Album Title: Fire:Water:Ash
This is the first full-length album from Ironwood, an Australian band playing folk black metal.
The production on this album is clean and clear. The acoustic guitar tone is especially crisp, and the heartfelt folk-style vocals are rendered in perfect clarity. The bass is also easy to hear, even during the metal parts, which is great considering the complex bass lines in many of these songs. The electric guitar and harsh vocals have an appropriate amount of distortion, though they do seem to overwhelm the drums a bit during the blasting parts... but this is not a particularly drum-heavy record, so it's not too bad. Whoever mixed this did a very good job with the dynamic range, also. The difference between the quiet and loud parts is perfect -- comparing "Yggr" from the demo with the re-recorded "River of Fire" here really shows how much the production has improved.
Ironwood's songwriting is split between folk sections with acoustic guitar and clean singing, and bombastic black metal passages which combine the clean voice with harsh screams. Songs like "The Oncoming Storm" and "Jarnvidr Gallows" alternate between the two, to powerful effect, but there are also quite a few acoustic-only songs, as well as the more ambient "The Serpent Seeks Its Tail".
The metal sections of Fire:Water:Ash are excellent: epic, progressive, yet heavy, with plenty of guitar and bass solos to round things out. Each song has a noticeable theme, which is thoroughly explored through variation and repetition. I especially like how the band brings these through into the acoustic parts, as in the latter half of "River of Fire"! The combination of the clean voice with rollicking metal gives this album a convincing atmosphere; this feels quite "Viking" without being stereotypical or done-before.
The acoustic songs are also great, much improved over Ironwood's demo. The more powerful production on the clean voice is very welcome, and I think the songwriting is tighter as well. The dynamism of the vocals here is a perfect contrast to the subtle, quiet guitar melodies. "The Raven Song" is especially good; I get an inspiring "Man Of Iron" feeling from that one!
Those looking only for metal might be disappointed in Fire:Water:Ash, as there's a lot of non-metal here. That said, I think the acoustic parts are convincing in their own right, and should definitely appeal to those who enjoy folky metal. Those who enjoy Viking-era Bathory, Bran Barr, Cruachan, or the "Nordic Warchants" compilation should be happy with this. Recommended.
Standout tracks: "The Raven Song", "Jarnvidr Gallows", "River of Fire"