Released: 2009, Shadow Kingdom Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Iron Man has enjoyed an almost mythical status amongst the doom community. Some of that status is due in part to the strength of the band’s recorded catalog; some of that status is due to the scarcity of those albums today. Originating two decades ago as a Black Sabbath cover band (hence the name), guitarist and band leader Alfred Morris III opted to start writing his own songs in the Sabbath vein, and the rest as they say is history. BLACK NIGHT and THE PASSAGE (released in ’93 and ’94 respectively) received scant distribution through the Hellhound label, but earned the band a strong cult following and quickly established Iron Man as leaders within the Maryland/DC area doom scene. 1999 saw the band’s third album, GENERATION VOID, released through Solitude Aeturnus guitarist John Perez’s Brainticket Records, but an unstable lineup and music biz woes would cause the band to collapse. But breakups are never permanent anymore and in 2006, Morris III regrouped with a new lineup and revived Iron Man once more. The first official studio release since the band’s resurrection, I HAVE RETURNED sounds just like you’d expect and Iron Man album to sound, but it doesn’t do much to further the band’s legacy.
At its core, I HAVE RETURNED is a fair collection of traditional Sabbath flavored doom metal, but rather than being an energetic follow up to GENERATION VOID, it feels like a by-the-numbers, “we happened to write and record some new songs” effort. As Iron Man’s principal songwriter, Morris III plays it safe, not treading far from what you’d expect from an Iron Man album – good and evil, religious undertones, etc, etc. But the guitar riffs sound like what you hear isn’t the best that he could come up with, but rather just the first thing he could come up with (good, bad, or otherwise). On top of that, Morris III sounds like he’s running his guitar through a 10 watt practice amp with a blown speaker comb. New vocalist Joe Donnelly is a welcome addition to the lineup and is front and center in the mix. Like previous vocalists in the band, Donnelly has a more than passing resemblance to Ozzy circa ’70 – ’74, but he’s got a strong presence that makes up for some of the flat guitar tones. The new rhythm section of Louis Strachan and Dex Dexter keep the back beat going, but don’t get much of an opportunity to stand out.
The songs themselves are good, but lack the fire from previous efforts. But when they work, they work. “Burn the Sky” starts out unassuming but builds into a strong opener, while the up-tempo bounce of “Blind-Sighted Forward Spiral” is one of the more diverse tunes on the album. The title track has some mean crunch that declares that the man of iron has indeed returned and the psychedelic, spaced out “Fallen Angel” is arguably the best track of the lot. But while the good tunes carry the album past the rougher patches, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they hold up in comparison to the band’s existing body of work. For those new to Iron Man curious to hear what all the fuss has been about, I HAVE RETURNED isn’t a bad place to start, but it’s probably not the best. Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of some of the earlier stuff to really appreciate what Iron Man is all about.