Iron Fire have been hitting the pavement for a long time with dogged persistence. Despite a three-year hiatus, they’ve knocked out their ninth album since their 2000 debut, which is a staggering pace of release to keep up for so long. Yet their most recent work, Among the Dead, was not up to snuff with their preceding release, according to our own Jean-Luc Ricard. With Ricard in absentia, it falls to me to judge whether Beyond the Void fares better than its immediate predecessor.
Once the ever-useless intro fades, Iron Fire gets my hopes up with two fantastic hard-hitting power scorchers. The title track blazes with a hard-hitting rhythm section, addictive vocal hooks and a badass, ominous chorus. Follow-up “The Final Warning” is even better, opening with a pounding riff that immediately reminds of Grand Magus’ best track (“Kingslayer”) but instead spins it into a ‘mankind murders the Earth’ track with appropriate pomp and brass, providing the best hooks on the album. These cuts showcase the thrash-power style of current day Iron Fire the best: heavy riffs with charging drums, overlaid with fluid guitar-play and Martin Steele’s rock-solid vocals. The latter is the band’s strongest asset: his voice has a pleasing drawl and an edge of grit, and he doesn’t eschew leaning into the hard rock persona, stamping his personality all over Beyond the Void.
But from the peak, the only way is down, and Iron Fire peak far too early and fall a long way. Initially the flaws are just some awkward choices in otherwise solid tracks. “Cold Chains of the North” ruins a perfectly good chorus with inexplicable gang vocals barking in the back, and “Wrong Turn” overdoses on both gang vocals and chugging riffs, but both are pretty fun, if slightly fillery, songs. But if the verses for “Bones & Gasoline” are too “wave your hands and lighters,” nothing could prepare for the embarrassing power ballad “Judgement Day,” which my fiancée compared unfavorably to Bon Jovi. When the pace does pick up again on “One More Bullit,” it sports the highest density of hackneyed lyrics I’ve ever heard. I rarely care about lyrics at all, less so in power metal, but this is two teeth-gnashingly awful cliches per sentence, minimum. Much of the remainder is less cringeworthy than this, but is utterly forgettable instead, even the straight-up thrash track “To Hell And Back.”
And it vexes me so, because Iron Fire have so much going for them. Their core sound has balls to spare, fusing the weighty riffing of Testament with the epic melodic sensibility of power metal, and they find plenty of room for variations on this foundation. They are all three highly capable performers, with Steele’s powerful gruff voice an absolute highlight, full of personality and a surprising range, even including the occasional death growl. Tue Madsen’s production is solid; it’s a tad loud, but the clarity on the instruments and balanced mix allow him some leeway there. But the songwriting phones it in constantly, making critical judgement errors on their own strengths and weaknesses. I feel like I’ve been robbed of the awesome, ballsy power metal album the first two tracks had promised me.
Front-loading an album is the best way to set the listener up for disappointment. You dangle a delicious treat, then snatch it away and give naught but dissatisfaction in its stead. I posit it’s a remnant from when people would check out albums at the record store by spinning the first couple of tracks to decide on a purchase. I would absolutely buy Beyond the Void based on the first two tracks. I would have doubts based on the next two, and I would leave it to decay based on the rest. The more I listen to it, the less I enjoy it. Iron Fire had all the necessary ingredients to make a killer, bad ass power metal album, except for songwriting inspiration. So let me end this review with a warning: do not base your willingness to purchase on the single below, because it is the ray of sunshine before the clouds come in and an endless gray drizzle ruins your day.