Rising out of the same Maryland/DC mean streets as fellow US doom pioneers Pentagram and The Obsessed, IRON MAN was formed in 1988 as a Black Sabbath tribute band by guitarist Alfred Morris III, whose musical career began in 1977 with mysterious proto-doom cult FORCE. Al’s legendarily heavy, unearthly guitar tone was already much in evidence on FORCE’s ultra-rare 1981 debut EP – and it has only deepened, hardened, improved and refined in the ensuing 32 years.
“The main thing for me is Al’s tone,” enthuses Lee Dorrian, owner of Rise Above Records and Morris worshipper since the late 80s. “It’s so brutal but in a natural way, no frills, straight for the gut. Listening to his riffs is like being stuck in a vat of molasses, unable to move with a rotating grinder lodged into the middle of your forehead down to the base of your stomach. It’s that heavy!”
“When I felt ready to be a live performer, I asked myself, who are the baddest guitar players out there?” says Al Morris of his earliest sonic inspirations. “I thought about it and came up with Jimi Hendrix and Tony Iommi! Being that they are both left-handed players, it was like looking into a mirror as their hands went up and down the fretboard. I dialled in the tone for soloing, but had to add some bass tone to get the Tony/Geezer sound combination!”
Signed to the legendary underground doom label Hellhound Records, IRON MAN released the stellar ‘Black Night’ debut in 1993 – “an absolute classic in the field of Sabbath-inspired Doom,” Lee asserts – followed by ‘The Passage’ in 1994, before line-up and label instability forced the band into a late 90s wilderness period. They re-emerged in 1999 with’Generation Void’, before another extended hiatus. This time it took a full ten years before Al reassembled the indestructible IRON MAN with yet another new line-up for the aptly-named return-to-form ‘I Have Returned’ on Shadow Kingdom.
In 2010, Maryland doom circuit veteran ‘Screaming Mad’ Dee Calhoun joined IRON MAN on vocals, recording two EPs before starting work on their latest masterpiece, the monstrous snorting rocking doom behemoth ‘South Of The Earth’. Bursting with inspirational tunes, from the killer anthemic rumble of the opening title track to the blissful elegiac blues-doom of the closing ‘Ballad Of Ray Garraty’, IRON MAN’s fifth album is shot-through with stunning soulful leads, gargantuan riffs, powerful throaty vocal melodies and a muscular, resounding rhythm section.
“Every time Iron Man goes into the studio, we treat it like a blank canvas. As things progress, the art form takes shape,” says Al Morris on the band’s creative process. “We wrote this album in about 2 months. Then we practiced our asses off to perfect the performance of the songs. This CD was done with Frank Marchand, an engineer/producer with a head full of ideas! He enhanced every element of this CD. We have great trust in Frank and followed his ideas. This is what came out!”
“I’ve loved all of Iron Man’s work,” says Lee Dorrian. “‘South of the Earth’ easily matches it and the band sound better than ever. Great musicianship all round and they have a seriously killer vocalist with Screaming Mad Dee.”
Asked how Al feels the latest incarnation of IRON MAN compares to the line-ups he’s worked with over the last few decades, his reply displays a heartening, positive renewed enthusiasm for the bullishly durable group he founded all those years ago. “I am not the only person pushing the band forward!” he beams. “Now all of the band is pushing in the same direction!! We can write great songs together and perform on stage with lots of energy!”
Tour details will follow, you lucky bastards – in the meantime, get familiar with ‘South Of The Earth’, surely IRON MAN’s finest, fullest achievement to date.
IRON MAN: ‘SOUTH OF THE EARTH’ (RISE ABOVE)
1. South Of The Earth
2. Hail To The Haze
3. The Whore In Confession
4. The Worst And Longest Day
5. Aerial Changed The Sky
6. IISOEO (The Day Of The Beast)
7. Half-Face/Thy Brother’s Keeper (Dunwich Pt 2)
8. In The Velvet Darkness
9. The Ballad Of Ray Garraty
Al Morris III – guitars
‘Screaming Mad’ Dee Calhoun – vocals
Louis Strachan – bass
Jason ‘Mot’ Waldmann – drums
Recorded and mixed at Hudson Street Sound, Anapolis, Maryland
Produced/engineered by Frank Marchand III
Mastered at Bias Studios, Springfield, Virginia