Album Review: Iron Man - South Of The Earth
One of the things that gets overlooked when talking about music is the difficulty in finding the perfect name for your band. As an artist, you need to come up with something that is evocative, that captures the imagination, but also something that captures the spirit of your band in a few short words. And what you really want to do is avoid picking a name that saddles you as a joke for the duration of your career. No matter how much I may love an album from a band like Spock's Beard, there will always be a part of me that cringes when I have to say the name aloud.
Iron Man falls under a different category, a band that takes their name from their direct influence, which when done well can fill all the right criteria of proper metal nomenclature. But when a band takes the name of another band's best known song, it can only do one of two things; 1) reduce the band to a laughing stock, or 2) invite the direct comparisons that will crush the descendant before they ever have a chance.
What confuses me most is that Iron Man's most identifiable influence isn't even Black Sabbath. Their filthy take on old-school doom bears some resemblance to the masters, but is more easily fit in the Saint Vitus/Pentagram/Trouble mold.
Filthy is the best adjective I can come up with to describe the guitars on the record, a scuzzy tone that doesn't sound unlike an amp having been left out to rot in the damp autumn air. It's a bit off-putting, but there is something captivating about the sonics of the record. That decrepit guitar, combined with a plunky bass, is the oddest mix of sounds I think I've ever heard on a metal record.
But what truly matters is whether the songs deliver, and on that level, it's hard to say Iron Man are as entertaining as their production choices. The band doesn't stay in the down-tempo dirge doom brings to mind very often, but the spirit of 80's doom is all over the record. The simple riffs, and the vocal patterns, are all ripped from those days, which I mean as a compliment. Modern doom bands have gotten away from the simple elements that make songwriting interesting, which makes Iron Man's take refreshing.
Unfortunately, the songs just aren't gripping enough. The riffs lack the gripping power and melody Tony Iommi has always been able to conjure, and the vocals are neither the haunting wails of a singer like Eric Wagner, nor the so simple they're catchy lines Ozzy was known for. Stuck in the middle, the songs churn through without landing on those moments that are supposed to grab us as listeners. Like a lot of records I hear, it's all competent, but never exciting to hear. Nowhere over the course of the record do I make a mental note about an awesome passage I have to return to.
Fans of the early days of American doom will find a lot more to this record to love than I did. It's not that far removed from the classic albums that I can't see anything redeeming about it, but it's not an album I feel is strong enough to hold my attention longer than it takes to finish playing.