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Rising to the cosmos yet again. - 91%

hells_unicorn, July 29th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, AFM Records

Some music was just made for the skies above, it's that close to painting the picture depicted by the titles and lyrics that come with the rest of the package. Freewheeling through nebula, afterburners blazing into the shimmering cosmos, this brand of metal takes the spirit of every great science fiction novel and film and integrates it so thoroughly into itself that it oozes from every single power chord. Such is the stock and trade of Iron Savior, seasoned veterans of the speed metal art with an ongoing concept that could pass for an answer to the Ray Bradbury question, and enough melodic hooks and attitude to rival Blind Guardian and Helloween. And as with any longstanding metal institution, their extensive back catalog sees some ebbing and flowing, resulting in an early, middle and current era trifecta that sees a slight dip in energy and ambitiousness in the second era, followed by a resurgence to first principles during the current one. Following their last album The Landing, which kicked off their return to form, Rise Of A Hero follows suit and ups the ante to levels comparable to where things started back in 1997.

It isn't really an understatement to say it, this album is all but a perfect retread of the self-titled debut without actually being an overt retread. It comes chock full of all the obligatory updates in production quality and precision that differentiates a recent album from the rougher and less compressed character of the early days of the power metal revival, but it's pretty hard to miss the parallels. Things begin with a well crafted instrumental track that is about as dense with spacey keyboards and heavily reverbed guitars as one would expect from Pink Floyd, but the experienced ear will also hear it as the natural evolution of what began with Judas Priest's "The Hellion" when said band's occasional fascination with outer space was taken to its logical conclusion. The rest of the album proves to be just what the brief prelude "Ascendance" suggests, a fast paced nod to the fastest and heaviest elements of 80s Judas Priest, but accompanied by the melodic character and chorus-approach of Judas Priest and a throaty, mid-ranged shout that's fairly close to earlier Blind Guardian.

Naturally every Iron Savior album has followed a similar formula and this one is no exception, but there is a greater sense of conceptual grandeur and turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia to this album that not quite as noticeable before. It's best heard on the really fast numbers such as "From Far Beyond Time" and "Firestorm", all of which have that warp speed, intergalactic war feel that dominated this band's sound when Kai Hansen was still in the fold. Similarly, "Thunder From The Mountains" reaches back even further into the primordial days of 80s German speed metal when Kai and Piet were writing songs together before Helloween formed, and the result is dangerously closer to "Ride The Sky" off the first Helloween LP. But even the slower material on here screams throwback with a modern production, such as "Dragon King" with that familiar early 80s "Heaven And Hell" inspired bass groove, and especially "The Demon" which could be likened to Judas Priest's early classic "Beyond The Realms Of Death" but in outer space. The only times where any real reminder to the current time period becomes obvious is the Kill Bill inspired lyrics of "Revenge Of The Bride" and the Mando Diao cover, the latter being the only song here that's maybe a tad lackluster.

Although there are some occasional consumers of this band's music that may pass on this due to a couple albums of this being enough for them, it's stipulated that anybody that likes this band or other associated acts such as Airborn, Paragon, Gamma Ray, Heavenly, Grave Digger, Helloween, Blind Guardian and countless others will eat this album up. Calling it by the numbers wouldn't be much of a stretch, though there are a few pleasant surprises on here such as a notably powerful vocal performance out of Piet Sielck that tops just about every song this band has crafted since 2002. The only thing that really separates the contents on here versus their opening trilogy of releases is that the sound here is a bit more compressed and tightly mixed, something that would actually be abandoned in favor of a fully retro late 90s production character on the album that would follow this one Titancraft. All hands on deck, warp speed Mr. La Forge...engage!!!