by Nikiforos Skoumas
Staff Writer –
It is arguable that Belgian neo-classical metal band Iron Mask put out one of the best albums of the genre in early 2010 with the release of their third album Shadow of the Red Baron. At that time guitar hero and band leader Dushan Petrossi had been credited for saying that if the album’s commercial life-cycle was significantly impeded by illegal downloading, that would be the last of Iron Mask as a band.
Two years past that time, Iron Mask seem to have won that bet with Shadow of the Red Baron, resuming their activity with a new album Black as Death and a bigger label, being the German AFM Records. Still, it seems victory has its price and Iron Mask have suffered losses in their line up. Gone are drummer Erik Stout, keyboardist Andreas Lindhal and powerful vocalist Val Halla Jr.
Never the less, reinforcements were never far away; enter drummer Rami Ali (Frontline, Kiske-Somerville), renowned Swedish keyboardist Mats Olauson and on lead vocals, arguably the most iconic of all neoclassical singers, Mark Boals.
As your intuition probably tells you, Iron Mask have developed into something greater than the personal outfit of the Belgian guitar virtuoso; It’s a neo-classical metal force to be reckoned with, hence going no longer under the moniker ‘Dushan Petrossi’s Iron Mask’ (which served as the band’s full name up until the previous album), but plainly ‘Iron Mask.’
And it is all entirely justifiable since the changes in line up brought along changes in the musical style. Songwriting wise, the album is substantially heavier in terms of rhythm section and guitar riffs than anything Petrossi has attempted in the past (add to that the fact that Black as Death was produced by Denis Ward, and it all makes perfect sense).
Not only are we presented with a heavier album but with a thematically darker concept as well. From the majestic opening of the title track to its melodic yet sorrowful chorus (an epic composition that only Mark Boals can pull off so convincingly) one more-or-less gets the picture of what Black as Death is all about. That is not to say however that long term fans of the band are not going to find the characteristic neoclassical scales and vibrato-based vocal harmonies that have defined the band’s sound since their debut.
It is not a question of stronger songs over weaker tunes; simply tracks like “Broken Hero”, “God Punishes I Kill,” “Rebel Kid” and “The Absence” are expected to connect with the listener from their opening note, while “Black as Death” and “Feel the Fire” should require more plays for one to feel at home with all their musical twists and turns.
Believe it or not, with Black as Death, Iron Mask are actually pushing the creative boundaries of neoclassical metal in 2012 and that alone is a major accomplishment. One strongly feels that through Black as Death, Iron Mask offer something challenging but ultimately rewarding to the listener.
Genre: Neo-classical Metal, Melodic Metal
Mark Boals – Vocals
Dushan Petrossi – Guitars
Vassili Moltchanov – Bass
Roma Siadletski – Vocals/Shouts
Mats Olausson – Keyboards
Ramy Ali – Drums
01. From Light Into The Dark
02. Black As Death
03. Broken Hero
04. Feel The Fire
05. Genghis Khan
06. God Punishes, I Kill
07. Rebel Kid
08. Blizzard Of Doom
09. The Absence
10. Magic Sky Requiem
12. When All Braves Fall
Band website: http://www.iron-mask.com/index.php
Label: AFM Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 9/10