"South of the Earth"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Is Iron Man's exile to the outskirts of the metal underground about to end? It sure looks like "South of the Earth" may be their long overdue ticket to the exposure they richly deserve. Beloved by the hardcore doom fans, the veterans now get their first release on a major label, that being Metal Blade (by way of Rise Above). Do they make the most of this break?

I don't think many long time fans of the band will be disappointed by "South of the Earth". And given the big interest in sludge/doom/stoner bands these days, lots of newcomers are gonna be digging this as well. This is a great introduction to Iron Man's soulful but ultra-heavy doom and it also showcases the talents of new singer "Screaming Mad" Dee Calhoun. This is the voice that guitarist Al Morris III and his long-time bass slinging cohort Louis Strachan have been waiting for. Previous singers never quite had the quality to match the awesome riffing and soloing of Morris, but Calhoun more than holds his own here and shows he's one of the very best of the genre. Also new to the fold is drummer Mot Waldman, who bonds strongly with Strachan's knee-buckling bass vibrations.

Anybody who's heard Iron Man knows that Al Morris comes up with some of the heaviest guitar tones in the universe, along wtih blazing solos following in the footsteps of Hendrix and Iommi. You get those qualities in spades on "South of the Earth", but I would venture to say that this is the most soulful and blues-tinged of all Iron Man's works.  Cuts like the title track and "The Ballad of Ray Garraty" just ooze the classically influenced electric blues feeling found on old Sabbath and Cream. But the riffs are mean as hell and knock you right to the ground. It's everything Al can do to keep up with the incredibly fat and juicy bass work of Strachan, which throbs throughout. The songs flow easily and have their own identity, but the standouts to me are "Hail to the Haze" and the awesome "Half-Face/Thy Brother's Keeper" duo. This latter track is a true monster of killer riffage that pays tribute to Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" and does it full justice. Kudos, too, to the massive vocal contributions of Mr. Calhoun.

Surely no fan of classic doom or stoner rock could look themselves in the mirror if they failed to pick up this nugget. I couldn't say this is Iron Man's all-around heaviest, but it is certainly their most mature and fully realized.