Iron Savior is one of those “comfortable old shoe” kind of bands. Every album is essentially the same and the quality ratio is generally respectable. They were never much for shifting stylistic paradigms and it’s fair to call them the AC/DC of overblown sci-fi power metal, but as long as the music was good, it was all fine. Sure, their recent output hasn’t exactly rivaled their classic early period stuff, but they never dropped a total dud either and 2011s The Landing was plenty of fun in all it’s overproduced, studio-abusing bombast.
Since their band lineage traces back to both Helloween and Gamma Ray, it’s no shock they serve up heaping doses of Germanic style Euro-power with all the typical genre conceits. However, Iron Savior always stood slightly apart by incorporating heavier guitars, rougher vocals and a classic metal spirit. That heaviness has led to some winning tunes and kept their material from becoming too fluffy and pirate-shirty. Rise of the Hero features the beloved Iron Savior sound and style, but unfortunately, the songs themselves are surprisingly flat and poorly executed. Some feel forced, others are filler and a few are total clunkers. It’s also overlong and contains a disastrous cover tune midstream which blows up the whole album. Not as heroic as you hoped, eh?
Despite the various shortcomings, there are a few good cuts in the vein of classic Savior, with opener “Last Hero” being the best of the bunch. It sports a big, over-the-top chorus (as all proper Savior songs should) and satisfying meat and taters riffs. Also enjoyable is “Revenge of the Bride,” which is a zippy, old school burner inspired by the Kill Bill movies, and “From Far Beyond Time” which has a classic Savior sound and a bit of Gamma Ray theatrics. “Burning Heart” is more of a traditional metal anthem with ballsy riffing and rough vocals, but it’s also too cheesy and a bit forced (and it may have the worst DIY video of all time, featuring Piet Sielck singing his lines as he drives to work or something).
Less convincing are tracks like “Thunder From the Mountains,” “Iron Warrior” and “Dragon King” which all come across as flat and uninspired, despite some cool, British Steel-esque riffing on the latter. Worse still is the awkward and slightly uncomfortable power-ballad “Demon” which goes nowhere fast, and closer “Fistraiser,” which screams filler to the heavens. The fatal coup de grace is the cover version of Mando Diao‘s “Dance With Somebody,” which is so awful and ill-conceived, it rivals Celtic Frost‘s infamous cover of Wall of Voodoo‘s “Mexican Radio” for sheer head-scratching befuddlement. If it was relegated to a bonus track, it would be a piffle to be ignored at all costs, but dropping it into the meat of the album is a highly dubious stratagem and ultimately, a platter killer.
As always, I love Piet’s rough, raspy vocals which are so unlike the usual balls-stuck-in-car-door histrionics so common in power metal. He always reminded me of Perry McCarty of long forgotten Warrior (go find their Fighting for the Earth album, trust me) and his harsher delivery works especially well alongside the heavy, meaty riffs Iron Savior is known for. Most importantly, he always sounds metal and mean, even when things veer into über cheese (except on “Dance With Somebody,” of course). He and Joachim Kustner do a good job delivering big riffs and fun harmonies and whether they’re in speedy, Helloween-y mode or their stripped-down, early 80s Judas Priest style, they consistently write engaging, enjoyable leads. Sadly, the songs they drop them into aren’t all that good or consistent this time out.
I still go back the first few Savior albums often and I’ll always be a sucker for their blend of old school metal and Euro-power, but Rise of the Hero feels like a rush job that doesn’t represent what the band is capable of. The sound is there, the energy is there, but the songs just aren’t. Worth a spin for diehard fans, but it’s clearly not them at their best. Everyone else, go grab Unification or Dark Assault.