Review Summary: Iron Mask's sophomore release is an absolute monster of neoclassical power metal. There's plenty of aggression, technical riffing, strong vocal performances, and variety to keep even the most ADD of tastes satisfied.
If there’s one thing you should know about Iron Mask, it’s that Yngwie Malmsteen has never sounded this good, except perhaps on Rising Force, but let’s face it, that was roughly 30 years ago and Iron Mask frontman, Dushan Petrossi, is a lot more focused on writing songs that are consistently good and distinct from one another. Having said that, yes, the 80s vibes are at times present; yes, the unabashed solos stick out brazenly; yes, the rhythm sections are (overtly) technical; and yes, the choruses are infectious as hell (but you’ll love them for it). And to round it all off, yes, the album is amazing from start to finish.
Why? Because Dushan Petrossi knows what the hell he is doing. To start off, it helps to point out his choice of vocal presence: Goetz “Valhalla Jr.” Mohr and Oliver Hartmann, both of whom “duet” in some cases but it’s so manly you could shed a man tear or two. Mohr has a gruff, almost guttural voice without a single falsetto inclination, whereas Hartmann is soothing and emotional, similar to Jorn Lande, and the pairing couldn’t be more tasteful.
This vocal duality adds a lot of manliness to the neoclassical and technical riffing that permeates the album so incessantly. Not to say the music is flowery, but it certainly needs a strapping vocal performance to avoid a sound that could be considered too flamboyant. Petrossi apparently knows this, too, and has written very solid and engaging rhythms and solos that actually fit into the songs. There is a lot of interest and variety to be found on Hordes of the Brave, and for much of the album there is a unifying theme of aggression that most neoclassical bands simply choose to avoid.
Holy War makes that very apparent. It’s relentlessly aggressive, shoving a fast, thundering, and constantly changing rhythm down your throat, followed by an equally aggressive yet melodic chorus that you’ll never forget. Stylistically, it’s not too dissimilar from Rhapsody’s shift on Power of the Dragonflame, but Petrossi always keeps the focus on the guitars and the vocals. The lyrics are also pretty interesting and intelligently written, which combined with Mohr’s singing, make for a very powerful track. Freedom’s Blood follows the same path, but it’s more upbeat with slightly more noticeable keyboard underpinnings, but again, it’s got unyielding speed, with punchy and very fitting lyrics to match.
Things do slow down, though, here and there, usually when Hartmann commands the vocal lead, but it can’t be said enough how poetic his voice is. Petrossi seems to have catered these songs to Hartmann, because the pacing is markedly more melodic and the aggression is toned down significantly. The effect would be the “beauty” contrasting to the “beast” that is mostly present on the album and it makes for a refreshing, yet just as fluid, momentum.
Another “beauty” moment would be My Eternal Flame, which actually features Mohr on vocals. The rhythms and leads are emotionally stirring and smartly draw out for extended periods, but the true elegance of the track lies in its simplicity. I like to think of this song as the centerpiece to the album since you can really sense a lot of passion from Petrossi, without reliance on fast or technical showcase of guitar skill. He’s simply playing from the heart.
And to be honest, that really does sum up the entire album, and for that matter, Petrossi’s songwriting. He’s a talented musician, which is indeed an understatement, but he’s also very aware of what works and what doesn’t and he makes very smart decisions when it comes to songwriting and vocal presence. You could even say that he makes neoclassical relevant again, which is quite a feat considering the genre’s tendency towards homogeneity. Needless to say, Hordes of the Brave is a booming achievement in today’s saturated metal catalog and should not be missed.