IRONHAWK – Ritual of the Warpath (2022)REVIEW

Stealing the flame from its keeper. — Character built from action, interruption, adaptation and the will to go on attacking it day after day most often manifests the most prime, steeled result from any decent or halfway serious band. By various global circumstance, plenty of road-testing and rehearse Tasmanian extreme metalpunk trio Ironhawk have had us waiting seeming ages for their inevitable debut record to give rise to their new reality and, hey, this one is an even bigger move than expected. ‘Ritual of the Warpath‘ is the hardcore punk’s rhythmic mind expanded within a suit of fantastic metal armor, a growling and constantly kicking rush from a band who’ve by chance or sheer determination landed a record well worthy of the metalmorphosed mid-80’s mohawk’d hardcore punk classics it resembles.

Formed between former members of Bastard Squad, The Wizar’d and various other local groups you’ve never heard of circa 2012 the story goes that their tributes to Motörhead in various live settings eventually became an early-to-mid 80’s metallic hardcore punk/thrash crew in the style of post-Discharge crank outta the U.K., soon recording a substantial demo tape in 2013 which’d eventually landed on Ol’ Rusty’s Heavy Chains Records (as ‘Boozehounds from Hell‘) by the next year. With a certain hardcore standard in mind that first demo tape was a proper showing of their intent, a solid ~24 minutes of ‘harder and heavier than Inepsy but still having a good time’ motörpunk. Nothing dead serious just yet beyond a few solid rhythm guitar turns and a consistent approach to songwriting but they would eventually pick up some heavy metal steam n’ roar on their second EP (‘Cemetery of Steel‘, 2017) where we find guitarist/vocalist Simön Slaughter taking on a more violent, ears gouging vocal style and the music now clearly aiming for something extra English Dogs, that fantasy metal/crossover hardcore trip kicking in with a more complex, nastier attack a la early Sacrilege yet a tinge Venom-engorged, too. It’d been one neat enough kick after another from the group at that point but it’d be another several years of working on their gig, live and otherwise, ’til they were ready to finally crank out the next leap.

Ritual of the Warpath‘ is that leap, spanking the concrete well beyond the expectations set by their formative material and by way of taking a real step into their street punk/UK82 and punk-adjacent NWOBHM inspirations. Taking up thrashing from that given point of view should feel logical in practice but this surprisingly enough doesn’t amount to an 80’s black metal or black/speed metal listening experience, at least not one echoing the cartoonish standards of today. From the mid-80’s English Dogs-esque castle-stormer “The Final Crusade” to the tinge of Plasmatics what picks up anytime things swerve in a more motörock direction (see: “Into the Circle”) we’re cursed with a pretty solid and always kickin’ metalpunk record herein. The key to it all working for my taste comes with a neon load of The Exploited‘s crossover era energy, a few pieces which slug it up a la earlier Amebix grooves (“Eternal Winter”, “Gates of Beyond”) to some degree, and the grim effect of Slaughter‘s vocals, which are now shouted into a steel-lined and downward cast echoing abysm.

First impressions may just as well soak your head in nostalgia and… there’ll be no shame in it since these folks founded this gig tributing that exacting intersection of NWOBHM and U.K. hardcore punk, er, the mid-80’s when metal and punk where holding hands tighter than ever before and putting out records that were earnestly thrilled to be exploring the possibilities. With that much said, I’ve ideally been clear enough that ‘Ritual of the Warpath‘ lands on the ‘hardcore punk influenced by nascent speed/thrash metal’ spectrum and not the other way around. We are not getting the trillionth bad Midnight clone outta these guys and I never felt like this was an imitation crew or shit opportunist dregs. The major appeal of this record on my end is specifically that it sounds like they’re die-hard fans of the groups I’ve been name-dropping all over the place while also taking some care to steer things in ‘Forward into Battle‘ via ‘Beyond the Realms of Madness‘ sort of direction without ever going full on thrash with it. They don’t manage to catch ears with big, shouty choruses or much more than buzzsaw riffs most of the time and in this sense we’re stuck with a serious slab of rhythm guitar work to carry most of the experience. An ideal fixation for my taste but, probably just a quick skull buzzer for most.

The riffs are there and the three minute burners (“Signal to Oblivion”, “Doomsday Riders”) are a major source of energy throughout but when Ironhawk slow down a bit and/or lean toward the ‘epic’ edges of their sound they cross into the realm of greatness, or, beyond an already high sub-genre standard. “Sanctimony” is arguably the most prominent example of this on Side A excepting the barn-storm of the opener as we clip past the ~1:20 minute mark and get a slick yet brief slide into dual guitar ebullience before the hammer drops back in, a breather which repeats one more time before the song paces out. Follow-up track “Eternal Winter” infuses this into its gait a bit but it is the Side B duo of “Dark Age” and the stunningly melodic (and most speed metallic) “Escape to the Void” which make good on those implications and even throw in a bit of synth to fade us out before things’ve dragged on. This creates the expectation for the title track/closer to go for it in terms of a nerd metalpunk epic but they’ve instead opted for a piece which sums up the larger work of the album into an inspired charge-out after “Gates of Beyond” gives us one more shot of their top shelf stuff.

Anyhow, this one checks all the boxes per what I want from this style of music. Unique vocal tone without repetitive inflection, a murderous buzzing guitar tone or two, an adept yet mayhemic rhythm section, and unmistakably brutal cover art (via Stewart Cole) all make for the kind of record I’m up for sitting in awe of for hours each time I pick it up. Didn’t expect to like it when I saw the “black/speed metal” tag at a glance but these folks definitely had my number before I could snap out of it. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Ritual of the Warpath
LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions
RELEASE DATE:June 30th, 2022

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