It can often seem a gray area to what distinguishes 'speed' and 'thrash' or 'speed' and 'power' metal, especially when the definitions shift through both time and several entirely new listener bases of the genres, but I do feel like Iron Angel's sophomore Winds of War drifts away from the impeccable speed/thrash momentum of their great debut Hellish Crossfire, and too often veers into the standard hard rocking, traditional metal territory. There were always hints of this on the debut, but they're in full force on about half the tracks here, and the harder hitting material has become rare. Ah well, what can you expect when you've gone from clashes with demonic angels to a well endowed cloud goddess super-charging a sword wielding hesher with lightning?
"Metalstorm", the tune that directly follows the marching, narrated title track intro does try and fool us into thinking it might be something special, like "The Metallian". The explosive, rapid melodic guitars sound like a precursor to Riot's "Thundersteel", and Dirk Schröder's vocals shift through a lower Kai Hansen tone to wailing heights, but match up to the riffs with no shortage of aggression. But all too much of the album is your standard Accept or NWOBHM-derived fare like "Son of a Bitch", "Born to Rock", nothing offensive or poorly written, but you wonder why such blazers as "Creatures of Destruction" or "Stronger Than Steel" weren't shoved to the fore, or even the great power metal leanings of "Sea of Flames". I often found Schröder's screams to be annoying here, but his lower pitch is just as nasal and acidic as the debut, sure to send fans of Walls of Jericho or the Helloween EP into fits of ecstasy.
Winds of War is still a good album, with a number of catchy tracks that evoke the blessed bullet hail of classic German steel (I don't know how I could have grown up without that), but its forced 'phasing' technique is a distraction. It shifts from 'We're the band that wrote The Metallian' to 'We just want to fit in', and back again, where the former is clearly the Iron Angel we all want to hear. It almost comes off as frustrated, and I would be too, since the debut saw nowhere near the level of attention it should have. I've got no problem at the genetic level with the stock rock the band are trying to shell out, but it'd been done far better already and I wanted my head sheared off by the seraphic violence I was anticipating. Mileage may vary for those of you who actually prefer the slower paced, traditional burn, but either way, the gas tank is not full on this one, which sadly is their last full-length studio effort (to date).
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]