You are the drummer of a band taking its cues from the early heavy metal sound and from several 70s rock inspired NWOBHM bands. What do you do in your own free time between working on the albums of your band? The answer for Oskari Räsänen, Mausoleum Gate drummer, is apparently to write some melodic heavy/proto metal for his side project. That side project which initially began as a solo act, Iron Griffin, has been where he channels his creative output lately. Taking the reins all by himself this time around, Räsänen would still aim for a very old school, mature sound like his main band but this time it is more melodic, calm, epic, and grandiose than ever before.
His ideas first materialized when he was joined by Toni Pentikäinen to do vocals and F.F. Nieminen on keyboards. With their forces combined, came the self titled debut EP of Iron Griffin. This 18 minute long EP was the first demonstration of the general ideas Räsänen had in mind for the direction this band would take. A beautiful intro that could be a synth-y main melody on a 70s progressive rock album is followed by four tracks of smooth guitar leads, mellow heavy metal riffs, and some early 80s heavy metal rhythms. As great as it is, this EP was just the beginning for Iron Griffin and little did we know that they would find a way to take everything on the EP and somehow make it better in two years.
The vocal melodies of Pentikäinen on the EP really carried the songs forward seamlessly, however, for the debut full-length Räsänen was looking for something different and he found the secret ingredient that separates great albums with great vocals from great albums with unforgettable vocals: contributions of the rock singer Maija Tiljander.
Räsänen, isolating himself from the world and focusing on his craft, finished writing and recording the material for the album. Now even more riff-centric and richer sounding than the EP, the music is packed with mid-tempo beautiful melodies. Tiljander’s outstanding vocal performance shows that she was not here just to follow the guitar melodies, instead she elevated the sound of the band to a higher level with her touch.
After the prelude that is less likely to steal the spotlights than the intro of the EP could, the album starts with the song “Reign of Thunder” and the listener is immediately greeted by the harmony of smooth guitar leads and powerful vocals that can be gentle as a breeze or roaring like a thunder at different high and low moments of the songs. The opening track is followed by five other calm and melodic pieces of early metal and rock about magic, sorcery, and battlefields. Tge medieval melodies of Räsänen are tastefully enriched by F.F. Nieminen’s synth and Kasperi Puranen’s acoustic guitar touches. The band reaches their fastest moments with “Dawn of Struggle” which works so well that it makes you wonder if they could make the album even better with another high-tempo song added in. The epic closer “To the Path of Glory” combines everything they have to offer and wraps up the album in the most splendid way.
The only complaint I have about the album is the most harmless of the complaints anyone could ever have about a piece of music: it is too short. With its 30 minute runtime, the album is extremely easy to play on repeat. Although at the same time, I am very glad that they did not choose to add a song only to increase the album length because as it is, this is some of the most consistent 30 minutes of this year’s heavy metal outputs with no moment feeling out of place.
Iron Griffin’s debut full-length, Curse of the Sky, is coming out on March 22, 2019 by Gates of Hell / Cruz del Sur Records to take you on mythical and magical journeys through time and space with mellow, beautiful melodies and vocals. It is going to be a very good companion for when you need to calm down and want something different than all the high speed high energy heavy metal around.
Album rating: 92/100
Ride Into Glory To the Path of Glory