Ironwood - :Fire:Water:Ash: 3.5/5
1. Ond ascending
2. The oncoming storm
3. The raven song
4. Jarnvidr gallows
5. The serpent seeks its tail
6. Tide of memory
7. Love in death
8. River of fire
9. Eihwaz descending
So many online biographies – official websites, labels, Myspace pages, whatever - harp on about the respective band blending genres X Y and Z to “create something unique” without ever stopping to think about the meaning behind the word. Bands that sound unlike anything the listener has heard before truly are one in a million, and it takes a bit more than throwing bits and pieces of established styles together to attain such lofty status.
Ironwood, promising the unlikely prospect of pagan folk metal from Australia, are certainly one of the most unusual outfits I have ever listened to. ‘Folk metal’ is not really so much an accurate description as ‘folk/metal’ would be, as I’d estimate that around 50% of the music on their self-released debut ‘:Fire:Water:Ash:’ is fully acoustic, and there is as much pure, unsullied folk music as there is metal.
Things have to be kept in perspective of course – there is only so much a band can do while still remaining inside the broad confines of heavy metal after all, so it is not as though elements of Ironwood’s style haven’t been heard in various other locales down the years. It is the way they put everything together however, that creates something truly distinctive, and while they haven’t exactly founded a whole new genre they are definitely doing something that, to me at least, comes across as highly original.
It is fairly common of course for a lengthy song in the folk metal style to feature an acoustic break in the middle, but to hear it the other way round – several minutes of plaintive acoustic strumming interrupted by a sudden blast of violent black metal only to calm straight back down again – is a little more unusual. The contrasts are usually jarring, and with the songs so interminably long, the jumps between electric and acoustic are never predictable.
There are moments of familiarity to be found amongst the songs, even as early as the 2nd track “The oncoming storm” which displays a strong Isengard influence, from the bounding riff through to the Fenriz-like, baritone vocals. The acoustic segment of this song – far too long to be described as a break – is thoroughly menacing, and makes it clear at an early stage that not all the unplugged parts of the CD are going to be of a melancholy nature.
The metal side of the music is executed quite superbly as well. The harsh vocals (occasionally let down by some needless gargled whispering, admittedly) are nothing short of ferocious, and the guitarists are equally adept at mangling their strings as they are at gently picking them. A few solos are also provided by Henry Lauer on his 6-string bass and he proves nearly as adept a lead player as the 2 guitarists. The clean vocals (I presume mostly performed by Lauer, but the booklet offers no hints) are also very strong, suiting either side of the music well as they shift from tearful wailing to a deep, resonant tone.
Ironwood have created something rich, vast and dark with their debut, but it is without doubt specialist listening. Clearly some metal fans would be left disappointed by the lack of, well, metal in many of the songs, and even enthusiasts of this sort of organic music will need patience to appreciate it. Even when appreciating the desire, and indeed successful attempt, to do something out with the norm, it is plain as day that this is most definitely music that has to be listened to in a certain mood to be fully appreciated.
‘:Fire:Water:Ash:’ comes with a strong but cautious recommendation – it is most certainly not for everyone, and even those it would appeal to will need the time, place and patience to appreciate it properly, but its artistic merits shine brightly for all to see.
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