As much as we might not like to admit it in this age of ubiquitous interconnectedness, the geographical origin of any given artist still figures significantly into the exposure they receive. Case in point: “Voices of Eternity” is the self-released third full-length album by Blood & Iron from Bangalore (formerly Chennai), India, which I only found out about on account of the involvement of Giles Lavery, the singer from Australia’s Dragonsclaw. It seems patently obvious to me that if Blood & Iron hailed from Germany or Sweden, they would already be reaping the benefits of a deal with an AFM or a Cruz Del Sur and be competing for cover space on Terrorizer and Zero Tolerance with the likes of Enforcer or White Wizard. That they are virtually invisible instead is a testament to the fact that social media and digital distribution still have a long way to go before they fulfill their full potential to make genuine talent visible to the masses.
Certainly I can’t think of any other reason the international metal community would let Ashish Shetty and his crew languish in obscurity, because Christ, “Voices of Eternity” is exactly what the doctor ordered. An honest, back-to-basics heavy metal record as simple as it is elegant. With only three “central” members (Shetty and Vikram Bains on guitars, Praveen on drums – Lavery’s vocals are the most significant of a handful of guest contributions), Blood & Iron’s approach is one we desperately need more of in 2013. Uncluttered by overproduction or overreaching progressive conceits, they rely on a rare method to get results: writing great songs. It may be circular reasoning to say “Voices of Eternity” is good because it’s good, but damn if that isn’t the case. For all that it’s infectious and accessible, the more I listen to it, the greater my appreciation for the level of care and attention that has been spent on seemingly simple or obvious songwriting choices. Just how perfectly phrased is this melody, how seamless is that transition. The songs flow like water and run like clockwork, the hallmark of exceptionally well-written pop music – and make no mistake, heavy metal with this kind of accessible appeal is pop music of a sort.
Blood & Iron take their cues from several obvious points of reference – Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Judas Priest, classic Fates Warning, the usual suspects, although thankfully absent is the nostalgia for the 80s that consigns many European retro-metal acts to immediate obsolescence. If there’s one contemporary act they particularly call to mind, it’s the Australian group Lord, albeit with a preference for medium tempos. They use a comparable crunchy, no-frills guitar tone and Lavery’s intonations are similar to those of Tim Grose; more importantly, like Lord, Blood & Iron have an appreciation for the songwriting that made the aforementioned acts objects of adulation in the 80s as well as the stylistic tropes. An ideal balance is struck between pulverising riffs and soaring leads. Verse / chorus structures are invoked, but suffused with enough variation that they remain lively and dynamic.
Elements like vocal layering, keyboard embellishment and clean guitar interludes are consistently deployed in exactly the right places to be most dramatically effective. Where so many contemporary metal albums concern themselves with bludgeoning the listener relentlessly, Shetty expertly wields the principles of tension and release. Listen to the way the second chorus of “Your Own Voice” bleeds effortlessly into a melancholy bridge before roaring back up into a thunderous solo. Listen to the way the gang-shouts alternate and coalesce with the high screams in “Legion.” Listen to how the reflective intro to “Path Not Taken” segues into a punch, power-chord laden chorus hook. Blood &Iron do so much right that I can only illustrate it by cherry picking examples.
With all this praiseworthy craftsmanship on display, it only sweetens the deal that “Voices of Eternity” should contain such excellent individual performances as well. The guitar work of Shetty and Bains often recalls that of Jim Matheos – there were a few moments during the duelling solos in “Underground Rebellion” in particular which called to mind Fates Warning’s “No Exit” – but I mean that only as a compliment. Their playing is tremendously organic, if that makes any sense – at times flowing, at others choppy, but always with a natural feel for the groove and rhythm of the song. I’ve previously enjoyed Lavery’s vocals in Dragonsclaw, but his work here is at an even higher standard, more disciplined and measured without compromising one iota of power. On the strength of the evidence here, I reckon he could hold his own alongside genre greats like Russell Allen or Nils Patrik Johansson.
When reviewing works like “Voices of Eternity” which are so firmly rooted in established conventions, the traditional platitude to use in lieu of higher praise is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think in this instance, that aphorism undersells Blood & Iron’s accomplishments. Whatever “it” is, it has been broke recently and Blood & Iron have fixed it. It’s an immaculately rendered beast of a heavy metal album that doesn’t rely on gimmickry, doesn’t subsist on nostalgia for better days and doesn’t disappear up its own arse. It isn’t weighed down by pomposity and it eschews the safety net of ironic detachment; as a result, it flies all the higher. It’s exactly what 2013 needed, and anyone with an emotional investment in classic metal owes it to themselves to check this one out.
01) Eternal Rites
02) Your Own Voice
05) Underground Rebellion
06) Ghost of a Memory
07) Path Not Taken
08) Burning Bridges
09) Redemption Day