Epic Heavy / US Power from Arizona
December and January are typically quiet months where few bands and labels put out any releases. It’s a time to decompress from the end of the previous year and ramp up for starting a whole new one. I use this opportunity to revisit both favorites from the past year and albums that I wasn’t quite so keen on. Typically my opinion doesn’t change very much, but in some cases I’ve found myself drastically changing it once I’ve given a release another try and proper time to sink in – either for better or for worse. In the case of Ice Sword’s debut album Dragon Magic, it’s the former.
My initial reaction to Dragon Magic wasn’t a very positive one to say the least. I first discovered Ice Sword shortly after the release of their 2015 demo and I was very impressed by what they managed to accomplish. The demo blended elements of both European and American styles of power metal very tastefully and showed a band with immense talent and promise. When I found out that they had an album in the works I was excited to see what Ice Sword brought to the table. I put the album on and I was greeted with a rerecorded version of a demo song, only this time the production was worse and there was the addition of keyboards. No thanks. I knee-jerk reacted and turned it off immediately without giving the album its proper dues. Big mistake on my part.
I gave Dragon Magic another try last month and this time I was determined to finish the album through – maybe there was something I was missing? By the end of my first full listen I felt completely foolish, underneath the unrefined production there lay some of the year’s finest songwriting that I somehow managed to ignore my first time around. It was a perfect reminder of why it’s important to give new music its proper time and attention, a humbling experience for me to say the least. Since then, I’ve been listening to Ice Sword’s debut regularly and it’s only grown on me more and more with each listen.
What keeps bringing me back time and time again for more listens is the unique sound displayed on Dragon Magic. Ice Sword’s style lies somewhere at the intersection of epic heavy metal, US power metal, and European power metal with tinges of black metal. I hear influences ranging from Blind Guardian to Slough Feg, but ultimately Ice Sword explore a sound that is entirely their own. Beautiful melodies, thrashing riffs, Celtic folk inspired acoustics, epic and memorable vocals, and even blast beats – it’s all there and then some. Blending together so many elements is tough without sounding disjointed, but Ice Sword manage to bring it all together in a cohesive and definitive way.
While Dragon Magic is a brilliant display of songwriting and musical variety, it’s plagued by a couple of fatal flaws. I alluded to it prior, but the album’s lo-fi and demo like production is a huge detriment to an otherwise excellent album. The drums and guitars in particular seen like they were mixed far too loud and sound off. Given this record was engineered professionally by Dan Randall, this seems to all be intentional. Unfortunately, the deliberate rawness of the production doesn’t give the desired effect here – a clearer, more modern production would help to bring out and highlight the fantastic songwriting underneath. In addition to a production that doesn’t quite work, Dragon Magic also suffers from being a tad too long with its sixty six minute run length. The album closes with three back to back tracks that are around ten minutes each which just ends up being too overwhelming and dragging on. The first of these songs, “A Foreboding Realization”, is by far the strongest and would have made for an excellent album closing epic. This would put the album run time at a more ideal and manageable forty six minutes rather than over an hour.
Despite its flaws, Dragon Magic is a compelling debut release from a young band with plenty still to offer. Ice Sword take us on a unique epic journey, jam packed with adventure and full of twists and turns. I’m curious to see where the future takes this band and how they evolve from here.
Album Rating: 85/100
Favorite Track: A Foreboding Realization