Ironflame’s second full-length Tales of Splendor and Sorrow demonstrates massive growth with very little change. The formula of 2017’s Lightning Strikes the Crown is unaltered as the American power metal tropes of blazing guitar runs, high-pitched vocal layers, and triumphant melodies are lovingly displayed. The project also keeps to its one-man roots as the ever-prolific Andrew D’Cagna provides all vocals and instrumentation aside from the solos, which were all played by live guitarist and East Coast shredder extraordinaire Jim Dofka.
Despite just a year between releases, Tales of Splendor and Sorrow clearly had more thought put into it than its predecessor. Ironflame’s debut was an off-the-cuff slice of fun allegedly written and recorded in a couple weeks, but this album’s expanded runtime and loftier songs indicate a more methodical approach time around. There’s still plenty of that catchiness left around but establishing a greater sense of scale has taken equal priority.
Thankfully D’Cagna’s musicianship and songwriting skills live up to this rising ambition. The songs aren’t as snappy as before and don’t hit quite as hard, but the performances remain energetic and the structures are well contained. The guitar work is noticeably darker on certain tracks, but the vocals remain the band’s biggest asset, delivering plenty of hooks in a convictive, ballsy tenor.
A sense of déjà vu is the only real nitpick when examining these Tales. The similarities between songs like “Sword and Shield” and “Marching On” is natural considering the shared style of both albums, but there are moments where the project’s outside influences are made apparent. The mid-tempo charge on “Bringer of Fire” recalls Balls to the Wall-era Accept, the chorus progression of “The Contract” bears a striking resemblance to Bruce Dickinson’s “The Magician,” and “Our Great Defender” is a moody, dark number with shades of Mercyful Fate’s “Melissa.” Considering the sheer amount of class this project exudes compared to its peers, I really can’t complain.
Considering how Ironflame’s second album had to not only follow up its debut a year later but also compete with D’Cagna’s endless sea of other projects, it’s amazing how much it’s progressed between releases. It’s impressive to see how much the songwriting has developed without changing the style or band dynamic and I can only imagine how much effort was exerted to see it all through. Whether you prefer the debut’s spontaneous execution or this album’s erudite attitude, Ironflame deserves to be a top dog in American power metal.
“Sword and Shield”
“Divided We Fall”
“Our Great Defender”