Last year’s Passiondale put this Dutch death metal outfit back on my radar—that one was a damn solid slab of melodic World-War-One-themed metal; it was the best record God Dethroned had done in quite awhile and a deserved entry into my 2009 year-end list. Deciding to strike while the blood-spattered iron is hot, Henri Satler and company have spit forth a suitable follow-up in Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross. If you couldn’t tell by the title, Iron Cross continues the band’s fascination with The War To End All Wars and sees them up the aggression factor to great results, and yet regrettably it doesn’t quite equal Passiondale’s grand blend of melody and destruction.
That increased aggression dominates Iron Cross’ first half—discounting the requisite instrumental introduction, “The Declaration Of War,” Cross rips through three blast-happy barnstormers before tuning in and balancing the blast and the melodic pomp with the ripping title track. While “Storm Of Steel,” “Fire Storm” and “The Killing Is Faceless” are all killer tracks, none of them exhibit the same soaring glories of “Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross” or of Passiondale’s corresponding opening moments (“Under A Darkening Sky,” the absolute monster of “Poison Fog”). New guitarist Danny Tunker (also of Prostitute Disfigurement) fits in perfectly, flashing some brief chaotic but catchy leads amongst Satler’s riffs. Drummer Mike van der Plicht (himself also of Prostitute Disfigurement) handles the constant blasting tempo with ease and skill—his beats perfectly on target.
The only real strike against Iron Cross is simply that it’s overshadowed by the greatness that preceded it. There are no tracks as monumental as “Poison Fog” or as memorable as “Passiondale,” even as great as these new songs are. The second half of Iron Cross keeps the balance a bit closer, tuning down the sheer blasting in favor of a more controlled chaos beneath riffs that are as catchy as they are carving—witness the twisting and driving “Through Byzantine Hemispheres,” the album’s sleepiest sleeper track, rising steadily through repeated listens from its place towards the record’s close to become one of my favorite tunes on hand. Follow that with the triumphant melodies of “The Red Baron” and the epic “On Fields Of Death And Desolation,” and over multiple spins, the album’s closing salvo becomes its finest stretch, and certainly its most musically varied and dynamic.
Following up one of your best records must be a truly daunting task for any band, and God Dethroned can and should be proud of Iron Cross. True, it doesn’t match Passiondale, and it’s clearly in that album’s shadow in terms of theme and inspiration. But it’s still a massive and enjoyable record, and it stands a definite notch or two above the respectable but workmanlike In The Lair Of The White Worm and the ho-hum The Toxic Touch. God Dethroned has quietly become one of the most consistent and capable bands in death metal, and Iron Cross is worth your time.
And to revisit an idea I posted elsewhere on this site, these guys should set up a tour with Hail Of Bullets. Come on out, kids, for an evening of quality World War mayhem, hear thirty years of human hatred in three hours of head-banging heaviness…