“But metal must be evil!” they wailed, fingers clutching their obsidian pearls. “It’s about darkness and despair!” they protested, all the while missing the true power that lies within the heart of the music. Certainly, heavy metal has grown through the varying interpretations of the artists that take up the craft over the years–yet so many seem to miss the point of coming face-to-face with its darkest elements. Metal is about power; it’s about not only being able to embrace the shadow self but to emerge from its crafty fires unscathed. Heavy metal is the essence of fearlessly breaking the chains that would weigh us down, and doing so with a roar of unruly defiance. Blame it on nostalgia if you must, but perhaps there is something to be said for the explosion of classic heavy metal bands when the world seems to be shrouded beneath an increasingly opaque shade of malevolent distress.
“Barrow Downs” continues the energy, leaning into the hi-hat shuffle. The organ again provides just the right amount of rich icing behind the catchiness of the tune, and the production again opens space for subtle touches, such as the occasional ding of the ride bell or the addition of the tamborine to the shuffle as the song’s climax emerges from the bridge. Interestingly enough, the two instruments almost take the spotlight on the “Fatige Schwingen Über Loudun” interlude before the synths take control at the crescendo. The transition is brief, and sets a perfect tone for the classical guitar intro to “Hexer (In Dreiteufelsnamen).” It’s a chivalrous, introspective moment before the battle cry arises once more, bringing with it a smoldering tune that screams for the heavens with pounding adrenaline despite the heavy chains of metal that weigh it down. It sounds like a glorious struggle to victory, so pure-hearted and true even in the face of the evil sorcerer from whence the song derives its name. The glory of the battle itself becomes the appeal.
The use of German on “Hexer,” and also later on with the heavy metal re-imagining of Joachim Witt’s krautrock number “Der Goldene Reiter” adds a touch of authenticity. In the 80s, bands seemed to feel a need to have “English appeal,” often eschewing their mother tongue for broken English in an attempt to be noticed (compare the lyrical content of Nightmare’s Waiting For The Twilight album to their demo material sung in their native French). Since then, metal has torn down that barrier, and there is a sense of pride to be found in embracing the native tongue (see Tyrann’s album last year, which features an excellent mix of English and Swedish lyrics). It’s a testament to metal’s ability to be a universal vehicle for culture! What’s more, is the krautrock elements of “Der Goldene Reiter” extend beyond the cover, lightly bleeding into the preceding track, “Wrath Of The Sorcerers,” and the closing number, “Attila (Blazing Hooves).” Much in the way Heavy Load seemed to translate the Swedish pop hooks of groups completely removed from heavy metal like Abba, it feels as though Luzifer are lifting the Heavy Load spell book and swapping a few ingredients for distinctly German pop culture. It results in a unique voice; It results in Iron Shackles being an intoxicating brew of heavy metal, that, on the surface, may seem like a very well-executed traditional metal album, but peeling back the layers reveals so much more musically and culturally.
Iron Shackles taps out at the sweet spot of thirty-two minutes: It’s just enough to present a full idea while leaving the listener wanting more. It is so easy to hit play again when the final notes of the “Attila” fade away. It’s a complete work, a journey from front to end that flows effortlessly in its songwriting and execution that in no way overstays its welcome. The songwriting creates the wonderfully catchy moments that are still brimming with strength and power, the playing infectiously enthusiastic. The wonderful depth to the production gives the songs plenty of room to explore. It sounds like the band are not only killing it, but having an absolute blast doing so, nailing their timing and throwing just the right amount of extra strength in the leads and solos to take each tune a little further over the top. Luzifer have freed themselves from the iron shackles of constraint, broken the chains, and the result is nothing short of awe-inspiring power that’s as welcoming as it is intimidating. It’s not afraid to have fun or take risks, and the result pays off in the heavy metal album to beat this year.
Break the chains, free yourself from iron shackles. And nothing will stand in your way.