Saturday, February 9, 2019

IRON SAVIOR "Kill Or Get Killed"

(c) 2019 AFM Records

  1. Kill Or Get Killed
  2. Roaring Thunder
  3. Eternal Quest
  4. From Dust And Rubble
  5. Sinner or Saint
  6. Stand Up And Fight
  7. Heroes Ascending
  8. Never Stop Fighting
  9. Until We Meet Again
  10. Legends Of Glory
  11. Sin City
Piet Sielck--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Joachim "Piesel" Kustner--Guitars
Jan S. Eckert--Bass
Patrick Klose--Drums

Consistent and relentless.  In my mind, no two words better describe the band Iron Savior and the music that it makes!  While I am not a power metal guy, per se, Iron Savior is a band that I fanatically seek out when I hear of new music being released, because it just resonates with me so strongly.  To my mind, there is no more consistent power metal band out there than these Teutons, with no disrespect intended for bands such as Blind Guardian, Helloween, Primal Fear, or even Sielck's other band, Savage Circus, or any of the other truly great power metal bands of the scene.  But, when you pick up an Iron Savior album, you know exactly what you are in for, and with the release of Kill Or Get Killed, their 11th original studio recording, the band seeks to capitalize on that consistency and remain at the top of the European power metal heap.

To explain the two words I chose to describe the band, let's start with consistent.  The band's lineup remains the same following the excellent Riding On Fire: Re-Forged, a 2-disc release of re-recorded classic material.  As such, drummer Patrick Klose is the the newest member of the band, working on his first original studio album, while Kustner and Eckert have been with band founder, Sielck, since at least 2000.  Once again, it is this consistency in the core of the band's lineup that helps to keep the songwriting and the performances spot-on, with the band always sounding like Iron Savior.  Throughout their 20+ year existence, you cannot pick out a single album from their catalog and say, "that doesn't sound like Iron Savior", because everything they have done sounds like Iron Savior.  A lot of that, of course, has to do with the unmistakable vocals of Sielck, who is once again in top-notch form here, with his melodic snarl soaring over the top of these eleven slabs of molten power metal.  Not the high, wailing, ear-piercing type of vocalist that so many speed/power metal bands routinely employ, Sielck stays more in the lower tenor range, but his vocals burst forth with power and clarity, depth and angst, and the layers of backing vocals employed only serve to bolster his already near-perfect performances.  In fact, for me, the backing vocals the band always employs, are one of the keys that truly separate Iron Savior from so many of its peers.  They are always an absolute match for the aggressive style of power metal the band plays, whether using the higher-pitched, soaring styles used on tracks like "Heroes Ascending", or the angrier, darker, nearly-shouted style utilized on "Stand Up And Fight".  Plus, the guitar combination of Sielck and Kustner...who had the unenviable task of filling the shoes of Kai Hansen back in 2000, is on a level that is nearly unmatched in the metal scene today.  While never mentioned in the same breath as legendary guitar tandems, Sielck and Kustner lay waste to anything standing in their way, with powerful rhythm lines and searing solos, while the rumbling of Eckert's bass melds perfectly with the crushing percussive performances from Klose, who was the perfect find for the band when longtime drummer, Thomas Nack, vacated the kit in 2017.

Relentless is the other word I chose to describe Iron Savior, and Kill Or Get Killed is, like all of the band's releases, relentless in its energy and aggression from start to finish.  Nowhere is this more evident than on the lead single from the album, "Eternal Quest", which comes ripping out of your speakers like a Berserker unleashed!  Kustner leads the attack, his rhythm guitars charging to the front, with Klose following in lockstep behind, his galloping drums driving the pace, as Eckert's bass rumbles forward as well!  Sielck's alternately smooth-then-snarled vocals rally the troops, sounding the battle cry, accompanied by the previously mentioned power backing vocals, delivering a nearly perfect metal anthem.

