Written by: EW on 13/03/2009 23:21:12

One of the more lavish promos I have ever received recently found it's way here, in circumstances you would have least expected such a situation to occur. Hailing from that remote outpost of the world also known as Australia, Ironwood are an unsigned band, here releasing their debut album ":Fire:Water:Ash:", yet the album arrives in full digipak format with a rather extensive booklet to accompany it. 10/10 for effort, I'm impressed. However, more importantly, how does the music within said package fare?

Well let's make no bones about it, in a 'metal' context I have never heard an album quite like it. The promo leaflet states Ironwood have produced an epic, "equal parts organic folk music and blackened progressive metal", but even that would be over-stating the usage of 'metal' in ":Fire:Water:Ash:". Opener "Önd Ascending" sets the scene for the remainder of the album's 70 minutes: slow, broody, melancholic, spiritual folk music, with only the subtlest hint of a metal band lurking behind the shadows. Now I hope you'll excuse that my knowledge of folk music doesn't match up to that of Heavy metal, but I find similarities in the acoustic passages, which probably comprise at least two-thirds the album, to the British folk group Oysterband as well as to the much better known REM. When proceedings are given the benefit of amplification and return to more vague metal territories, Agalloch stand out as a key signpost through their exquisite combination of metal, folk and post-rock, as do Drudkh and Doomsword, in Ironwood's darkest moments and style of clean throaty vocals respectively.

Given the generally relaxed vibe that transcends much of ":Fire:Water:Ash:", the notion of time-keeping falls somewhere in to the distance as it would seem long, drawn out periods at a time are given over to pure folk ambience and melody. The opening half to "The Serpent Seeks Its Tail" harbours the dread of an Asunder tome, being a darkened opposite to the surprisingly light melancholy of all-folk tracks like "Eihwaz Descending", "Tide Of Memory" and "The Raven Song". Amongst all this, half-songs here and there attempt to leave 'folk' for 'metal' pastures but in essence reveal Ironwood's biggest weakness: the monochrome and staid nature of much of their metal material. The strongest period is in the highly organic Agalloch-influened closing half of "Love In Death", where the various pieces of a complicated Ironwood jigsaw finally fit together. Compare these to pieces such as "The Oncoming Storm" and the disparity between the two is clear. A rushed, harsh black metal sound like the one found here does no favours to the folk and prog rock/metal surrounding it, where sudden tempo changes and a deterioration in the quality of sound have rendered some parts of the album a negative distraction from the rest.

I feel a grade for ":Fire:Water:Ash:" is a pretty futile exercise as some average but different albums should come more highly recommended than safe, standard affairs. Ironwood's determination to install into their debut real folk feeling and passion is to be commended, sticking them out on a limb from the many practicing 'folk metal' today, but as a complete listening experience it is not strong enough to become a classic which it had the potential to do, in theory. The ethereal folk will be over-bearing for the majority of metal's listeners, while I'm sure the more dynamic, extreme moments to be found will be entirely unpalatable to anyone from outside the aforementioned metal realm to grasp. This is a most thought-provoking and intriguing listen for a debut band, holding them in good stead to return with a great album marrying genuine folk and metal, all built upon ":Fire:Water:Ash:"'s many successes, and ultimately, shortcomings.


Download: Love In Death , Eihwaz Descending
For The Fans Of: Agalloch, Oysterband, folk music
Listen: Myspace

Release date: 28.01.09

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