Viron - Ferrum gravis 4/5

Reviewed: 4-11-08


1. Liberator
2. On the run
3. The isle of man
4. War
5. Beyond the gates
6. Metal ball
7. Playground for billions
8. Led astray
9. Sniper

Man, 2008 has gotten off to a bang, with a pair of highly anticipated sophomore CDs by new German bands whose debuts reduced my brain to gelatin. Last month I reviewed Sencirow's superb 2nd CD, 'The Nightmare within', and this month we examine whether Viron can catch lightning in a jar for a 2nd time. Viron's audaciously-monikered 'NWOGHM' was a clear highlight of 2006, a brilliant amalgamation of heavy-duty German power metal, Manowar-styled bravado, and a NWOBHM influence, topped by the stupendous, ground-splitting vocals of Alexx Stahl. Now the band returns with another clever CD title, 'Ferrum gravis', which, translated from Latin, roughly means "heavy metal". To reinforce the point, Viron proudly state in the liner notes that they have used no keyboards, triggered drums or computer editing on this release. Chestbeating old-school credo notwithstanding, don't be fooled: The quintet has made the leap from Greek indie label Sonic Age Records to Germany's much-respected Metal Heaven label, so the stakes are unquestionably high.

I must admit, my initial impressions of 'Ferrum gravis' were not aligned with my lofty expectations. The diversity of songwriting, one of the strengths of the debut, appeared to have gone too far this time, with Viron losing its identity and cohesiveness somewhere in the process of trying to make each song stylistically distinct from its brethren. More fundamentally, it appeared that Viron were taking their sound in an unwelcome direction, too often forsaking speed, aggression and epic atmospheres for more obvious melodies, diminished bombast, repetitive choruses that overstay their welcome, and more moodiness. In my mind, I began formulating a "sophomore jinx"-themed review for 'Ferrum gravis' that I did not wish to write.

A fundamental problem with reviewing a CD shortly after its release is that the review is necessarily mired in snap judgments based on the instant-gratification quotient. If the CD doesn't grasp you by the throat and hurl you across the living room on the very first spin, it may get lost in the shuffle. But we all know that some of the best, most rewarding listening experiences are those involving "growers", CDs that improve with each listen. Such is the case for Viron's 'Ferrum gravis'. Once I got past the toned-down aggression, schizophrenic songwriting, and slightly more commercial approach, I realized that there are some truly outstanding tracks to be found here. The opening quartet of songs are all hammers, particularly the frenzied speed assault of "Isle of man" (surely rivaling "Blow the fuse" from the debut for sheer speed metal bliss) and the insanely catchy "Liberator", where Stahl's "woah ohs" are metallic perfection. "War" is a beautiful, surprisingly effective ballad, albeit much different in feel and execution than "Winds of Valhalla" from the debut. Unfortunately, the band loses its momentum on the back half of this CD, although "Metal ball" is a great tune and the other songs all have cool parts, as well. I remain frustrated, though, by the 11-minute closing track, "Sniper", which meanders around somewhat aimlessly and lifelessly for the first 7 minutes or so before valiantly redeeming itself in the last 4 exquisite minutes.

From the above, it seems clear that my final verdict on 'Ferrum gravis' won't be rendered until I've lived with it for a few months and given the songs more time to sink in. Unfortunately, deadlines being what they are, some kind of interim evaluation is necessary. Here it is: 'Ferrum gravis' is an excellent, honest German heavy metal CD that will appeal to fans of 'NWOGHM'. If 'Ferrum gravis' is a mild disappointment, it is only because Viron set the bar too high for themselves with their debut offering. Regardless, Viron remain one of the brightest rising stars in the Teutonic metal universe, and are well worth your time. Check 'em out.




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