When you stop and think about it, one-man studio projects in metal really aren’t all that uncommon. High Spirits (Chris Black) is perhaps the most obvious example, but others include Theocracy (Matt Smith), at least in the band’s early days, and there were even all those stories about Bathory being just Quorthon, right? Well, you can add Ironflame to that distinguished list. The Ohio-based band is the brainchild of one Andrew D’Cagna, who first landed on my radar a few years ago with his excellent vocal work on Dofka’s Humanity Bleak album. I know D’Cagna’s been active in a number of other bands playing various styles of music over the years, most notably in Brimstone Coven. But Ironflame is his baby all the way. In what must have been a massive labor of love, D’Cagna wrote all the music, played all the instruments (with the exception of guitar solos contributed by pals Jim Dofka, among others), sang all the vocals, and as far as I can tell handled all the production, recording, engineering, everything himself on Ironflame’s debut album, Lightning Strikes the Crown.
It is a testament to the man’s talent, skill and impeccable attention to detail that you’d never know from listening to this album that it’s just one guy. The songwriting is remarkably well developed, the performances are top-notch, and the production values are quite strong throughout. Lightning Strikes the Crown clocks in at 10 songs and 50 minutes of inspired, high-energy melodic heavy metal glory, laden with killer compositions, cool riffs, stellar vocals, and well-crafted hooks that will embed themselves in your cranium and never let go. The sticker on the CD touts this album as being for fans of Night Demon, Holy Grail, High Spirits, and Ambush, and there’s definitely merit to those comparisons. But D’Cagna works from a broader, more diverse palette than the fairly restrictive tropes of the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal (which I dearly love, by the way). There are places where I am reminded of other Midwest bands like Dofka or Icarus Witch, and other places where the immortal Riot Thundersteel era comes to mind. Importantly, it would be a mistake to overlook the Euro power metal overtones coloring certain of the tracks, via the galloping riffs, big bright melodies, abundant speed, and fantasy-based lyrics (“Firestorm” is about a gold-thirsty dragon attacking a castle, “The Gorgon” is a retelling of the Medusa tale). I know the phrase “power metal” is anathema to many of today’s leather-clad warriors, so let me allay those fears by saying Ironflame’s brand of metal is powerful, traditional, guitar-driven and definitely *heavy* metal all the way, without the silly tralala frilly-shirt keyboardy accoutrements that have given Euro power metal such a bad name in real-metal circles.
Another praiseworthy aspect of Lightning Strikes the Crown is that D’Cagna has succeeded in making the material diverse without any discernable drops in quality. All-out speedsters like “Firestorm” or “Heavy Metal Warriors” sit comfortably alongside anthemic tracks like “Marching On” or “Fighting Onward.” There’s also the truly exhilarating gallop of “Eternal Night,” and even a solemn, doomy tune in the form of “Fallen Glory” (a tribute to those lost in battle, with lyrics like “Here’s to the fallen / The ones who gave it all”). Ironflame excel in each of these realms, but have retained enough commonality in the songwriting that it all feels like a cohesive album despite the diversity in styles. Originally, D’Cagna released Lightning Strikes the Crown this spring as a self-released vinyl/CD package with eight songs. The eagle-eyed, ever-vigilant talent scouts over at Divebomb Records (hi Matt!) recognized the album’s quality, and snapped it up for a deluxe CD release featuring an expanded booklet with full lyrics, plus two previously unreleased bonus tracks, “Kingdom Come” and “Fighting Onward,” both of which are more than worthy of inclusion on the album. Hell, “Kingdom Come” is one of my favorite songs on the record, so you know these aren’t throwaway tracks. The Divebomb edition is definitely the one to get.
Perhaps the most exciting news is that Ironflame is not strictly a studio project. D’Cagna has assembled a talented lineup of musicians, featuring guitar masters Jim Dofka and Quinn Lukas (also of Icarus Witch), and has already brought the Lightning Strikes the Crown material to life at gigs around the Midwest. I had the pleasure of witnessing one of Ironflame’s first shows at the Legions of Metal Festival in Chicago in May, and can attest to this lineup’s ability to deliver the goods and make lightning strike the stage. Apparently, word has gotten out, because Ironflame have been booked to play at the prestigious Keep It True festival in Germany next spring. If you have the opportunity, go see Ironflame live. And definitely pick up a copy of Lightning Strikes the Crown. Bravo, cheers and much respect to Andrew D’Cagna for a job extremely well done.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~