Before mastering the steel, you must first master yourself. Yet mastering oneself requires the mastery of epic metal. This is the riddle of trveness, and why your journey has brought you here to this Ironsword review. Portugal’s most trve of metal bands have long toiled to forge the perfect sword with which to lay waste to posers and the defenders of false metal. In their quest for metal supremacy they traveled the Manilla Road to the ends of the world, where only Joey DeMaio remains, seated atop his chrome throne of blackwind, fire and steel. And there He Who Mans the War did speak to Ironsword, and he did tell them to serve the steel faithfully in only the most ancient of ways. Ironsword heeded those bronzed words, oaths were made and brothers of metal did part ways. Servants of Steel is their fifth crusade against the new and modern, the first since 2015s mighty None but the Brave, and nothing has changed, nor could it. This is another worshipful ode to the old ways of Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, and Manowar, and you will be regaled by tales of weapons, warfare and wizards. If you have yet to strap on your faithful battle ax and satchel of Go-Gurt, you should probably go back to your Minecraft marathon. We have no need of you in the trials to come.
Ever watch the original Conan the Barbarian movie? This album is that film turned to 14. Introduction “Hyborian Scrolls” is all pounding war drums, epic chanting and ominous riffs readying you for the battle to come. “Rogues in the House” fires the first arrow of the conflagration, sounding like vintage Manowar jammed through a Manilla Road filter then strained into Doomsword sausage casing. Tann’s unusual, hoarse vocals sound like Bad Ash from Army of Darkness but they always work, and he’s joined by Bryan Hellroadie of Manilla Road who provides some Mark Shelton-esque clean singing. The song is tremendous old school fun with a simple chorus that’s catchy as hell. It’s everything I love about Ironsword and the highlight of the album. “Upon the Throne” keeps the same formula for an aggressive old school head thumper that captures the exact sound of Running Wild‘s criminally underappreciated Branded and Exiled opus, and “Tower of the Elephant” is suitably ginormous with a stomping pace and elephantine vocals. Song after song roars by, each bringing their own castle leveling siege equipment and you’ll be half way through the album before there’s a lull in the melee.
The back half is also full of poser crushing retro weaponry like the beefy, bruising “Gods of the North,” the pounding “Red Nails” and the excellent closing title track. There are no songs I would consider filler, but the album does feel long at 51 minutes, and by the time the final third is upon me I’m experiencing battle fatigue. The Ironsword sound is so big and over-the-top it can get wearing after a time, no matter how fun the material may be. For example, “Black Colossus” is a great tune, but coming as it does late in the stampede, I don’t appreciate it as much as I would had it been a lead off number. The production courtesy of Harris Johns is righteous and everything feels in your face and confrontational without being overly loud or distorted. It feels old but hits like a jet powered battering ram.
As always Tann’s unique vocals define the Ironsword sound. He’s a mix of Mark Shelton and Oscar the Grouch, and his gruff alter-ego provides the perfect compliment to heavy riffs and war drums. He’s also responsible for the guitar-work which perfectly captures the classic 80s metal sound but amps it up. You’ll hear flashes of all the most cvlt acts from the forgotten past and he’s a genius at channeling those sounds into a death ray of nostalgic glory hammering. João Monteiro deserves props for his big, bold drumming, which makes the entire album feel like the soundtrack to a nuclear Ragnarok. The band has a very specific style and never strays from it, but somehow it just keeps paying armor plated dividends.
Servants of Steel is another exuberantly gonzo album from these time challenged warriors. They don’t care if their music sounds older than dirt because they are preserving the culture of the Iron Age. Servants might suffer a bit for its length, but the songs are solid, sturdy and stoic. Just don’t come here looking for new ideas or trends. This is the world of the trve and home of the brave, and in a trve world, you can’t afford to be false.