Released: 2013, Rise Above Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
What needs to be said about Maryland doom stalwarts Iron Man that hasn’t already been said? Born out of a Sabbath tribute band (hence the moniker) that opted to focus on original music crafted in the same vein, the house that Al Morris III built is a beast that refuses to be put down. 2009’s good-but-not-great I HAVE RETURNED re-introduced Iron Man to the music scene after a lengthy hiatus, but their latest, SOUTH OF THE EARTH, is arguably their finest hour yet.
Conceptually, ain’t a damn thing changed about the Iron Man sound, as SOUTH OF THE EARTH sticks to the traditional metal/heavy doom vibe that’s graced every album since their ’93 debut BLACK KNIGHT (think early Pentagram, Saint Vitus, first four Sabbath albums, et al). Which is fine, as long time fans would expect nothing less. But where the band has made changes makes all the difference in the world.
The Production – Man, what a difference a good production budget can make. From the opening wallop of the title track, it’s immediately clear that this is the best “sounding” album from Iron Man that we’ve yet experienced. Al Morris III’s guitar growls meaner, the rhythm section has more weight, there’s just an overall feeling of aural heaviness that’s been sorely missing from the band’s body of work.
The Songs - Track for track, SOUTH OF THE EARTH is Iron Man’s most consistent body of work. Less focused on Sabbathian worship and more interested in their own legacy, the nine tracks here are heavier, grittier and free of filler. From the Down-inspired sludge groove of the title track, to the bottom heavy bounce of “Hail to the Haze”, to the “Lord of this World”-esque “Thy Brother’s Keeper”, to the melodic closer “The Ballad of Ray Garraty”, this was the first Iron Man album in a long time that’s managed to keep me invested in each track from start to finish.
The Band - Keeping in step with a batch of meaner tunes, the band executes said tunes with a demonstrated sense of enthusiasm and purpose. Current frontman “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun is a great addition to the band, with a gravelly voice that recalls late-Metal Church vocalist David Wayne. Bucking a trend of Ozzy sound-a-likes fronting the band, Calhoun’s got some definite range in his growl that compliments the music most nicely. And mainman Al Morris III may well be Tony Iommi’s brother from another mother, dispensing fuzz laden riffs for days.
If there’s any justice in the world, SOUTH OF THE EARTH will be the album that pulls Iron Man out of underground legend status and into simply legend status. Through a distribution deal between Rise Above and Metal Blade Records, this could very well be the first Iron Man album readily available on store shelves or at least accessible through most mainstream online retailers – that in and of itself is a victory. SOUTH OF THE EARTH is an album two decades in the making, but shows that there’s still some creative fire left in the band’s belly. Check out the band’s website for more info and samples.