IRON MASK – SHADOW OF THE RED BARON (REVIEW)

Out now on Lion Music

Back after 4.5 years from the scene are neo-classical merchants Iron Mask.  However, whilst the sound is firmly rooted in a neo-classical basis there is a stronger than ever melodic vibe throughout the album makes this a versatile and accessible album for more discerning straight metal fans.   

Led by guitar whiz Dushan Petrossi the line-up is mostly consistent with its predecessor ‘Hordes Of The Brave’ so once again we have powerhouse vocalist Goetz ‘Valhalla Jnr’ Mohre whose voice is a nice mix of Dio and Dickinson and longterm bassist Vassili Moltchanov in now joined by drummer Eric Stout (Joe Stump band) with keyboardist Andreas Lindahl (Murder Of My Sweet) completing the lineup.  The album is home to 11 tracks, 1 of which is an instrumental and anyone who appreciated the sound of ‘Hordes Of The Brave’ is going to love this new effort.

Opening with the 7 minute epic “Shadow Of The Red Baron” is a bold move but ultimately a gripping start. Set at a frantic pace, with riffs firing from all angles, the production is tight with Stout’s drums exploding from the speakers.  Anyone that has missed the classic neo-classical tinted metal Malmsteen produced in his prime will get a serious thrill out of this track.  Valhalla Jnr’s vocals soar throughout whilst the guitar/keyboard interplay in the solo section is pure bliss. A cracking start.   

“Dreams” is up next serving up a classic Maiden style triplet/gallop motif, lead vocals are performed by Oliver Hartmann (a long term Iron Mask associate, his voice also supplies the numerous choirs heard throughout).  The track itself it commercial sounding neo-classically tinted metal with a chorus of the highest quality.  A classical interlude pummels you for the start of the solo section before Dushan delivers a fret melting  yet highly melodic solo.

The stunning quality continues unabated for “Forever In The Dark”, more mid tempo than its predecessors this is classic track from start to finish, opening with a keyboard motif which leads way to harmonised guitars before breaking down into Gregorian chants before the verse kick  in solidly.   The chorus is once again addictive, as is the instrumental middle section which has a Michael Schenker-ish tint to these ears.    This is first rate melodic metal of the highest order.

“Resurrection” sees the tempo drop down a few notches further, yet the heaviness intensify for this Egyptian tinted track.  The track is well worked, with the multi tracked choirs working extremely well, however the lead vocal performance is equally stunning. 

“Sahara” is back to punchy commercial neo-classically tinted album and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Malmsteen’s “Odyssey” album such is its quality.  Dushan’s lead guitar is flanked by a guest solo from Lars Eric Mattsson before a deft solo from Lindahl sees us back into the catchy chorus.

“Black Devil Ship” is arguably the only weak spot on the album, with its mock pirate theme complete with jolly roger riff, albeit delivered in a style reminiscent of Iron Maiden.  It’s not a terrible track, but does come across more as a novelty number.

“We Will Meet Again” quickly rectifies its predecessor’s shortcomings in another fantastic slice of melodic metal.  Once again a melodically rich harmonised riff will snag you in right away, but the way the track builds through the verses into the chorus is also addictive as hell.  The chorus will see the power metal crowd reaching to the skies in delight and once again it’s another fine success.

“Universe” is one of the fastest tracks on the album being very grandiose in its delivery, and the classically rich middle section before scorching guitar/keyboard dual solo section only adds to majestic feel.

The lone ballad “We Will Meet Again” is a heartfelt number, written about the death of Dushan’s mother the track is exquisite with its female choirs, acoustic guitar.  Valhalla Jnr shows his versatility on this number through a wide range of tonalities and ranges, why he isn’t mentioned with the metal elite is surely just a matter of time. 

“Only The Good Die Young” is back to what this album has delivered in spades, extremely strong classic metal with a commercial punch, yet still managing to retain a heaviness that should see European metal fans rejoicing.  The solo trade off here is again a nice addition.

Instrumental “Ghost Of The Tzar” is as epic as its title suggests.  Its metallic flair is backed by a classical punch, and the use of growling vocals sees them add musical merit to the composition.  Naturally the nature of the music is likely to sees comparisons to Mr. Malmsteen, but again Yngwie has not produced anything this good in a few years now.

With “Shadow Of The Red Baron” one can only hope that Iron Mask’s stock rises in the metal world as this is a stunning album pretty much from start to finish.  The songwriting is first and foremost the key here, Petrossi has developed in his craft nicely with each album and its hard to see how he will top this effort. Naturally the musical performances are first rate, yet all serve to compliment the songs as opposed to over power them.  The production of the album is strong being mixed and mastered by Jen Bogren (Symphony X, Opeth etc) and really it’s the icing on the cake of a superb album. 

What a way to start 2010!
 
Hot Spots : Pretty much the entire thing!
Rating : 95%

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