I have a real soft spot for Portugal’s Ironsword. Five albums in twenty five years shows main man Tann (guitars, vocals) has dogged determination to play the true way regardless of fashion, and including this I own four of them. For me as well they don’t entirely sound like anyone else. Oh sure you hear influences from lots of classic sources including Manilla Road (and Paul ‘Hellroadie’ Patrck guests on a handful of tracks here), but they have their own sound. The lead vocals are deep and gruff enough to be the kind you’d expect to hear if a grizzly bear decided to sing metal, the backing vocals high and clear – hence Mr Patrick fitting like a tailored glove. The riffs are heavy, deep and scamper and chug along, driven forth by the pounding drums. The lead fills are melodic and fluid. Lyrical concerns are Robert E Howard’s Hyborean Age, a little Lovecraft now and then; heroic fantasy to suit the incredibly musclebound music.

‘Stygian Scrolls’ intro leads into the barrelling brawl of ‘Rogues In The House’ and its everything you need to know about Ironsword. Deep tuning, dancing melody over the huge rumble, growling but tuneful lead vocals and Mr Patrick’s unique vocals backing up but in the style Ironsword have always used, or in his style, or….well you get my drift. Perfect match. It’s a cracking song and fills me with joy and hope.

The one thing you have to watch with in Ironsword is that generally all the songs are of such a similar mid to fast tempo that ‘Upon The Throne’, ‘Tower Of The Elephant’ and ‘In The Coils Of Set’ might seem to run together if you just stick this on and expect it to seep in as you do something else. And that would be so wrong. ‘Upon The Throne’ is a battle rousing, blood soaked bit of legend with a gorgeous hookline, ‘Tower Of The Elephant ‘ a slightly more smouldering tale of a young Conan, ‘In The Coils Of Set’ a fast shark of a riff rattling out the warning. ‘Red Nails’ (you’re getting all the story references here I hope) has such a blood raw howl in some of the vocals that you can seem the towering Cimmerian rising, bloody sword in hand from the mass of lesser foes. Yeah it’s magnificent.

The production here gives full head to the power on display, a great drum sound in particular keeping the musclebound songs pumping even on slower numbers like ‘Son Of Crom’. It’s not all thunderstorms though, there are the odd moments of haunting drop outs, the softer seconds of guitar before the rumble rolls back.

The only real criticism I have I guess is the length of the album. I mean it has been five years since ‘None But The Brave’ so twelve new songs is not a huge number, but the sheer intensity here means I flag a little in the last three or four. You can’t fault the value for money and there really are no obvious fillers here at all, but in single play run throughs, a wonderful song like ‘Black Colossus’ might get lost. It’s tricky I know – you have all the songs, it’s been five years and you want people to hear them and in this precarious underground world you never know when the next opportunity will arise so you can’t keep them back either. So I found myself splitting listenings.

Ah, well in this case I just have to be grateful for what I have, and what I have is a wonderfully tight, gritty epic metal band providing me with a dozen skilfully crafted storms of heroic heavy metal.

If you like to Keep It True, then these true servants of steel will not let you down. It’s so good to have them back.

(8/10 Gizmo)