Ironsword - Return of the warrior 4/5

Reviewed: 8-11-06


1. Ironsword
2. Beginning of the end
3. First masters
4. Return of the warrior
5. Brothers of the blade
6. Nemedian chronicles
7. Way of the barbarian
8. Dragons of the sea
9. The wench
10. War hymn
11. Death or glory
12. Let the titans collide

When one contemplates true metal, thoughts of Portugal rarely spring to mind. With the arrival of Portuguese men'o'war Ironsword on the scene, however, that's about to change. The creative brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Tann, Ironsword released their sophomore CD, 'Return of the warrior', on the kult U.K. micro-label Miskatonic Foundation (operated by Rich Walker of Solstice fame) last year. When the Greeks predictably rallied around this slab of pure metal glory, the Hellenic label Eat Metal Records swooped in to license 'Return of the warrior' and afford it a wider worldwide distribution. In so doing, Eat Metal provided true metalheads all over the globe with reason to rejoice.

Ironsword stack up favorably against both the masters and the contemporaries in their chosen genre. Musical influences include the likes of early Running Wild (mostly in the riffage department, but also lyrically in seafaring ditty "Dragons of the sea"), 'Into glory ride'-era Manowar, and a large dollop of vintage Manilla Road. Fans of current acts like Battleroar, Elwing, Doomsword, Metal Inquisitor and the like will find much to their liking here too. The 13 tracks presented on 'Return of the warrior' offer inspired pure metal riffing, memorable choruses, solid performances and plenty of cult, true, staunch attitude. In fact, the first 6 songs out of the gate are uniformly hammers of the highest quality. Any of these 6 tunes, taken in isolation, would qualify as the best song on the majority of the CDs I've heard recently. Considered in the aggregate, this stretch of true metal excellence is simply awesome to behold, a streak akin to the mighty Chase Utley's recently-concluded 35-game hitting streak for my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. Lyrically, Tann emphasizes battle and science fiction themes, and in particular the swords & sorcery work of Robert E. Howard, in whose memory the CD is dedicated. For those not familiar with Howard, Ironsword offer a full paragraph in the liner notes, in impeccable English, describing what his writing means to them. (The only exception to the fantasy and battle motif is "The wench", which regrettably borrows heavily in concept and sound effects from Manowar's execrable "Pleasure slave", perhaps their worst song this side of "American trilogy" or "Blow your speakers".)

Several critics have derided Ironsword for poor vocals. I understand this criticism, but I do not agree with it. Tann is certainly not a gifted singer in the traditional sense, but his rough-lunged delivery manages to carry a tune and fits the music well. Those who do not flinch at the vocals of Dark at Dawn, Elwing or even Sabaton will have no problem appreciating Tann's voice. The conundrum here is that Tann occasionally flashes a different side to his voice, a haunting croon that sounds uncannily like Manilla Road's Mark "The Shark" Shelton. So striking is the similarity that it immediately sent me scampering to the CD booklet, scouring it for a mention of a guest vocal spot from Shelton that was not there. Curiously, Tann only goes into Shelton territory a handful of times on the CD, perhaps because he does not wish to be accused of aping his idol. My feeling, however, is that Tann's Shelton voice is so good, and such an effective foil to his gruffer normal delivery, that he ought to integrate it into the songs further. Tann does Shelton far better than Shelton can these days, as masterfully evinced in the chorus of "Beginning of the end".

Needless to say, this CD is mandatory listening for old-school metal maniacs, Keep It True veterans, and supporters of the bands mentioned above. 'Return of the warrior' is quite possibly the finest true metal CD to hit my player so far in 2006. That said, there is some room for improvement. As mentioned, Tann ought to bring his Manilla Road voice into more focus, as a counterpoint to his normal singing voice. Embarrassing lyrics like those found on "The wench" should be banned from subsequent Ironsword releases. And I'd love to see the band explore more epic song structures. This style of music cries out for cinematic 7-minute battle epics, but Ironsword's songs typically hover around the 4-minute mark. It is true that certain bands' 7-minute battle epics are boring and flabby, but I think Tann's a sufficiently talented writer to pull off the lengthier format, which can only enhance the triumphant, mystical spirit of Ironsword's songcraft. Up the Hammers!




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