Though the album had been licensed and released in North America, Hellish Crossfire was one I had a hard time tracking down when I was a youth and getting heavily into the German thrash sound. The best I could do was a tape trading with some of their demos on a blank, but I finally got my hands on the Iron Angel debut a few years after its release, when I was in high school, and needless to say I was very impressed. I had seen the band's name mentioned in a number of articles, interviews, thanks lists, and so forth, and figured them to be some lost messiah of the genre, and while they're not deserving of quite that level of praise, this was a damn fine debut which occupied a curious niche between the more straight up power and speed metal sounds of Avenger (pre-Rage), Running Wild, Accept and Grave Digger, and the more aggressive thrashing pioneers Metallica, Artillery and Destruction.
Sound excellent? Well, in execution, it is. "The Metallian" has long been the star of this debut, and the band's career, and you won't get much of an argument from me. The blazing, thick rhythm guitars and the echoing, pinched tone of Dirk Schröder's vocals as he sails into the predictable but unforgettable chorus are impressive, and that riff that comes in directly after the chorus? Wonderful. But that's not the only gem here, and tracks like "Sinner 666", "Hunter in Chains", and "Legions of Evil" all remind me so much of what I loved about early Rage, Grave Digger and Running Wild, that impulsive steel rocking tone dowsed in reverb, sharp hooks digging their way well beneath your skin as they strike veins of blood and silver. "Wife of the Devil", "Heavy Metal Soldier" and "The Church of Lost Souls" all spit forth ruthless German speed and Schröder's delightful, playful torment shifting between nasal mid range to higher, manic shrieking. A few tunes like "Nightmare" do get left behind in the dust, but as a whole, there's a good 35 minutes here of razor bliss.
Hellish Crossfire would unfortunately not share the same fate as Destruction, Rage, Kreator or Sodom, and after one more full-length, which adopted a heavier use of the non-thrash elements, the band would fold, only to reappear through compilations and a brief reunion in the 21st century. It's a shame, because this debut is easily the measure of most German bands' early works, and the potential was through the roof here. I've heard delusional ranting that Dirk's vocals are an obstacle to appreciating the band, but I'm heavily inclined to disagree. Unlike the early Living Death albums (Thorsten Bergmann presiding), Schröder uses his eccentricity as a weapon, a vorpal sword that cuts straight through the riffing to your memory, and I've never once felt annoyed by him. Iron Angel isn't perfect, but if you're a fan of any of the prototypical German thrash or power metal (Helloween, Scanner, Rage), you owe it to yourself to invest in one of the undisputed mid-80s speed metal sleeper hits.
Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (in the rush of power)