While Under the Sign of the Iron Cross is far from their critically acclaimed Lair of the White Worm release, it does capture a very brutal atmosphere in the music, which is a nice change of pace from the atmospheric-style writing the group has composed in the past. Much like their previous effort, Passiondale, the group focuses in again on the World War I theme, which, again, works with the more accelerated and chaotic musical compositions of this release. The guitars have remained about the same as normal, though due to the increase in speed, they obviously are performed faster, leaving behind some technical aspects to the chords, but the slower parts make up for it by utilizing those similar chords thar have been slowed down to create a small trace of atmosphere that often comes across as depressing and brooding. Of course, these slower parts are, for the most part, scarce on this release, as it’s all about speed with this one.
But there lies a problem. The main focus of the speed of this release seems to stem solely on blast beats. While some tracks do offer up small sections, or even whole verses here and there that aren’t just blast beats that sound remarkably similar to each other, there are times where practically the entire song is a blast beat, and you can hear it go off beat once in a while. The title track “Under the Sign of the Iron Cross” is this way, though the chorus does change things up and goes into this odd off-beat composition that works, but just feels out-of-place. It isn’t until the guitar solo you get a bit of a reprieve and something special in the mix, which is a fantastic solo again machinegun-like drumming that sounds fantastic together before hammering right back into the blast beats during the second guitar solo and a cleanly sun section reminiscent of Passiondale. All of the latter section of that statement works well to create some great variety to the music, which is plagued by repetition with the insisting blast beats throughout, but there’s plenty of other songs that utilize the same kind of blast beats, just maybe with a different cymbal or snare being hit, and it’s rather depressing after a while.
So, while the blast beats of the album can get a little boring after a while, though great respect has to be given for the length many of them are played at, there’s still plenty of great tracks to be heard on this release, and pivotal moments. The closing to “Under the Sign of the Iron Cross” gives off the most depressing feeling to the release, and the first real song, “Storm of Steel” is just a non-stop assault that perfect captures the madness of any battle field. This track, and plenty of others, just match the grey color of the album artwork, making it all just sound dismal and maddening during the faster moments of the album, something that makes up for the drumming repetition mentioned earlier. “Chaos Reigns at Dawn” also makes for a great track due to the blistering double bass kicks and harsh guitars that build up the music and tension to the chorus. But, really, the one aspect of this album that really stands out are the guitar solos, which always are a fantastic element of God Dethroned‘s writing in the first place, but each one genuinely fits the lyrical basis of the song, as well as the direction of the music, and that is either through the way the solo is performed, such as with “Fire Storm”, or the distortion or effect that accompanies it, like the haunting, and very moving solo during “Chaos Reigns at Dawn”.
The various war-based sound effects that litter the album here and there also work well to set the tone of the release. Again, we go to “Chaos Reigns at Dawn”, which concludes with the sounds of gun fire, which seems to break glass and, more than likely, breaking into a house or some kind of bunker where glass is or happens to be getting hit. It makes a nice segway into “THrough Byzantine Hemispheres”, killing the awkward silence and keeping the album moving. A similar sound effect is used during the closing of the track “Fire Storm”, and again, it keeps the album flowing nicely. Even the opening atmospheric track “The Declaration of War” fits in nicely with the album, acting as a war march anthem that fades in and has mood-setting guitars accompanying the drums, and a spoken word audio clip in the background that is clearly meant to push the war-based theme of the album due to the older recording quality sound, and the tongue the speaker uses.
Overall, Under the Sign of the Iron Crosses has it’s faults, but at the same time it has its ups. While the blast beats become a little too much through the album, and can often make latter songs just sound similar to other tracks before it with only the guitars offering any real different elements to the music. Other than that, Under the Sign of the Iron Crosses is far from a bad release, but is one of those releases that will take some time to appreciate, and is better if you follow along with the lyrics, as the tone of each song then becomes clear and makes the release far more enjoyable in the long run. Even without knowing the lyrics, however, it’s still an album that will put hair on the chest of any man.