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Years back Dushan Petrossi was widely heralded as being the successor to the Malmsteen kingdom, largely based on his seminal effort with his other project Magic Kingdom in Metallic Tragedy. This honor was likely bestowed by a certain metal journalist with an eye to someone being a bit closer to the overall stylistic character of Neo-classicism within a largely traditional metal medium that has generally typified Yngwie's output, rather than the bombastic symphonic and operatic exploits of Rhapsody Of Fire or progressive quirkiness of Symphony X, as such a wider range would probably leave either Luca Turilli or Michael Romeo in a better place to claim such a title. But in Petrossi's defense, he's always been one to put his own twist on said style, and while he has stuck closer to Yngwie's model than the other two both as a technician and a songwriter, he's also made some strides into darker and more extreme territory, though that was beginning to change by the time Mark Boals joined the fold in 2011, and finally came to a head a couple years late with the release of Fifth Son Of Winterdoom.
While it should be noted that Iron Mask has always been a more conventional nod to the Malmsteen style than Magic Kingdom, this became even more so the case recently as Dushan decided to export his side interests in extreme metal to a third project dubbed Arms Of War, a fairly conventional thrash/melodic death metal project featuring his longtime go to person for death growls Roma Siadletski. Barring a few remnant elements in the instrumental department, Iron Mask has essentially shifted all but completely into a purely power metal oriented affair, sporting one of the more likely candidates in the lead vocal department in Mark Boals. The resulting feel of this album is actually somewhat close to where Boals was with Ring Of Fire just before the project was put on hiatus for about a decade, complete with some keyboard input by Andreas Lindahl of Wuthering Heights (who was also previously with this band for Shadow Of The Red Baron) that comes pretty close to Vitalij Kuprij's more outlandish proggy style than did the recently departed former Malmsteen keyboardist Mats Olausson (R.I.P.).
Apart from the intricacies in the game of musical chairs going on with Iron Mask's line up, Fifth Son Of Winterdoom is an album that is overall quite predictable and tends to play it safe, though song for song it is still quite solid. At first glance it would almost seem that even when compared with similarly styled acts such as At Vance and Ring Of Fire that Dushan and company have gone even further down the road of early 1990s Malmsteen worship, kicking off the album with a rather light-hearted and AOR tinged number in "Back Into Mystery", a song that could have easily made it onto Eclipse or Fire And Ice if it opted for a few more guitar solos. On a similar note, "Angel Eyes, Demon Soul" could almost pass for 1988 rock radio in the same way that Malmsteen's "Heaven Tonight" did, while the somewhat more punchy "Run To Me" delves into heavy guitar soloing territory to the point of all but mimicking said 80s guitar icon. Then again, a curiosity is found in "Only One Commandment" which ends up sounding like an early Dio number with a slightly smoother vocal delivery.
Similarly, when this album veers off into less conventional territory, it tends to find itself in a similar place as that of its predecessor Black As Death. Calling up the East Asian folk instrumentation and musical cliches yet again, this time opting for the Japanese variant, Iron Mask delivers a faster and occasionally power/thrashing bruiser in "Seven Samurai" that still can't help but remind of "Genghis Khan" despite the tempo difference. The title song also finds the return of Dushan's occasional forays into Celtic folk music territory, only this time clocking in at over 10 minutes in length and about twice as much melodic development and noodling. Perhaps the only notable difference is this department is the lack of a church oriented number, though the Spanish guitar infused, down tempo epic "Reconquista 1492" picks up the slack in said department, and along with the haunting epic of a closer "The Picture Of Dorian Gray" represent the most ambitious composition work this time around.
There is definitely a fair amount of ambitiousness still abounding in Petrossi's songwriting arsenal, but this is something of a step back from what took place on Black As Death. For every slightly refreshing break with tradition, there's a nagging and even somewhat contrived reminder that Iron Mask is the safer quarters in Dushan's estate, and this is perhaps underscored in "Like A Lion In A Cage" which kicks off with yet another musical paraphrase of Malmsteen's "Trilogy Suite", followed by the usual, run-of-the-mill speeder that reminds heavily of "Fury", "Rising Force", and any number of other faster songs out of Yngwie's past. It's a definitely boon to the true believers that have stuck it out since the earliest Iron Mask albums, but fans and non-fans alike would be correct in asserting that this is one of the weaker efforts out of Dushan's now extensive catalog.
"Fifth Son of Winterdoom" is too much and too lacking. It's not a horrible experience by any stretch of the imagination, as the gentlemen of Iron Mask are completely capable of creating adequate material, yet the album is poorly fragmented and inconsistent. The group's style reminds me more of Dark Moor and At Vance than, say, Rhapsody of Fire or Gamma Ray, which is perfectly fine as I'm fond of those bands. "Fifth Son of Winterdoom," however, has a small number of fantastic tunes while the remaining songs take up a bunch of space and refuse to do anything. At times Iron Mask burns like a supernova, yet frequently they prove to rely on savagely redundant and vapid songs for reasons I'm not quite sure of. In the end, this is pretty run-of-the-mill.
