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Unifillercation - 70%

L_H, September 20th, 2006

So here we have Iron Savior coming as close as they ever would to reaching perfection. This album features easily their best tracks - the most memorable, the most catchy, the most well-written, the most varied, the culmination of Priest-worship Power Metal, combining very heavy and constantly eminent speed metal riffage with a fair shair of harmonies, well-conceived solos, insanely catchy chorusses, one of the most ballsy and, powerful and downright Metal vocal deliveries ever, and just the right amount of atmospheric touches.

That is, for the first four and the last two songs.

This album showcases, basically, a band that has written all the material to release a grade-A Power Metal EP, but insists on making an album out of it instead. So, they decide to pull a few bonus tracks out of the hat. And hey, you know, Neon Knights kicks ass and so does the cover, and hell, Gorgar may have been the most stupid and least interesting song on Walls of Jericho but still is pretty good, and why not grant some unknown decent-but-forgettable band a song on your well-distributed and -selling album? But dammit, this won't cut it, now one third of the album consists of bonus material. So, why not take the fourth song, and make something similar to it again. And again. And again. And yes, then, AGAIN.

The thing is, on it's own, none of these songs really overtly yells "Look at me, I suck!". There's usually that little harmony here, this catchy chorus or that nice atmospheric bridge there, that manages to keep each of them slightly above average, regarded individually. The thing is, by the time you're past "Brothers", the strikingly similar structure and pace of the songs gets really old and quite frankly boring. The fact that this barrage of fillers is followed by the one song on the album that does suck doesn't help much either. "The Battle" is a poor attempt at completely forsaking speed and instead going for a slow atmospheric song a la, say, Metal Church's "Gods of Second Chance", but fails utterly by virtue of completely generic, forgettable riffing, lack of any sort of hook during the verses and an insanely boring chorus. The fact that this snoozefest is supposed to portray the grand battle between the forces of mankind and their new-found formerly-Atlantan allies against the seemingly undefeatable Iron Savior makes it all the worse. Where's the aggression? Where's the power? Where's the heaviness? It's possible to put it all into a slow, menacing and atmospheric crusher (again, "Gods of Second Chance" is a perfect example), but this one fails on every level.

A true pity, because as you would have guessed from the introduction, when Iron Savior get it right, they really mean business. Each of the first four and last two songs (of the band's own material, excluding the bonus tracks) manages to be great in its own right. They are packed with an amount of and variety in riffs that is not the norm for Power Metal - in fact, there is always riffage underneath. Never does the band rely on the vocals alone to carry the song forward, but rather, the drive behind the vocals lines perfectly compliments the drive delivered by the guitars (Iron Savior would get a lot of problems in this department on their later releases, sadly). There's also constantly new harmonies thrown in out of nowhere, and the leads are just as great as you'd expect from the Hansen/Sielck duo. The drumming manages to be varied and driving whilst also accentuating the musing in just the right places rather than battering the listener senseless with constant double-bass, and the bass is actually quite audible and neither simple nor too close to the guitars.

The variety between the non-filler stuff and the order also manages to be perfect. "Coming Home" starts the album off in an atmopsheric rather than speedy fashion, "Starborn" is the obligatory uber-catchy, uber-riffy speed metal onslaught, "Deadly Sleep" the token Kai Hansen-styled melodic Speed-Power number (and also one of Kai Hansen's obligatory obvious tributes to his idols, musically and lyrically - this time, it's Iron Maiden/Bruce Dickinson he's alluding to). "Forces of Rage" is a slightly-above-mid-paced crusher, "Unchained" manages to epitomize the album as a whole with its fluent combination of ballad, mid-paced heavy and speedy melodic sections, and "Forevermore" is one of Kai Hansen's best ballads, actually managing to be a glorious, soft and slow sing-along, a worthy finish to the album.

This album definitely has more than a few moments and could have been one of the finest examples of contemporary Power Metal if only there would have been less of it. As it stands, there's just way too many way too similar fillers in one straight row. Iron Savior could certainly put out an amazing album if they really gave 100% songwriting effort for 100% of the time, but sadly, this is the closest they ever came, and judging by their past releases, the closest they ever will come. Certainly recommended for fans of the genre, but be prepared to cut down on the filler manually.