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Iron Fire is one of those bands I never paid much attention to – heard a few albums years ago, but they never quite blew me away. Well apparently while I wasn’t paying attention, they went and turned into a first rate power metal act. Voyage of the Damned is their new album and in lieu of their old stodgy Swedish sound with its galloping riffs and charmingly nasal, incompetent vocal melodies, here they give us a dark, feral and epic sound recalling bands as diverse as Communic and later-period Dragonland. Does that pique your interest? Well…I don’t care if it did or not. I’m doing the review anyway.
This is a good album because the songs are all lively and energized. The band is great at writing these six minute songs with heavy guitars and catchy choruses that despite repeating quite a bit, never get dull. The main focus is on Martin Steene’s vocals, which have improved a ton since the last time I heard him on 2007’s Blade of Triumph album – seriously, it’s like night and day. Here he sounds commanding and mature, delivering some really good vocal lines and sounding something like Warrell Dane would if he actually had any talent. His voice is deep and powerful as hell.
The riffs are mostly relegated to simplistic chugging, but the guitar playing is really solid and works very well for what the album is going for. People who can’t listen to anything but 80s-inspired guitarwork might hate it, but I’ve always been of the opinion that if a sound works for the overall style you’re going for, use it. People who expect every member of a band to constantly show off and do virtuosic things with their instruments are silly – sometimes a band has to dial down elements of the sound to achieve a certain atmosphere or feel to whatever they’re doing. You don’t have to have manic shredding to have a great metal album and Iron Fire on here shows that they know that full well, as the songwriting here is spot on.
The first half of this is markedly better than the second, with killer tunes like “Taken,” “Slaughter of Souls” and the mammoth 10-minute title track (featuring Pagan’s Mind frontman Nils K. Rue as a guest slot). The second half is good and has the awesomely creepy and atmospheric “Dreams of the Dead Moon,” but overall the shorter song lengths end up feeling a bit anticlimactic as opposed to the power metal killing of the first five or six tracks. They’re still cool songs, but just not as cool as some of the other ones. Maybe a reordering of the track list would have made this a more consistent listen, but as it stands, the shorter songs that end the album don’t really click as well overall.
So Voyage of the Damned is a cool power metal album and one of the more fun ones I’ve heard this year. If you like heavy, dark and hook-filled power metal or even just space-themed melodic metal, this is one you won’t want to miss this year.