Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stone Deaf Forever

IRON MAN – “I Have Returned” CD ’09 (Shadow Kingdom, US) – Metal is a funny thing. How do you describe it? Is it defined, as some say, by a single band like Judas Priest? Is it’s frame of reference a particular guitar player, a certain guitar sound? Is it indicated by a lyrical style? Smoking/drinking, the devil, fantasy, leftist politics, etc.? Who the hell can really quantify it, right? And yet those of us who have been into it forever know immediately when we hear something whether it’s “metal” or not. With that in mind, I have one thing to tell you, a very basic truth that is not up for discussion or debate. Maryland’s IRON MAN is metal as fuck. Period. The fact that they are back with a new album (the first full-length since 1999’s “Generation Void”) makes me a very happy man. The fact that “I Have Returned” is as seriously damn great as it is makes me giddy with the feeling of all sorts of endorphins running through my body. I understand that this is my problem, but for the next several minutes, as you read this, it’s going to be your’s as well, so settle in.

IRON MAN has always been Alfred Morris III, since the days when he was doing a Sabbath cover band thang. On forward from that point, the man has kept his vision of doing heavy music steeped in the Sabbath tradition and yet putting his own stamp on things. IRON MAN issued their debut disc in 1993, “Black Night” and followed it the next year with “The Passage.” Several years later, “Generation Void” emerged (1999). Along the way, Morris worked with different musicians, further honing the band’s sound. The current line-up recorded it’s first disc in 2007, the excellent 5-song EP, “Submission.” It is with this crew that Al took to the studio for “I Have Returned:” Alfred Morris III – guitars, Joe Donnelly – vocals, Louis Strachan – bass, Dex Dexter - drums. The results are fabulous!

There’s one thing I want to put on the table first, and it involves Al Morris’ guitar sound. It seems that, over the years, all you have to do is mention Morris or IRON MAN in general and the first thing people say is something like “Oh, he’s the guy who cloned Iommi’s guitar sound.” Let me say this: Al has got one of the most thick, leaden rhythm sounds I’ve ever heard in my life. That includes, yes Tony I and also people like Dave Chandler (Saint Vitus) and King Buzzo (Melvins). Here’s my thing, though. I’ve seen Sabbath live more times than I can even remember. I’ve also seen IRON MAN quite a few. Similarly, I’ve listened to albums like “Vol. 4” till they’re etched into my brain…and I’ve also given those like “GenerationVoid” more than a couple spins. With that as a backdrop, I’ve gotta tell you…If anyone listens to any of those and walks away calling Al Morris III simply an Iommi-clone, they need to see an ear doctor pronto. This guy has got a sweet tone for sure, babe, but he also has got his own thing going on and in a seriously big-time way. Same way I like to call Against Nature’s John Brenner the “tone master,” I like to think Morris is a “groove master” and it’s never shown through more so than on “I Have Returned.” Take a listen to “Curse The Ages (Curse Me).” You wanna talk about something that swings?! Jesus Christ, this thing swings like Benny Goodman on steroids with a mace in his hand that’s plugged into a mountain of Laneys! And that’s not even getting into the cool little melodic section that comes up just after the 2 minute mark. Man, that reminds me of something a band like May Blitz or Toad did back in the day!

Looking elsewhere around this album is just top-level and it’s where Morris and IRON MAN really set themselves apart from the doom standard. How ‘bout the “Stained Class” gallop of “Blind-Sighted Forward Spiral.” What a cool song title and if you can stand still not grab your air axe when Al rips into the super catchy melodic line before he pastes your ass with the nasty solo, then you’ve got no soul, honcho! Everywhere you turn on this beast of a metal monster there’s highlights: the grooving crush of “Run From The Light” (while Trouble’s running to it?!), Morris’ bluesy acoustic ode “Days Of Olde” or the flattening mid-paced riff monster, “Gomorrah Gold.” Still, I think IRON MAN have saved the best for last with the double shot of “Fallen Angel” and “Among The Filth And Slime.” The former opens with a haunting melodic guitar figure that rivals one of the absolute greatest songs of all time, Priest’s ancient “Run Of The Mill.” It also includes gigantic vocal performance from Joe Donnelly (who puts on a master class clinic all album) and a wonderful, phased solo from Al, somewhat reminiscent of early Alex Lifeson. The latter sees Mr. Morris open the deal with a howling rain of feedback a la KK’s “Deep Freeze” (Hey, a lot of “Rocka Rolla” references here! Can’t be too many of them!) that lasts over a minute before the band tear into a rhythm calling to mind Purple’s “Highway Star.” Morris’s soloing in this one is just filthy!

Jesus, Jesus, JESUS!!! What a hot-ass metal album and although (especially for me as a guitar player) I can’t help focusing on the breathtaking axe work delivered by Al Morris III, it would be purely wrong not to say that this is easily the best line-up IRON MAN has ever sported. As stated above, Joe Donnelly has been just what the doctor ordered for this band on vocals, both on the previous “Submission” and now even more so here. His mid-range voice is just fantastic and I just have to say, he made me a fan at Declaration of Doom when he made his disparaging between song pirate-like rants about Hannah Montana. Go Joe!!! Similarly, the rhythm section of Louis Strachan & Dex Dexter murder from one end to the other, nailing down a bottom that’s both heavier than lead casket and organic as your favourite ‘shroom. How good is this record? The bottom line is that if you’re into metal and don’t own it, you completely suck. Period.
This One Goes To Eleven
NOTE: Special credit should go to Shadow Kingdom Records for releasing this bad-assed mofo and doing such a fantastic job with the booklet, etc. Awesome!

