Denmark has lagged behind the rest of Scandinavia in terms of metal output, yet it’s easily my favorite metal country. Leaving aside the objective fact that King Diamond pretty much trumps the entire output of Sweden and Norway combined, I’ve met a disproportionately large number of wonderful, passionate Danish metal fans through my annual pilgrimages to Wacken and/or Summer Breeze. In addition to plying me with shots and teaching me the Cunt Song, these Danes have also revealed to me some hidden gems of their diverse metal scene. Iron Fire (correct pronunciation: EYE-ron FYE-AHH!!!!) are one of these gems. Formed at the turn of the millennium and billed in their promo material as “Denmark’s best-selling power metal band,” Iron Fire have consistently put out strong records with distinctive characters. 2014’s Voyage of the Damned was perhaps their darkest album to date, sounding like a cross between Dark Tranquility and Kamelot, but with more balls1. Since then the band has seen some personnel changes: original drummer Gunnar Olsen has returned to the fold, and they’re now operating as a three-piece. What does this mean for new record Among the Dead?
The changes are immediately apparent, as the rich keyboards that so enhanced Voyage of the Damned are gone completely, substituted with the thrash influences hinted at by the theme of the album name/art (zombies) and several song titles (“Among the Living Dead,” “Tornado of Souls Sickness”). You would be forgiven for confusing the opener (and title track) with Low-era Testament save that the excellent chorus is full-on anthemic power metal, while “Tornado of Sickness” exhibits the expected Megadeth influence in its verse married to a flamboyant Euro-power chorus.
So, atmospheric keys have been replaced by no-nonsense thrash grit, but this is still very much a power metal record, and as such contains its fair share of cheese. Fortunately this is kept to manageable levels: only on closing track “When the Lights Go Out” does the fragrance of fromage turn fetid, the band seriously challenging Poison and Cinderella for the title of Cringiest Rawk Ballad Ever Made. Elsewhere, nineties Helloween is an obvious reference point, particularly in rockier tracks “Higher Ground” (Helloween on a bad day) and “The Last Survivor” (Helloween on a good day). Despite this and several other fairly obvious reference points (mostly Rage), each track has a distinctive character thanks to the solid songwriting.
Martin Steene matches this simpler, thrashier sound with much harsher singing than on prior albums. The man has a strong death grunt that he uses sparingly and to great effect, while his singing is predominantly mid-ranged, sounding powerful and satisfyingly raspy. There’s none of the crazy falsetto or gaping wide vibrato that might be abused by a rank amateur here. Instrumentally Iron Fire are highly proficient, especially in the guitar department. Given the heavy Helloween influence I hoped for more prominent bass lines and some outrageous drumming, but sadly both are relegated to relatively bland supporting roles. Production-wise everything is crisp, clear, and a bit heavier than your average power metal sound, though still a little too modern for my tastes given the strong 90s influences in the writing.
Iron Fire have once again produced a fine power metal record that is different enough from their last to warrant a spin, but I’m a touch disappointed overall. The opening is extremely strong and on first listen I instantly contacted the Dane that introduced me to the band to express my delight, but the album is front-loaded and repeated listens revealed that my enthusiasm derived largely from my intoxicated state at the time (it helps to be a few pints in when talking to Danish people). While Among the Dead is a thrashingly interesting change for the band with a great title track and generally solid songs, it is never fantastic, so is unlikely to change their Steel Druhm-imposed third-tier status. Definitely give this a go if you’re into no-frills power, but don’t expect it to change your world.