black as Death. It has a power that was lost on Fifth Son of Winterdoom. Yet, this album is by far the band’s longest. Again, it’s not a chore to get through, but losing some of the weaker tracks would make it better. So, if you are looking for a happy-go-lucky alternative to the political bullshit [$$. – Id] on TV or need something to help you shut out all the Opeth fans, then put on Diabolica. Not because you want to, but because you have to. Plus, they sell their own beer.