Blood Red Victory is--praise the gods of battle above--the textbook definition of a grower. At initial listen, IRONFLAME seemed banal at best, a deliberate and unassuming second fiddle to literally any of Iron Maiden's more, well, banal moments. IRONFLAME, my early notes indicate, is to Snoke as Bruce Dickinson is to Palpatine--a fallible facsimile.
But I couldn't have been more wrong. While Blood Red Victory isn't a showstopping album by any means, it is, in fact, a delightfully astute and solid recreation of the trad metal sound. Despite listening a great many times over the past few weeks, I'm inclined to throw it on one more time. Or maybe two more times. Let’s just see where the day takes us, shall we?
IRONFLAME, in its current studio iteration, consists of one multi-instrumentalist Andrew D'Cagna, and two (!) guitar soloists (Quinn Lukas and Jesse Scott), who apply a little extra flavor. This is heavy metal for dilettantes and devotees of heavy metal's lush history and effervescent braggadocio, and it feels very much rooted in that particular tradition. Mission accomplished, I can only assume. Nothing about this feels false or contrived, and that, as a fan of the genre in general, feels really good.
Heavy metal lives and dies by its ability to deliver soaring hooks, and in this sense, IRONFLAME deliver in spades. The intoxicating leads are the secret ingredient par excellence, weaving their way into my mind at expected times throughout the day. Eating breakfast? Here I am, spewing crumbs as I raucously hum “Honor Bound”’ righteous central passage. At the gym, embroiled in thrashy havoc? That damn sing-song chorus to “Night Queen” is what holds my attention. Trying to fall asleep? Watch out, “On Ashen Wings” is due to come galloping through. When Blood Red Victory is memorable, it’s really damn memorable. That said, while each song stands alone on individual merits, the album as a whole creates an effect wherein I just have a hard damn time remembering half of the tracks after they fact. For the back half, in particular, it's like laying in a comfortable tide--quite relaxing in the moment, but trying to distinguish waves is a moot exercise.
D'Cagna's heartwarming axemanship aside, some credit has gotta go to duel soloists for ripping it up on a deliciously frequent basis. Hot lil' opener "Gates of Evermore" is, in particular, a real treat. It makes me feel like I'm preparing to cut a swath through barbarian hordes. As a battle hymn, its wonderfully stirring. Another favorite solo falls towards the end of "Graves of Thunder," and applies a more soulful touch. Simple, but quite effective in its lengthy progression. Not everything needs to be a shredfest.
While I’m typically loathe to quote artistic statements in the context of a review, the conceptual thought behind this album helps illustrate the ways in which it succeeds. Andrew D’Cagna--who, as aforementioned, performs everything under the (Blood Red) sun beyond guitar solo duties--has this to say: "There is a recurring theme of victory in the lyrics for this album. Some songs have an air of chest-out confidence; others are about overcoming adversaries or even adversity itself. Most have been written from a 'we/us' perspective, which makes the listener feel like, 'We're in this together.’”
This, my friends, encapsulates the heart and soul of heavy fuckin’ metal--and, in turn, Blood Red Victory recalls heavy metal at its most heartfelt and genuine. While I do wish that every track herein was as heavy-hitting as, say, Side-A heroes “Honor Bound” or “Seekers of the Blade,” I have walked away quite impressed with what D’Cagna (and Co.) have conjured. Should IRONFLAME find a little more consistency and, subsequently, find their way to the battlefield once more, I’ll be on the lookout for their blood-red banner. ‘Til then, however, Blood Red Victory will do nicely.
IRONFLAME - Blood Red Victory will be released Feb. 7th from Divebomb Records (CD) and Metalworld Switzerland (vinyl and cassette)
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.