The Press Release states Iron Mask are a Neo-Classical Power Metal band. If said press release hadn’t claimed this, then I wouldn’t have spent the whole of the first track thinking that someone had played a cruel trick and substituted a remixed song by an 80’s melodic rock band trying to break the charts…in 1987. There is a Malmsteen-esque solo grafted uncomfortably within but that kind of makes it worse. This was not a good start.
But I persevered. If they claim to be Neo-Classical Power Metal then they must be, and the second track “Like A Lion In A Cage” (and yes, the track ends with a big old MGM Lion roar. Yep. Didn’t see that one coming…) does come across like Stratovarius with Carsten Schulz (Evidence One) on vocals. It’s not him though, the vocals on this release are handled by Roma Siadletski (Magic Kingdom) and none other than Mark Boals (ex-Royal Hunt and, of course, ex-Malmsteen!). With Malmsteen (and on a few other projects) he always seems to end up having to sing dodgy, cheesy lyrics and I hold out hope that one day a veritable poet will befriend him…but alas not this time. Thwarted again Mark (The lyrics are as ropey as the song titles hint at I’m afraid). And Iron Mask guitarist and main songwriter Dushan Petrossi certainly worships at the alter of Malm so who better to get in on vocals than one of Malmsteen’s better known vocalists? How about long-term Malmsteen keyboardist Mats Olaussen? Yeah, he’s got him on here too…
I can’t fault the vocal performances, both guys do a great job with what they are given – as is evident in next track ‘Only One Commandment’. ‘Seven Samurai’ continues the up-tempo vain and it’s all going OK, nothing special but showing promise. And then we get to the 10 minute title track. Now, Malmsteen did the whole “Braveheart” thing on “Facing The Animal” (amongst others…!) and I’m starting to realize with ominous foreboding that the Dushan Petrossi/Iron Mask philosophy is “If Malmsteen did it, then I can too” NO YOU CAN’T!! STOP IT!! Why do some musicians persist in thinking that the psuedo-celtic twiddledy-dee-diddle-dee-dee, bagpipe mimicking, third rate Big Country cast-offs approach works in Power Metal??? The lyrics are again cringe-worthy (and yes I accept, if I wrote lyrics in Belgian, they would also be pants), but of course I’m forgetting – Malmsteen’s lyrics were crap so therefore it’s OK for Iron Mask – it’s their philosophy after all. Petrossi is of course very talented at this style, but I don’t hear anything on this “epic” that Axel Rudi Pell/Timo Tolkki/Impellitteri and countless others haven’t done to better effect before.
Then we have to endure another overly commercial wannabe track ‘Angel Eyes Demon Soul’ that has all the worst traits of 80’s mainstream desperation, with more terrible lyrics and one of the most annoying choruses wheeled out on the album thus far (and it’s already up against stiff competition!). I’m sorry, I just want to turn the album off now, but I have read (there’s that press release again!) that the band have made a conscious decision to write catchy songs, so onward to “Rock Religion”. As a song it’s up-beat and bouncy with a decent riff and fine vocal performance, but these lyrics are really starting to grate now. Rock Religion. Really. Surely even Manowar think this a step too far.
There is a heartfelt ballad dedicated to Petrossi’s late father (‘Father Farewell’) which is…heartfelt and a ballad with lyrics written by Petrossi that seems disrespectful to pass judgement on, so I’ll just pick through the remaining tracks. Bearing in mind they could ALL be Malmsteen songs, ‘Eagle Of Fire’ leans more towards Axel Rudi Pell, ‘Reconquista 1492’ is of “that Spanish flavour” (yeah, you know the style…), and ‘Run To Me’ finally takes the crown of worst chorus on the album. I’m all for catchy and memorable, but there were bands in 1986 cringing at these kind of annoying lyrical hooks! And the last track, ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’…sounds like Malmsteen for a change.
I actually quite like a bit of Yngwie, but I don’t get this. Is it An Homage? A Tribute? Or a total lack of imagination? “Yngwie J. Malmsteen” is NOT a genre – It’s one guy…WHO IS STILL PLAYING IT!!! Neo-Classical Power Metal IS a genre, and nowadays it can be rather stale, but bands like Stratovarius, Royal Hunt and a few others show that when you put your own slant on things it can also be really interesting. If you don’t and you just think the musical world revolves around Mr Malm then well, this is the rather generic result.
(5/10 Andy Barker)