The inspiration for Bloomington, Indiana based Throne of Iron came to founder Tucker Thomasson when he heard Mark Shelton, the legendary frontman of cult act Manilla Road, had passed away. The band was created as a way to pay homage to the man and his music as well as Thomasson’s love for Dungeons & Dragons. For a time Throne of Iron functioned as a one-man project, but eventually Thomasson drew supporters to the cause and the debut, Adventure One features a full time raiding party/band/nerd herd. The ethos here is 120% old school proto-metal, with Manilla Road being the prime mover, but comparisons to modern throwbackers like Visigoth and Eternal Champion are apt as well. It’s important to note up front that this is very tongue-in-cheek stuff, with the band refusing to take themselves very seriously as they revel in role-play and the way of the multi-sided die. If you don’t have an advanced degree in Dungeon Masterology, some of the nerdy charm may be lost on you, but at the end of the day it’s still metal, and metal is the universal language. Roll for initiative, LARP boy.
To ensure you get the whole D&D shtick, opening track “A Call to Adventure” begins with a dramatic narration explaining your situation just as a good Dungeon Master would. Only once the tableau is properly set does the music kick in and the die get cast. The music is designed to convey a generally epic feeling like any cheesy Gladiator movie from the 60s would. You’ll hear traces of Virgin Steele, Cirith Ungol and old Helstar in its DNA and Thomasson’s rough, highly unpolished vocals attempt to fit in with the minimalist soundscape. It’s actually a pretty enjoyable, fist-pumping tune and it sets expectations high that this may be an entertaining journey back to the days of high adventure. Followup cut “Past the Doors of Death” immediately tempers such expectations, with its far rougher, extremely amateurish delivery. There are a few good ideas, but Thomasson’s vocals are simply not up to the challenge the song lays out for him, and at a mammoth 8:25 runtime, decent but simple ideas and vocal patterns are recycled ad nauseam, bogging down the journey and jeopardizing the entire module faster than a shortage of Doritos and Mr. Pibb.
From there Adventure One stumbles and falls downward and upwards through the crypts and dungeons of Metal Earth, with some songs working much better than others. While “Dark Shrine of Ritual” sounds like a high school band feeling their way through early days, “The Power of Will” manages to be a fairly enjoyably rocker that could have appeared on an early Virgin Steele album. Lead single “Lichspire” is also decent and manages to overcome egregious vocals to be a meaty, chest-thumpy piece of trve metal, the video for which is a sight to behold(er). The band does possess the ability to craft a decent song with an old timey flair like “The Allure of Silver,” but they are routinely let down by a clunky approach and vocals that range from bad to barely tolerable. The goofy keyboard outro “Wish” sounds like it was recorded on a Casio mini-keyboard and it feels like Summoning for preschoolers, which should not become a thing. All this makes Adventure One quite a mixed bag o’ orcs.
Overall the album comes across as a kind of underskilled but sincere labor of love. While none of the music is particularly impressive, the band does lock into some decent ideas at times and manages to make the most of their limited tool kit. The biggest issue is Thomasson’s vocals. He’s just not a good singer and his hoarse, strained efforts are not easy on the ears or helpful to the songs. With a more capable vocalist, these quasi-epic cuts would have a much bigger impact. Guitar-wise Thomasson and Corwin Deckard keep the riffs simple, sometimes too much so, but there are a handful of cool leads and harmonies scattered across the album. It’s just all very raw and under-baked.
Adventure One is the story of a band that’s not ready for major league campaigning but trying their best to navigate the dungeons of the musical world. Given more time to build their character stats and charisma points, perhaps they could prove capable of forging a mighty opus, but right now their steel is not strong. Still, there’s some dumb, goofy fun to be had here if one isn’t too particular. Sample with caution and may Lady Luck travel in your die sack forevermore.