Believe it or not, the rating above is a vast improvement for Danish third-stringers IRON FIRE. Their debut, "Thunderstorm" (released after the group won some Noise Records battle of the bands contest), was a laughably generic exercise in power metal with particularly anemic and reedy vocals from Martin Steene, but it at least could be written off as a nice try from a youthful group. Their sophomore album, "On the Edge", consciously tried to mix in some influence from Sunset Strip hair metal, and this time, not even the most forgiving power metal devotees could defend them.But some time has passed since that audio shitbomb was released, and Steene has redeemed himself (to some people) by fronting two FORCE OF EVIL albums alongside members of MERCYFUL FATE. Time and experience have helped Steene rise from "terrible" to "acceptable" as a vocalist — but he's still just not that good. His limited range and lackadaisical delivery just don't convey the excitement that power metal is supposed to impart, although he is trying harder here. And every aspect of "Revenge" — from the lyrics to the riffs to the soloing to the artwork — is mired in the kind of Z-grade clichés that consigned the late '90s power metal revival to historical-footnote status to all but a few sweaty, basement-dwelling trolls with no taste. I mean, come on — "Wings of Rage"? "Metal Messiah"? "Alone In the Dark"? The songs are as predictable as their titles, with some decent but pedestrian soloing providing weak glimmers of entertainment, at best. Take "Metal Messiah", for instance. It's one of those slower, brooding songs that should, by rights, stir the blood of anyone who's ever raised a tankard to, well, metal. But it's such an obvious pastiche of other, better songs, all it inspires is mild amusement. You can't even tell if they're kidding or not — is this, like, self-aware irony, or is Steene MANOWAR-serious? Who knows? Who cares? And power ballad tripe like "Savage Prophecy", featuring a warbling vibrato vocal that makes me want to punch someone, is ripe with enough bloated excess, "victory/prophecy" couplets and up-with-people soloing to propel a dozen bad Broadway musicals. "Revenge" isn't a horrible record. There's just no reason on earth for it to exist. Three albums and a complete lineup overhaul later, IRON FIRE still traffic in blindingly average power metal tailor-made for the Internet-shrill, Tolkien-worshipping, standards-deprived punters who give true metal fans a bad name. If that's you, hey, have at it.
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