What’s in an album cover? Over the years, there have been some pretty spectacular album covers produced for the likes of Yes, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, in fact, the list is pretty endless. I am drawn to great album covers but, is it just our own perception of what makes a great album cover? Or is there something inherent in brilliant design and composition that makes them almost universally liked? I have to confess that album covers that major on hate, blood, war, destruction and all things similar do not particularly float my boat and that begs the question, am I missing out on some seriously good music just because I don’t like the art on an album cover? Well, my friends, my new found vocation as a music reviewer could be qualifying that previous statement. Take Iron Mask’s The Fifth Son of Winterdoom for instance, the stylised iconography of the armour suited anti hero with two ferocious looking wolves on chains did not get me thinking I must listen to this album immediately, in fact, If I’d seen it on the shelves of a record store I would, most certainly, have walked on by. Let’s crack on and give it a listen and see if my years old prejudices could be changed.
So, who are Iron Mask? Iron Mask was, originally, formed as side project of Belgian guitarist Dushan Petrossi (Magic Kingdom) in 2002, the band’s name and some of the songs on their first album were based on Alexander Dumas’ book The Man in the Iron Mask, the album was titled Revenge is My Name. 2005 saw a lot of line up changes and the release of second album, Hordes of the Brave. In 2010 the album Shadow of the Red Baron was released followed, in 2011, by Black as Death, both releases accompanied by further changes in personnel. For 2013’s The Fifth Son of Winterdoom Mark Boals return on vocals, founder Dushan Petrossi provides guitars, Vassili Moltchanov is on bass, Andreas Lindhal is the keyboardist and Ramy Ali pounds the skins. “This time we really put focus on writing very catchy songs. From the concerts we played and the reactions from our fans, these are the songs they liked the most”, Dushan Petrossi explains. “Nevertheless, we wanted the album to sound 100% authentic and typical Iron Mask. I think this is very much what we achieved in the end with “Fifth Son of Winterdoom”
Now, I came to this album expecting nothing. In fact, due to the album cover, I wasn’t holding out much hope of anything that would be above average or better than just good old run of the mill. I couldn’t have been further from the truth dear reader, what I got basically blew my bleeding doors off, read on and see what I discovered when I ran into Iron Mask.
Back into Mystery is a really impressive and exceedingly catchy melodic rock classic, super slick intro with an uber cool riff backed up with a classy vocal. The impressive keyboards and drumming aiding and abetting the retro feel that oozes from the song, add in a coruscating solo with additional gusto and you have everything you need. The clever intro to Lion in a Cage hides what is, basically, a hectic, fast paced slice of power metal, drums thumping along and the guitar seemingly hell bent on a rollercoaster ride to oblivion, flying up and down the scales and throwing in a screeching solo for good measure. The mighty vocals match the frenetic feel of the song as it comes to an impressively abrupt ending. Fancy some good old heavy rock? You do? Good, time for One Commandment. A hard and heavy metronomic riff and thundering drums give it an old style Sabbath feel. Boals gives his vocals a more commanding, authoritative feel (apt given the song title) and the classy, Metallica style, solo adds to the 70’s feel. The oriental feel hinted at the start of Seven Samurai gives way to a pure prog metal blast of guitar, another fast paced track with strong vocals, powerful slabs of guitar and drums, a memorable chorus and a slightly distorted solo, another first class song. How can I describe title track The Fifth Son of Winterdoom? It is like one of the epic ballads of years ago when storytelling was done by mouth around a roaring fire, the whole song has a gaelic feel to it in fact, the best way I can describe it is as if the Proclaimers’ tour bus crashed smack bang into the middle of a heavy rock festival. The prodigious guitar, expert vocal and chorus all work brilliantly well together, with a twin guitar sound that is pure Thin Lizzy including an exceptional solo. The best compliment I can give it is that it never feels like it is over 10 minutes long, it is a superbly written and well executed piece of power metal that put a huge grin on my face, I wish more heavy rock could be this much fun. The little giggle at the start of Angel Eyes, Demon Soul gives away, to the initiated at least, what’s coming next, a pure slice of 80’s hair metal and it is a criminally short but oh so sweet slice of near perfection. Well judged pace, brilliant guitar (including an uber cool solo) and a voice just made for 80’s rock, what could go wrong? Basically, nothing, it is a song that makes you smile from ear to ear and has you tapping your foot (and everything else in fact) along to the music and gets you singing along to the addictive chorus, I loved it.
After our brief stint in the 80’s we are back up to date with Rock Religion, another mighty portion of heavy rock with an indomitable riff and tight drumming. Compelling vocals and another dynamic solo add to the class impression that this music is giving me. Father Farewell is not just another rock ballad, the heartfelt lyrics have actual meaning as the song mourns the passing of Petrossi’s father last year. A huge vocal performance is a given on this song, gentle guitar imparting a soulful feel before the solemn chorus. The epic, dazzling and greatly moving twin guitar solo is peerless, a touching song that brings a tear to the eye. Wiping that tear from your eye, Iron Mask throw you straight into the deep end again with the galloping power metal classic Eagle of Fire, sharp chorus present and correct. The driving guitar, pounding drums and hard vocal all contribute to yet another quality track, add in one more cracking solo and you’re a happy bunny. The flamenco guitar that introduces us to Reconquista 1492 is as good a smoke screen as the band could have hoped for. Slow paced and lulling you into a false sense of security, you think it is, maybe, going to be a nice laid back instrumental then bang, crash, wallop, you are hit by a crunching riff and a seriously epic tune is upon you. The vocals are suitably bombastic, the drums pound out the quality rhythm and the guitar is just grandiose, providing a huge, marching, wall of sound. Throw in some serious shredding twin guitar jamming and the whole song has a monumental feel to it, heavy but seriously melodic too. Where’s that time machine gone? I feel another piece of 80’s nostalgia coming on. Run to Me has an urgent feel to it, slick riffing and a smooth drum beat giving it a hard rock edge. This is one short but sweet and classy rock song with a seriously catchy chorus, the twin guitars firing solos left right and centre, where’s my spandex? After what seems way too short a time we have come to the end of this musical journey with final track, The Picture of Dorian Grey which, along with the title track, has a suitably epic feel. More prog-metal than power metal, the song has a real Iron Maiden sound to it, especially in the insistent chorus and twin guitar breaks and solos throughout the track. I love the suitably ostentatious and overblown (meant in the best possible sense of the word) vibe that runs throughout the song, it is a monumental end to what has been an outstanding album.
Well, what can I say? To take a well known saying and alter it slightly, in no way at all can you judge an album by its cover. I have been found out and it’s a huge piece of humble pie for me. As previously said, I can honestly say that I would not have listened to this record based on its cover and, that would have been to my immense loss. Iron Mask have produced a superb piece of power metal, almost symphonic in places, mixed in with some classic hard and heavy rock to produce a shining example of what’s good in rock music. I only have one more thing to say, go and buy Fifth Son of Winterdoom, do not be a fool like I could have been, it is worth every penny.