Ironwood - Storm over sea 4/5
1. Hail sign
2. Infinite sea
3. Arctic tern
4. Weather the storm
5. Share the burden
6. Will to live
7. A bond to sever
8. When it's all over
Ironwood’s debut CD, ‘Fire:Water:Ash’ was a real surprise from left field, mangling together elements of black, progressive and viking metal with large swathes of untampered, unplugged folk music. The results, as can be seen read in more detail in my review of the CD, were generally very pleasing and it was very much a breath of fresh air, providing something distinctly different to the norm.
The ‘approach with caution’ notice that I tagged on to the end of that review certainly proved to be worthwhile though, as I haven’t really been back to the CD since despite massively enjoying it in my pre-review listening binge. The sheer length of the CD coupled with long, long patches of purely acoustic folk tunes ensured that it’s not exactly a CD for all occasions, and its replay value suffers for that.
This follow-up CD, ‘Storm over sea’ retains almost all the stylistic elements of the debut, but with a few crucial tweaks to the formula Ironwood have definitely delivered an improved final product this time. For starters, the CD is a sizeable 15 minutes shorter than ‘Fire:Water:Ash’, and the arrangements of the 8 songs here flow more smoothly into one another making for a more fluid listen than the admittedly unwieldy debut.
This shouldn’t be mistaken for the notion that Ironwood have dumbed down their approach in anyway, as ‘Storm over sea’ is still absolutely massive, bursting at the seams with unexpected twists and turns – the difference here is, like many good 2nd CDs, the band have smoothed off the rough edges from their formative days and more or less nailed down their sound.
The tactic of breaking up the tracklist with a shorter, all-acoustic song followed by a massively long one that covers the first half of the CD may at first glance seem a little formulaic, but the sheer complexity of the 3 11-minute-plus tracks that make up the real meat of ‘Storm over sea’ ensure that repetitiveness and predictability do not enter into things at all.
Just like the debut, probably more than 50% of the music on here is not metal in the slightest, but it somehow all just ties together so well that it barely seems noticeable if the listener can allow his or herself to become absorbed in the twisting patterns and be dragged along for the ride. The suddenness with which the often monstrously heavy black metal sections burst to life is only intensified by the violence leaping so suddenly out of such calm surroundings, and the shock factor amplifies the intensity no end.
The acoustic sections are far from mere window dressing though, and are in fact tantalising in their stripped down, melancholic beauty. The performance of the vocalists is vital to the success of these sections, as they switch between strained, longing tones, sonorous operatic wailing and some truly enchanting harmonies between them all. And while the harsh vocals retain all the snarling rage that they did on ‘Fire:Water:Ash’, the gurgling whispers that cropped up from time to poor effect on that CD have thankfully been excised altogether this time around.
If there is one thing that isn’t quite as successful in this area it is possibly that the clean vocals that are often slung unexpectedly over a furious tremolo-picked riff sound a little overwhelmed by the ferocity of the music, but this is not always the case and in fact often works out very well indeed. The very odd switch-up in “Infinite sea” where the clean vocals-over-heavy-riff approach is suddenly inverted to furious screeching over an acoustic BM riff is quite baffling at first and a perfect indicator of Ironwood’s love for confounding genre conventions. It is this continued determination to keep trying to twist new sounds out of a well-trodden field of influences that give them something special, and of course their expertise in holding together enormous, complex songs made up of many disparate elements that in the hands of less talented songwriters would fall to pieces is to their credit.
Definitely an improvement over the already charming debut CD, ‘Storm over sea’ shows a band that seem to be in almost complete control of their style. With the fat properly trimmed, Ironwood have delivered a collection of songs that are at once enchanting, challenging, and on occasion deliciously heavy.
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