Ironsword - Overlords of chaos 4.5/5

Reviewed: 11-7-08


1. Death of the gods
2. And ending in fire
3. Overlords of chaos
4. Blood and honor
5. Cimmeria
6. Wrath of crom
7. Hyperborean hordes
8. Road warriors
9. Fear the night
10. Dark shadows of stygia
11. Crown of iron
12. Call of cthulhu
13. The pyre of kings

Best epic true metal CD of 2008. There, I said it. Now let's spend the next few paragraphs examining why. For the benefit of the uninitiated, Ironsword are a power trio hailing from Portugal and led by the mighty Tann on guitar and vocals. In 2004, Ironsword unleashed their sophomore CD, 'Return of the warrior', through the obscure Miskatonic Foundation (later licensed via Greece's Eat Metal Records). Epic metal aficionados around the globe rejoiced. Here at last was a band that captured the mysticism of Manilla Road, the power of Manowar, the excitement of early Running Wild, the majesty of Doomsword, the catchiness of Omen, and the barbaric brutality of formative Celtic Frost. Here was a band that spoke to us, the unwavering denim'n'leather clad underground hordes. Ironsword knew what we needed and slaked our thirst with a stellar slab of uncompromising old-school heavy metal. Expectations ran sky-high upon learning that Ironsword had signed with Shadow Kingdom Records for their all-important 3rd CD, 'Overlords of chaos'. They couldn't begin to prepare us for what Ironsword had in store.

Nothing has really changed this time around, but everything's gotten a notch better. Tann's gruff regular voice (sounding a bit like the Dark at Dawn guy, but harsher, edgier and more limited) has become stronger and more confident, even as his sporadic Mark "The Shark" Shelton clean voice punctuates the songs to amazing effect. (Speaking of Shelton, he himself provides super backing vocals on 3 tracks, but Tann's clean voice is so eerily similar to Shelton's that you'll swear Shelton sang leads on a number of songs, even though he did not.) The songs are better thought out, more epic, and better balanced between speedy scorchers and marching off to war midtempo tracks. The amazing thing, though, is how quickly and completely these songs become embedded in the listener's brain. From the very first spin, I was hooked and captivated by the likes of "Death of the gods", "Road warriors", "Fear the night", and the superb title track. Close your eyes during the entrancing Doomsword crunch and intoxicating main guitar theme of "Blood and honor" and listen as the Valkyries (about whom the song is written) carry your broken and battered body away from the battlefield to Odin's side. Then, before you can take a breath, the searing uptempo assault of "Cimmeria" causes your neck muscles to spasm uncontrollably with sheer hammer-down metallic bliss. But trying to go track-by-track on this 13-song, 57-minute monster is a futile exercise. There are no weak links. Every song kills, even the haunting closing ballad "The pyre of kings". The production is gritty and rough, by design, and complements the rough-hewn, sweat-laden, beer-stained material perfectly. The rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Rick Thor and drummer Maalm adds the necessary rhythmic thunder and sonic gravitas to back Tann's meaty guitar work. All the pieces are in place, and the final result is a wrecking ball to the cranium.

Just to put things in perspective, most of today's retro true metal bands would kill to have a single song that captures the spirit, quality and energy of every track on 'Overlords of chaos'. Ironsword may (and do) cater to a very narrow slice of the heavy metal scene, but they reign supreme over that niche, standing head and shoulders above all others. This CD is a tour de force, a lesson in taking no prisoners and leaving no survivors, and a template for how to make the somewhat stodgy, musty old-school true metal genre sound vibrant, fresh and inspirational today. Instead of aping their influences, Ironsword have paid homage to them while forging their own sound that is uniquely and unmistakably Ironsword. This is how it's done, kids.

I thought long and hard about what rating to assign to this puppy. As a matter of idiosyncratic policy and principle, I don't hand out 5/5 ratings to new CDs because to me a necessary precondition to a 5/5 rating is that the CD must stand the test of time. When you put it back in the player after having let it languish on the shelf for a few months, does it give you goosebumps like the first time you heard it? Do you hang on every awesome riff, killer hook and driving rhythm? Or has the magic worn off? These knotty questions cannot be answered reliably within a few weeks after hearing a new CD. So I'll give this one a 4.5/5. Ask me in a year, though, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear myself rank 'Overlords of chaos' a 5/5. Epic old-school true metal is alive and well, and no one does it better than Ironsword!




MAIN - A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z - MISC