Iron Mask
Black As Death

There’s something about album art drawn in the Marvel Comics style that goes really well with neo-classical power metal. Is it because this particular American comic drawing style is reminiscent of the ‘80s, which reminds one of the group vocals so commonly heard in power metal from that same decade (and for every ‘80s power metal-styled band too for that matter)? Or is it because the general fantasy theme of this drawing style fits power metal like a key clicking comfortably into its lock?

It’s both gawdammit! Even though we live in an era of ever-increasing instances of tiresome genre-crossovers and peculiar-sounding ‘electronization’ of traditional metal sub-genres (ahem, The Browning), the sound of an enduring sub-genre such as neo-classical power metal can be very invigorating and nostalgic, possibly giving rise to more listening pleasure than the newer and innovative forms of modern metal (if done skillfully).

Even with that said, who is to say that bands playing in this style can’t be experimenting a little? Take that mean-sounding introduction with medium-speed blast beats and harsh vocals from the track “Nosferatu” for example; it is a passage that wouldn’t sound out of place in an ‘80s death/thrash record! When was the last time you heard such a thing from a traditional neo-classical power metal band in our current day and age? It’s always either be too faithful and come off as too boring, or be too “creative” and come off as a sonic disaster. To go slightly off topic, long-time Iron Mask fans should recognize the opening riffs of this track. They are recycled from the track “Holy War” off of 2005’s Hordes Of The Brave.

While this is ultimately an excellent record, Iron Mask’s experimentation did have a slight hiccup. Their very brief flirt with the Asian oriental sound on the track “Genghis Khan”, achieved through usage of the Chinese violin (called an erhu) and the Chinese pentatonic scale on a plucked Asian string instrument, sounds a little too cautious. It’s almost as if the band was expecting a backlash from fans if they overdid this musical idea. While the oriental sound fits the theme of this particular song (which is about the 13th Century ruler of the Mongol Empire), it sounds oddly out-of-place within the larger context of the album, which mostly sounds like traditional neo-classical power metal. This idea could have been better planned and executed.

Other than that, another interesting musical idea to keep an ear out for would be the Gregorian chanting heard in the introduction of the track, “God Punishes, I Kill”. Its creeping build-up to the explosion of power metal goodness at the 1:09 mark is simply ravishing.

Thanks to my classical piano background, the catchiest track has got to be “The Absence”. The Romantic-inspired motif sung out by the lead guitar at the start, and its eventual doubling of the melodically similar vocal hook in the song’s choruses is nothing short of infectious. The guitar wailing just makes you want to bounce happily on the spot.

Whether you’re in need of traditional metal therapy after having slogged through dozens of too-modern-for-your-own-old-fashioned-good metal, or you’re a long-time fan of this metal sub-genre, Iron Mask will certainly entertain you well on this record. Cue the upper register group vocals and high-pitched guitar shredding!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Dane Prokofiev
February 17th, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: ceno

    Nice to see this being reviewed here. Long-time fan of neo-classical metal, I only got to know the band through this very album and just because it features Mark Boals, who is a really strong singer. The title track is damn good, with the chorus being particularly memorable and beautiful. I also don’t think that the eastern motifs of “Genghis Khan” are out of place here. They bring some diversity, which is not bad on the album of this ilk. Anyway, good review of an equally good album.


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