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Pretty rough debut, but shows some promise - 68%

Jophelerx, April 15th, 2019

The debut full-length album from Oskari Räsänen's project Iron Griffin seems to be a fairly polarizing release, though the majority of the feedback towards it seems to be positive. However, I stand somewhere on the middle, as I see valid aspects to both sides of the argument; the album has high points, but it also has very promiment flaws. I still find it enjoyable for the most part, but I think it's important to acknowledge the problems some people have with this album, and what can be done to rectify them on forthcoming releases.

The strongest aspect, as it seems literally everyone can agree upon, is newcomer vocalist Maija Tiljander, whose powerful, triumphant performance is a huge help in carrying parts of the album that are dull or underwritten. There's no question that she's highly talented and charismatic, to me evoking one particular (albeit rather unknown) frontwoman: Shelder's Corinne Hacquebey, though this is probably influenced by the fact that the band's style and level of quality seem to me to be almost identical to Shelder's. Stripped down heavy metal with some minor doom influences, which only occasionally shows signs of greatness but never quite lives up to its potential, with an excellent female vocalist at the helm. Seriously, it's kind of eerie how far the similarities go. Though Hacquebey is a bit more nasal in her performance, I struggle to find any other strong comparisons; to be fair, it's somewhat unusual to find a female vocalist in heavy metal who sings both in a totally clean but also undeniably powerful way.

Anyway, moving on from the vocals, what does the music itself sound like, exactly? Well, certainly nothing like Manilla Road, although strangely that's the highest-rated choice on the "similar artists" tab. The final track, "To the Path of Glory," does have some minor similarities, but the rest of the album has none at all; I find myself wondering whether the people who hear similarities are of the type who haven't heard any heavy metal with a remotely "epic" bent besides MR and this new, trendy album. Either way, its actual sound is pretty interesting, capturing an adventurous island-like vibe, making me think of what the game The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker might use as a soundtrack if it had to choose a metal album. This is a pretty unique atmosphere for heavy metal and one very much to the band's credit. In fact, it wouldn't be terribly difficult to keep an album of this style with only 6 full songs fresh and interesting, just throw in a couple of cool riffs each song...unfortunately, Räsänen often seems incapable of this, as evidenced by songs with literally one simple, decent-but-not-great riff repeated over and over, particularly on "Lost Legends" and the title track (the latter track has a main riff so bad I literally cringe when I hear it). This is somewhat of a problem on "Forgotten Steel" as well, but not enough to make the track totally unenjoyable for me.

Thankfully, the album does have its highlights, namely the solid opener "Reign of Thunder" and the mighty closers, "Dawn of Struggle" and "To the Path of Glory" which are easily the best tracks here (a bit of an odd choice to leave them to the end, I think, since I almost gave up on the album after slogging through the incredibly dull middle section)."Dawn of Struggle" picks things up to a faster pace, which is definitely a breath of fresh air, finally riding a riff that's appropriately adventurous and excited, making the "fun and simple" strategy finally pay off. It actually has a very strong NWOBHM vibe to me, which is certainly another point in its favor. "To the Path of Glory" is a worthy album epic, with a tender, poignant acoustic intro, gradually increasing in intensity through the duration of the song - although it never truly becomes aggressive in any way, it does become more triumphant and more vast in scope of atmosphere (sort of a vague description, I know, but it's the best way I can think to describe it), while the organ-like sound in the last couple of minutes over the midpaced, cantering riffs evoke prog rock epics to me, such as perhaps something from Rush.

So overall, the album gets a middling score from me, as it's very inconsistent. Honestly, I find it strange that Räsänen felt the need to make the album a full-length at all; if he had to pad it out with tracks of the quality of "Lost Legion" and the title track (another strange choice, to name the album after what to me is clearly the worst song on it) just to barely qualify it as a full-length at 30 minutes, he should've just taken some more time on it or released another EP. Maybe it was something the label pushed, I don't know; but it's clearly a mistake as I see it. If the album had removed those two tracks it could easily get a B grade from me (somewhere in the mid-80s). However its high points are clearly very inspired and I hope the project continues, with the condition that more emphasis is placed on riff/lead writing and a more careful, thought-out collection of compositions ultimately released. I do legitimately think the tropical/island vibe in metal is a really cool, novel idea and I'd love to see it further explored, and Maija Tiljander is clearly the perfect vocalist for the job. So good luck to the band, and I hope they learn from their mistakes!