If the crushing metallic assault of "Eternal Quest" is to your liking, there is nothing here you will not find equally appealing.  The title track features some of the fastest rhythm guitar on the album, along with some seemingly impossible double-time drumming, while "Roaring Thunder" backs that up with a slightly slower (slightly!) tempo, but a darker rhythm guitar tone, with wailing guitar effects backing those up.  "From Dust And Rubble" starts off with some programmed synthesizer elements, before building into something of an 80s-inspired heavy metal song with a big, chant-along chorus that will have fans thrusting their fists in the air in concert.  "Never Stop Believing" has a more melodic metal approach, especially on the guitars, but doesn't lack for power because of the slight style change.  The bass is particularly strong on this track, also, and Sielck counters the smoother guitar with an edgier vocal tack than he takes in some of the other songs here.  It's a nice juxtaposition of sounds and styles and the result is a really, really strong song.  "Sinner Of Saint" has a Judas Priest feel to the guitar line, which is pretty darn cool, and Halford's vocals actually leak into my imagination for a moment, wondering how he would sound on this rocker.  Of course, Sielck has practically nothing in common with the siren that is Halford's voice, but his aggression and edge are the perfect sound for Iron Savior, and this tasty power metal track is a great representation of what Iron Savior does so well.  The guitar solo here is also not to be missed!  The onslaught continues through all ten tracks of the album proper, with album closer, "Legends Of Glory" nearly matching the opening title track in terms of speed and ferocity in the guitars, as well as in the sense of urgency in Sielck's vocals.  

For many, "Heroes Ascending" may be the pinnacle of the record, with its unique rhythm guitar-and-drum patterns, huge, sweeping guitar solo, and massive hook, all backed by a soaring backing vocal section that rips through the sing-along chorus parts!  For me, however, the real diamond here, amongst an album full of gems, is the epic "Until We Meet Again", a huge, nearly 8 minute long track of galloping, mid-tempo pomp and power.   There are some uncredited synth elements here that add to the overall atmosphere of the track, and the soaring vocals that Sielck utilizes on the chorus really speak to his range as a vocalist.  At a little over halfway through the song, there's a softer section, basically the programmed synth elements and Sielck's vocals taking on a whispered, almost spoken-word style, before a massive guitar solo erupts, building in power and intensity, before returning to the main riff of the song and ushering in the final verse and runs through the chorus.  The multiple styles that Sielck utilizes on this track really add to the overall depth, with verse sections that reminds me a lot of the harder-hitting material Pretty Maids has released, while the vocal phrasing on the chorus, reminds me a LOT of Dio, to be honest, especially as the album closes.  Such a great, great song, I really hope this song finds its way into the live set of the band, although its sheer length and scope may make that a difficult task. 

"Sin City", the eleventh track on the album, is a bonus track that was not included with my review copy.  I have been told that it is a cover of the AC/DC song of the same name, which I find a bit odd, as my brain can't really combine the two styles.  I will have to hung down the song to hear it, of course, and I am trying to gain confirmation that it is indeed a cover song.  I will update this review when I have further information.

As is frequently the case with Iron Savior records, Kill Or Be Killed is something of a concept album, although the songs are strong enough to stand on their own.  According to Sielck, the primary songwriter for all Iron Savior releases, the album was inspired by the book, The Star Of Pandora, a sci-fi book about the destruction of human civilization when it is overrun by alien invaders.  With that in mind, "the never give up, never say die" attitude of tracks like "Kill Or Get Killed", "Stand Up And Fight", "Never Stop Fighting", and "Legends Of Glory" are given even more context, although none was really required.

Chock full of metal anthems, Kill Or Get Killed is guaranteed to be a massive player for me in 2019, and is, as of this very moment, one of the two or three best releases of the young year.  More than half of this record will be going into my workout mix (which is more than 25% Iron Savior as it stands!), with numerous tracks likely to make the "best of" lists of longtime fans of the band.  Kill Or Get Killed is a superb metallic reminder of how great music should be made, with a consistent level of excellence demanded of the band, and a relentless drive from that band to always meet that demand!  This is the definition of Iron Savior for me!

Is this the best Iron Savior record the band has made?  Likely not, but then again, there is no such thing as a bad Iron Savior record, so ranking them is rather difficult for me.  I would say this is top five, to be sure, with Condition Red, Titancraft, Dark Assault, and the reissued Megatropolis 2.0 also competing for Top Five slots!  And that excludes great stuff like Battering Ram and The Landing!  So much greatness to be considered.  Quite the problem to have, eh?

Rating:  Metallic excellence!  Crank this to 9!

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