Iron Fire - On The Edge
I though this very young Danish power metal band's rule-bound debut blew, but I'm a wary, semi-committed fan this time due to the freshness of the plan, metaphor for that statement all over the album's best track Wanted Man, which contains the best chorus I've heard in months, as well as cowbell, harmonica and killer Hammond-y keyboard work, the whole thing sounding like Deep Purple crossed with early magic Pretty Maids. Plus Martin Steene's vocals... well, he sounds like a pinched foreign Vince Neil, and I mean that in a good way. As well there's a real heft to the guitar sound (see Into The Abyss: totally heavy Crue!) as well as a ton of intriguing twin leads, some of them like pre-school Maiden, many others hypnotically hooky. Kinda weird, I don't want to overplay this glam idea, but there's a generalized American stadium rock warm and fuzzy to this thing that is totally unexpected from young Danes with a band name and front cover like this. I'm thinking Highway Chile, Bodine, Torch... an old commercial metal vibe doomed by European sensibilities but for the few. And it closes strong too, The Price Of Blood driven by a slow swaggering groove and a snarl on Steene that is as odd as it is endearing.
Narnia - Awakening
Sweden's Narnia get better and better with every album, honing their extremely Yngwie-ish form of power metal (rarer these days than you think) into a rapid-fire attack that is sounding most lively and, well, live, here on Desert Land versus the clean gloss dross of the band's previous two efforts. And while it's a pleasure to hear grinding heft like Falling From The Throne and Angels Are Crying (very much like Dio's Last In Line!), one really checks in for the blinding guitar genius of young six-string hotshot Carljohan Grimmark, who unequivocally outblasts and out-composes Yngwie himself. I mean, check out Inner Sanctum and the thrills and chills this man takes you on, switching between the signature Malmsteen sound and more traditional tones with an easy instinctive songwriting acumen that is astonishing. Power metal beyond the norm into a zone of humanity, or at minimum, established identity, a difficult feat to execute amongst the glut craning to be heard in golden Euro halls these days.