MORGLBL – “Jazz For The Deaf” CD ’09 (Laser’s Edge, Fra) – And to think, I wasn’t going to go. See, about 2 months ago, my prog-rawk bowling teammate Rick mentioned to me that MORGLBL was playing at Orion Studios in Baltimore on May 9. Having never heard ‘em, I was assured by Rick that they smoked & so I jotted the name down in my calendar: “MORGLBL.” I tried to pronounce it, then gave up, meant to look ‘em up on YouTube, never did. Anyway we got into May & I opened that ol’ calendar one week. Let’s see, Friday night take my oldest to his prom. Pick him up from the after-prom party at 4:00 AM Saturday. Get together with relatives to celebrate Mother’s Day 2:00 PM Sat., then go to dinner after. Sunday 1:00 PM go to dinner with wife for Mother’s Day. 5:00 PM Sunday go to theatre with son.” Then, I saw the additional note for Saturday night. MORGLBL – Orion. Jesus Christ, I thought. Talk about a full weekend. And, as it turned out, on the way back from taking the kid to the prom Friday my van broke down & I stood at roadside, irate drivers blowing their horns as I waited nearly 3 hours for a tow truck. So, by the time Saturday rolled around I was already pretty damn burnt and was about to call Rick & beg off on the show. For some reason, however, I hesitated & figured “Ah, what the hell….” I think God guided me this time and his name is Christophe Godin.

Christophe Godin, you see, is the guitarist for MORGLBL and that evening as I sat on my metal folding chair in front of him at Orion, he did indeed rise to deity status. Funny thing was, on entering this intimate studio/venue that evening, before even taking my seat, I snagged a copy of MORGLBL’s new disc, “Jazz For The Deaf” (released officially in June). I thought, “Ok, could be $15 down the drain.” By the time the 1st song was over, I was checking my wallet to see if I had enough to pick up their other 3.

What I saw live that night was a revelation, not only for those who love fusion and heavy prog but metal as well. It’s the same revelation you’ll have when you slide “Jazz…” into your CD player. This is an album that is relentless. It is relentless in it’s wickedly dexterous musicianship. Together, Godin, Ivan Rougney (bass) and Aurelien Ouzoulias (drums) form a mega-organic trio who constantly push each other to playing that not only borders on the ridiculous but barrels right on thru to the middle of crazy. It is relentless in the quality of the material. With their stuff being of the oft-dreaded “instrumental” variety, MORGLBL are never in danger of being boring or directionless. One reason is because they are also relentless in terms of heaviness. While their output ranges from all-out metallic assaults calling to mind (but far better than) Cynic (US) to Primus-like-funk to Cobham-styled fusion, there is never any shortage of overdriven intensity that can alternately shake the walls and raise a smile. That’s another thing. Even though these 3 cats have the chops to bring Steve Vai, Stanley Clarke or Terry Bozzio to their knees, they’ve got a Zappa-like sense of humor that keeps it all real. Check out opener “Morglbl Circus,” with it’s, yes, circus theme that may end up seeming droll if the whole thing weren’t just so crushing. Or the nearly whimsical off-time rhythms of “Borderline” that dissolve into a heavy-ass riff mid song. Mostly, however, MORGLBL as a band are a musical house afire from one end to the other.

And frankly, I’ve gotta talk some more about Christophe Godin. Is the guy a shredder? Sure. My hands actually hurt just listening to some of the manically-note-riddled lead lines he lays down during this hour of metal-massacred-funk-fusion. Yet, unlike so many well-schooled players, he doesn’t give you the impression of being some lab technician or Julliard grad. Rather, there’s an under-lying blues feel and a very over-lying vibe of just coming out and kicking complete and utter ass. Envision, if you will, Dimebag Darrell (R.I.P.) after he listened to a Mahavishnu record and you might have an idea.

Best cuts? I don’t even have a clue where to start. “Jazz For The Deaf” is an album that continues to unveil great surprises every new listen at the same time it’s stomping all over your face with tank treads. If your appetite for amazement is as wide as your desire for a butt-kickin’, order this bitch yesterday. Acoustic Earplugs Anyone?
NOTE: It also must be added that my listening to the previous MORGLBL discs I purchased (“Grotesk” ’07, “Bienvenue A Morglbl Land” ’99 and “The Morglbl Trio II” ’98) yielded similarly orgasmic musical results with this listener.


J.B. said...

Holy crap, Ray, you were right about this band. I just got "Grotesk," and I'm going to get the others, too. What a great, technical, virtuoistic band. Thanks for the recommendation!


raysrealm said...

Yeah, wait till you hear "Jazz For The Deaf." It is brutal.

rick and roll said...

I'm uploading Crack the Sky CD's to Delicious Agony and going through my "to check out" list and saw Cory Case, which led me to here...I had no idea you had such a brutal weekend! Of course you porbably told me but I forgot...vive le Morglbl!