There's a long story behind this Danish Power Metal act releasing its 8th album following a hiatus that brought it almost to disband; there have been monicker, style and line-up changes through the years and this new album makes no exception, seeing original drummer Gunnar Olsen behind the skins and cymbals after a 15-year absence; as the line-up has been reduced to a trio, the keyboards found four years ago on "Voyage of the Damned" are completely gone, and that fits Steene's new stunning voice, become less extended, yet darker and extremely magnetic with time. The 12 tracks were recorded by Italian producer Marco Angioni in Denmark, then mixed at the renowned Polish Hertz studios and they are aimed at following the spirit of 90s Power Metal albums such as Rage's "Black in Mind", Iced Earth's "The Dark Saga", and Helloween's "Better Than Raw".
The lyrics deal with life among zombies after the epidemic spread in L.A., opening one's mind before religious dogmas, madness, extinction and damnation, burying the dead, an iron eagle come to bring justice, taking the reins of one's life, a last survivor, searching for a sign of life and lastly my favourite one about revenge and some song titles stress out the choice of Thrash Metal influences, for instance "Among the Dead" and "Tornado of Sickness" are clear references to Thrash Metal classic hits (should I really mention them? Well, OK, just for the newcomers: Anthrax's "Among the Living" and Megadeth's "Tornado of Souls").
The headbanging begins after the "Intro - The Lost City" with the title track, an exhilarating song with fast drumming, nice drum fills, containing even Metalcore structures, a couple of Hardcore back-up vocals and growls; this composition appears decidedly perfect songwriting-wise, just listen, analyze and enjoy how the timing of the guitar and drum entwining is made with excruciating precision. Not a case that the above-mentioned "Among the Dead" was chosen to be accompanied by a low-budget valid official video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSk77fH_udA). While "Hammer of the Gods" is a tad more traditional, counting on another axe solo that leaves breathless, a really catchy refrain, adrenalinic vocals and destructive drumming, the Speed/Thrash Metal-based "Tornado of Sickness" partly sounds Helloweeian in some fast parts, while in others it is more modern; the axe solo may remind something of Megadeth, but the song also boasts an assortment of the finest vocals of the album, some close to Machine Head's. "Higher Ground" starts with a groovy Thrash Metal riff and adds a brief melodic structure to the recipe; there are several growls, lighter parts skimming Pop Punk especially as for the vocals on a soft Power Metal structure, and there are also interesting bass lines; it's a song that steadily differs from the rest of the material and not everyone may welcome it on first listens. Things get tougher with "Iron Eagle" which distingueshes itself thanks to a more original and involving guitar solo than average, epic vocal layers and a tight riff pillaged from the early Metallica's repertoire. While "Made to Suffer" is an avalanche of sublime Power Metal structures and riffs embellished by the most elaborated drumwork and first-rate vocals of the album, sometimes reminding me of Disturbed, put aside to the growls during the guitar solo and Hardcore screams at the end, "The Last Survivor" and "No Sign of Life" are penetrating and hammering examples of mid-tempo Power Metal, with the former rich in fiery guitar textures and a certain kind of Hardcore back-up vocals, and the latter bordering Bay Area Thrash Metal on a few occasions as far as the approach of the backing vocals is concerned, while dissonant guitars add a touch of modernity. In the innovative "Ghost from the Past" besides the Thrash Metal riff and the Power Metal hints, there's a plain contrast between the not aggressive vocals and the strained double kick drum parts, and there's also time for melodious vocals and drum fills preceding and following the final assault and refrain repetition. Iron Fire also decided to add an absolutely unexpected Little Caesar-styled ballad to the set list and this blend of Hard Rock and Metal is called "When the Lights Go out", which gives some hope to those involved in the zombie scenario survival, at least musically, whereas the lyrics keep being post-apocalyptical; and then there is the fantastic cover-version of Metallica's magical "For Whom the Bell Tolls"; nothing could very likely ever be better than the original but this version is definitely abundantly satisfying, with the major length of pauses and the thick Danish accent being the most evident elements present; moreover, the guitars are very similar to the original ones, but the rhythm of the whole song is a bit faster; the vocals are sometimes more majestic, more often on the contrary more vicious, and there are additional layers of backing vocals lacking in The Four Horsemen's classic.
What most people have been failing to understand through the years is that Iron Fire have always liked to be contaminated by other genres record by record in small doses; this time they've dared more, experimenting a tad further, using especially Metalcore elements, as well as Thrash Metal, Hard Rock, and Punk ones, without disdaining to recur to growls and other sorts of harsh vocals; mind, they've done their job well this time, too, never appearing to sound in a confused, sloppy manner and it seems to me that on this occasion they've created this ultimate 'musical soup' not with the intention of jumping on the bandwagon. Let's admit it: when you're an avantgarde band you can almost never achieve big success, but the Danish combo are glad to be recognized with the status of 'cult' band. They may not be appreciated or understood by many fully nowadays, but everything that is controversial gains artistic value with time. Therefore if you belong to the category of those who want just Power Metal with continuous double kick drums, falsettos, keyboards, Dungeons and Dragons lyrics, that is fine to me and I respect your position, simply don't buy this album and at the same time do me the favour of never complaining that all Power Metal bands sound similar one to another.