Monday, 9 November 2020

Iron Angel - Emerald Eyes (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Heavy/Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 2 Oct 2020
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Iron Angel seem to be getting serious nowadays. This German heavy/power/speed/thrash metal band were a favourite of mine back in the mid-eighties, with Hellish Crossfire a fantastic debut album (and this reminds that I haven't heard Sinner or Rush of Power in decades; I need to remedy that as soon as this review is done), but they never became prolific. Formed in 1980 as Metal Gods, they managed one more studio album before splitting up in 1986. They got back together for a decade over the turn of the millennium but that period didn't prompt a new release. However, they've been back again since 2015 and this is their second new album already, after 2018's Hellbound.

The main man is Dirk Schröder, who's been the vocalist throughout the band's history. The rest of the band are recent additions, all of whom showed up after the latest reformation; the only one I run any chance of having heard elsewhere is bassist Didy Mackel, who also plays for Not Fragile. Schröder is a quintessential power/thrash singer, but then he ought to be because he helped to forge the template. His voice is clean but with rough edges, like it's been seriously lived in. Iron Angel always stayed more on the thrash side of that power/thrash balancing beam than other German pioneers like Helloween.

I liked this immediately and enjoyed it throughout but it hasn't grabbed me the way that the band's debut did. It's heavy and it's fast and it's powerful, just as it ought to be, clearly influenced by Judas Priest, especially in the merging of power and melody, but ramped further into speed metal than the Priest ever went, even on Exciter. What I found here that I don't remember is a Saxon influence. While the twin guitars of Robert Altenbach and Nino Helfrich echo the Priest in their solos, Saxon and Iron Maiden creep into the riffs and I caught an occasional Biff Byford vocal melody.

It's most apparent in the mid-paced songs, the Saxon influence most obvious on Bridges are Burning and the Maiden on What We're Living For, which could be a lost Somewhere in Time era track in a very natural heavier cover version. This latter is the Iron Angel I remember best, both commercially viable and reliably frantic, because mid-pace for Iron Angel is fast for many other bands. What We're Living For is the highlight of the album for me, though the similarly Maiden-infused title track comes close, especially with its exotic midsection. This is a band that still plays Powerslave on a regular basis.

The faster songs, like the pair that kick us off in energetic style, Sacred Slaughter and Descend, bear a far more to be expected Accept feel, again at their fastest: think Fast as a Shark instead of Princess of the Dawn. As the album runs on, the band effortlessly shift back and forth between the English heavy metal style of the early eighties and the German speed/thrash metal that grew out of it: a galloping Maiden twin guitar assault here, a Accept classical nod there. And, of course, there's always the sheer energy that's so evident in Teutonic thrash.

It's a good sound to have and I kept on enjoying this across multiple listens. While fewer songs grab in the way that I'd hoped, none of them get old quickly or, thus far, at all. I'm three listens in and each of the eleven songs on offer still sound fresh in my mind. In fact, every time Dark Sorcery ends, I find myself in a sort of vacuum, wondering why we're not just rolling on to the next song. And my reaction to that has always been to press play again because this is strong stuff.

My next step, after listening to this another time or two, is to seek out Hellbound because I see that it's been well received and, if it's anything like this, I'll happily immerse myself once more in new Iron Angel material. Suddenly, 1986 doesn't seem quite so far away and, to me, that's often a good thing.

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