Iron Griffin’s debut Curse of the Sky barely qualifies as a full-length at only seven tracks and a half hour runtime, but it puts forth an especially grandiose epic metal style. It throws back to the crossroads of 70s and 80s metal, as charging guitar and bass gallops are countered by grounded production and hard rock drumming. Comparisons could be made to Iron Maiden’s first album or Saxon’s more grandiose tracks, but I dare reach as far back as late-70s Rush and the ever-obscure Legend.
The performances suit the album’s style for the most part, but the vocals are easily its biggest asset. While Maija Tiljander’s vocal delivery is based more on holding out notes than straightforward lines, she puts in a commanding performance without getting too in your face and the backing vocals provide some burly layering. The guitar work is also pretty good, largely consisting of solid gallops and acoustic excursions that enhance the mystical atmosphere, and the bass chugs are at near equal prominence, adding to the grainy aesthetic.
On the flip side, the drums are incredibly stiff. In addition to being thoroughly buried in the mix, the actual patterns lack the power or intricacy to break the hard rock mold that drummers like Clive Burr and Pete Gill so gladly destroyed nearly four decades ago. It’s not entirely a deal-breaker but I’m not sure what to make of it since multi-instrumentalist Oskari Räsänen is best known as the drummer for Mausoleum Gate. A busier approach definitely would’ve worked in this album’s favor.
These factors do admittedly keep the songwriting from reaching its full potential, but individual tracks still end up being pretty great. While “Prelude” feels like padding on an album this short, it still sounds nice with “Reign of Thunder” and “Forgotten Steel” following it in grandiose fashion. “Lost Legion” could’ve been more stirring with some extra conviction and the title tracks begs for a more aggressive performance to match its swagger. Fortunately, “Dawn of Struggle” makes the most of that early Maiden flavor and “To the Path of Glory” makes for some closing epic balladry.
Overall, Iron Griffin is still getting their ingredients together on Curse of the Sky, but things already look promising. A greater energy boost would’ve resulted in a top tier release but as is, the vocals are incredible and guitar work sustains the atmosphere quite nicely. I also don’t mind the shorter runtime as the album’s flaws would’ve been more detrimental on a longer format. Bands like Gatekeeper and Sanhedrin are better realized versions of this particular vision, but Iron Griffin could easily be at their level with a few more tweaks.
“Reign of Thunder”
“Dawn of Struggle”
“To the Path of Glory”