[Cover artwork by Oskari Räsänen]
Iron Griffin’s Storm of Magic is one of the mightiest true metal albums you’ll encounter in 2022.
[[KLAXON]] Just what the hell do you mean by “true” metal, you bastard. [[KLAXON]]
Authentic metal? I would simply say “traditional,” but while that’s certainly an appropriate tag, it doesn’t go quite deep enough to describe the full picture here. “True” was the first thing to spring to mind as the album began to unfold, though, despite the fact that a term as honest as “true” happens to walk a fairly dangerous and conceited line with largely negative consequences as it pertains to metal in the modern age. Why is that? Likely because its existence as a defining characteristic suggests that its opposite—the dreaded false or untrue—must therefore reside in the same realm, and no one and no thing wants to be untrue.
Within the wonderfully wild realm of heavy metal, we value authenticity so much we revamped it with our own suitable word—true—and “true” hauls with it a whole slew of tricky boundaries to only be thoroughly decoded by, you guessed it, The True. Are you true? Is the album you’re currently in love with true? Wooo buddy, I hate to be the villain here, but that probably depends.
Perhaps the most applicable question to ask is the following: Should anyone care whether or not a band or album is “true?” The answer is no. Probably. At least as it pertains to how it’s observed in a modern age that happens to be crammed to the rafters with gatekeeping and generally combative behavior volunteered from behind a keyboard. Again, the existence of something as strong and singular as “true” suggests there must be an equal and opposite force of “untrue” to keep Mother Nature in balance. And hey, if you’re interested in being an irrational turd, try to convince someone that what they’re listening to is somehow untrue.
So, yeah, maybe it’s best to shelve “true” metal in hopes of keeping the peace.
But maybe I’ll sneak just one more through, in the interest of this particular break from reality afforded us by Finland’s noble Iron Griffin, and attempt to strip away the prickish element in favor of a “true” rebuild from the following position: “Like grandma used to make.” Not the 45 year-old grandma who still goes to punk shows, or the grandma who neglected grandma-ing in favor of hotboxing never-ending Reds in front of a video poker machine for 8hrs a day. We’re talking about the grandma’s grandma—the grandmas who take the time necessary to lovingly create things from the heart, with reverence to past generations, constructed with authentic ingredients / materials, and delivered with an intrinsic capacity for tapping a Well of Souls that bestows an almost sacred quality to the finished product that prompts a deep indebtedness from all recipients. True grandma.
Storm of Magic is true metal in that its heaviness feels as if it’s hammered from a quaint roadside forge, where spirit and heart eclipse any sense of broad marketability or need for excess polish, and it’s simmered using cherished components culled from time-honored techniques. There’s so very much love woven into the spell here—a love indebted to ancestry (the early days of Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road, Manowar and the like) and beholden to a pure passion for the method that gives ultimate care to all the ingredients and the way they’re folded over and again as the songs slowly take shape. A virtuous energy hits the brainpan with the spiciness of a fresh cask of Gaeng Hung Lay devotedly wrought by a hamlet granny, and once those vapors properly tempt you in, you have little choice but to see the journey to its ultimate end.
I would never think to put a pin on an idea to use dungeon synth as a means to modernize epic metal of this ilk, but here we are. Not being terribly versed in that particular off-shoot (which has now proliferated to the point of detonation), the keys here remind me of a more, um, sober interpretation of what was done on Varghkoghargasmal’s Drowned in Lakes, and similar to that album they give Storm of Magic a wonderfully charming and mystical flavor. As dominant a force as these synths are, though, they’re still secondary to the two principal elements that build the backbone for most every one of these songs: the bass and vocals. Big, ropey and thundering bass that fits chief architect (responsible for all the instruments, songwriting and artwork) Oskari Räsänen’s vision for a much doomier Iron Griffin in 2022. And vocalist Maija Tiljander is an absolute powerhouse from start to finish, giving the many elegant measures an added sense of charm and the weighty moments a metric tonne of power.
The rawness and resolve to keep things au naturel throughout Storm of Magic is another great source of power, as random blemishes are kept intact, giving the full journey a very tactile and earthy sense that would be less potent with excessive peeling and stripping. Anthony Bourdain jumps to mind now, because why not. He was a true ambassador for authenticity in the food world, irresistibly weaving together the boons of haute cuisine and the legitimacy of homespun staples offered up street-side or from holes in the wall run by true grandmas and those who greatly benefit from a kindly grandma’s consummate instruction. Those grassroots establishments churning out chow deep on the outskirts of the upscale joints were often the eateries that won Bourdain’s heart over the most, and it wasn’t at all rare to hear him hitch the term “legit” to their wares—one of the more favorable terms used by the cooking world as an ultimate depiction of authenticity. Well, had Bourdain supplemented his food wizardry with an accompanying proficiency in metal, he might’ve attached “legit” to Storm of Magic, very much appreciating the manner in which Iron Griffin stews doom, dungeon, epic metal and an interesting form of Wicker Man folk into something that could only be sourced from an ancient and very true recipe handed down through the ages.
Wait… Is a roadside recipe version of shrimp and grits like grandma used to make superior to a 2 or 3 Michelin-star restaurant’s elevated amuse-bouche version nimbly served to you from the right, though? Wooo buddy, I hate to be the villain here, but that probably depends.
WHY YOU, I OUGHTA
Point being, just because something sounds like it was created using methods passed down from generation to generation doesn’t necessarily equate to it being good, and just because something focuses on modern techniques / twists doesn’t equate to it being “untrue.” But yes, it’s probably well past time to put a moratorium on the term “true” as it relates to heavy metal simply because of the contention it quickly breeds. It’s distracting and arrogant, and there’s no shortage of other ways to describe the sort of music that goes a little beyond “traditional metal” the way Iron Griffin manages. Venerable metal? Ancestral metal? GRANDMA METAL? (“A bit of this in a cup of tea!”) Anyway, we’ll figure it out—again and again and again. Just this one last time, though, from a kinder stance before the chapter gets closed, please check out Storm of Magic, one of the truest metal albums you’ll hear in 2022.
FIFTEEN MINUTE CLOSERRRRRR!!!
Iron Griffin is (L to R):
Maija Tiljander – lead vocals
Oskari Räsänen – electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, synthesizers, drums, backing vocals