Iron Mask – Black As Death
I wonder if Dushan Petrossi’s friends call him “The Man in the Iron Mask”. I know I would. Notwithstanding, mister Petrossi has been a busy bee lately, releasing a brand new Magic Kingdom-album last year and now a new Iron Mask. That sort of productivity is usually reserved for Tobias Sammet or Tommy ReinXeed, the latter of which has finished work on several albums during this sentence alone.
In a bizarre twist of fate, spin-off project Iron Mask has become more popular than Magic Kingdom, something the wizards of the latter are currently cracking their heads over. Admittedly Iron Mask is also my favorite of the two, as I find their neoclassical brand of power metal far more accessible and entertaining than Magic Kingdom’s more swords-to-your-skull approach of all-out speed and bombast.
Yet Black As Death is a slight departure from the upbeat and epic Iron Mask we have come to know and love. As the title suggests this is bleaker in places, replacing the traditional fast-paced opening track à la “Holy War” or “Shadow Of The Red Baron” with an ominously chugging title track. The flimsy steel of former glory is forged into a blade blacker than death and, judging by all the choirs singing Latin, business is serious- because nothing says severity like a dead language no one is able to speak properly anymore. Still, the chorus latches itself to your head like an attention-craving octopus, and with the advent of “Broken Hero” we are once again in familiar waters. This tune is reminiscent of Royal Hunt, and it makes you wonder why the Danes ever wanted D.C. Cooper back when Mark Boals is clearly comfortable in neoclassical surroundings.
Those neoclassical influences are still an essential part of Iron Mask’s music, but this time around they are more restrained with the exception of “Feel The Fire” and “Blizzard Of Doom”, the latter being the musical equivalent of a snowstorm unleashing all freezing hell on your ass. The album bounces around confidently between menacing mammoths such as the title track and the superior “God Punishes – I Kill”, and musical (if not lyrical) levity on trips down nostalgia lane “Rebel Kid” and the melancholic memorial “The Absence”. No Iron Mask-album is complete without a reference to some historical or literary figure and the oriental-oriented “Genghis Khan” and the bloodthirsty “Nosferatu” are more than up to the task. A slight filler is the ballad “Magic Sky Requiem”, which despite its Rhapsody-worthy word-jumble of a title fails to impress. The final track, “When All Braves Fall”, picks and chooses from the strengths of all sorts of songs this album has to offer and proves a grand and wistful closer, sadly remembering heroic days gone by.
Sometimes it feels forced to mention every song of a record in a review, but in case of Black As Death it’s almost inevitable. For the first time an Iron Mask album has hooked me from start to finish (despite the ballad’s shortcomings- I at least tried to like it) where previous releases featured at least one or two tunes that I quickly forgot about. All credit goes to the diverse songwriting that’s pushing the boundaries of Iron Mask’s sound and amplifying the various strengths of it. With a contract on a bigger label, AFM Records, this could and should very well be the band’s big breakthrough. As a fellow Belgian, I can once again be proud of my backwards country that needed over 500 days to put together a government. And you haven’t even seen our prime minister, ha!
Arno Callens’ Rating: 4.0 out of 5