It's not much of a "bipolar" record, meaning there isn’t some huge identity crisis going on in which Iron Mask is musically smearing its shit on the wall and calling it “evolution.” Most of "Fifth Son of Winterdoom" is safe and predictable neoclassical power metal branching out to the realm of hard rock, and it's about as memorable as it sounds. This amalgamation I find is often a toss-up: it has its moments but it's an oversaturated lot. Some happen to do it very well. Iron Mask? Based on this, not so much. These tracks are lazy little critters that have modern tendencies and the dull instrumentation that typically follows. "Only One Commandment" lacks the zest to make it anything more than bearable, "Seven Samurai" is inadequately written, "Rock Religion" is about as good as a song titled "Rock Religion" can be, and something cliché and douchey like "Angel Eyes, Demon Soul" made me think that none of the band members have ever touched a boob.
When "Fifth Son of Winterdoom" applies a stronger power/heavy metal vibe, Iron Mask still does little of worth. They specifically use Iron Maiden riffs inspired by "Fear of the Dark" (that's not a good thing) for SEVEN MINUTES on "Reconquista 1492," and the title track, which I'm assuming is about wandering around aimlessly in the snow, is about as fun as wandering around aimlessly in the snow. They merely recycle riffs and ideas used by superior groups, albeit without the dynamic charm that a band like, say, Portrait uses to express Mercyful Fate worship. It's sadly the humdrum songwriting that brings this down, as Mark Boals sounds fantastic as usual and the virtuosic shredding brightens up the murky skies to an extent.
Every now and then the gentlemen of Iron Mask churn out a real burner that's at least semi-decent. "Eagle of Fire" and "Run to Me" are Helloween-esque crusades worth mentioning, and "Like a Lion in a Cage" is like a shot of adrenaline. "The Picture of Dorian Gray," the album's eight-minute conclusion, absolutely slays. Stellar riffing, superb songwriting, powerful vocals, poignant lead work . . . pretty much everything that gives life to an epic. There's just one problem: decent songs are rare and filler is buy one, get one free. My roommate used to follow around women who'd show any degree of interest in him when he was "picking up chicks" at the bar, and that's pretty much how this works: find a chorus, chase it until it calls the cops. In the end, "Fifth Son of Winterdoom" moderately stinks.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
In the past I'd always found it hard to sum up any sort of excitement for Iron Mask. Sure, there's no doubting that the band are a talented bunch of guys, but there's only so much neo-classical power metal I can take; there's only so many times I can hear the harmonic minor scale blazed through at the blink of an eye; hell, there's only so much shredding a man can take! Back then the neo-classical power metal scene was seriously oversaturated, and what with acts like At Vance, Virtuocity, and Dushan Petrossi's stronger project Magic Kingdom comprising my diet for the sound, Iron Mask fell on the sidelines with their orthodox, been-there-done-that approach to the style.
Here, I've found myself relatively ensnared, and enamored with the band. Whilst there's still plenty of neo-classical timbre throughout, the songwriting feels at the most focused I've heard from Iron Mask. Particularly in the shorter, succinct numbers that are without a doubt the highest points on the album, and while I do feel they could have snipped one or two tracks to make the whole smoother, there isn't anything identifiably bad throughout.
Certainly one of the stronger elements on Fifth Son Of Winterdoom is Mark Boals' vocals, a singer I'm sure many will recognize from Yngwie Malmsteen, Royal Hunt, or a whole host of other acts. I know, I know, he was on their last album, and sounded good there, but here he feels better integrated with a lot of the material feeling catered to him. Particularly in early highlights like "Like A Lion In A Cage" and "One Commandment" where he really gets to shine with his smooth, shimmering delivery and the latter number giving me some flashbacks to his stint in Royal Hunt.
Musically this is professional and proficient power metal, with plenty of melodic and neo-classical shading throughout. Thematically there's loads of cool stuff, from the fantastical to the historical. Speaking of theme, "Seven Samurai" does a bang up job of conveying its oriental flavor, probably my choice number here thanks to some thumping riffs, and it seriously makes me want to play Shinobi III. The title track also covers a lot of ground with its wintry theme, helping evoke images of bear skins around a fire, crisp snow on the ground, and of course tempting feelings of mead resting in the stomach. Ah, mead would be nice.
Like I said earlier, there isn't all that much identifiable as bad across the board. The album does feel a little longer than it should have been, but I guess you get some bang for you buck. Performances across the board are excellent, and whilst Dushan Petrossi's guitars don't completely dominate, there's still a fuck load of shred-tastic solos throughout, with "Run To Me" almost imploding from its sheer amount of guitar leads. On the whole, a quality release, and as far as I'm concerned their strongest to date. If you like your power metal with a neo-classical tinge and a dollop of hard rock, then you can't go wrong here.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com