Iron Man, “The Worst and Longest Day” from South of the Earth (2013)
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Press play above to hear “The Worst and Longest Day” from Iron Man‘s new album, South of the Earth. Set for release on Oct. 1 through Metal Blade in North America and Sept. 30 on Rise Above in Europe, Iron Man‘s fifth full-length overall and first for the two mentioned imprints re-teams them with producer Frank “The Punisher” Marchand, who recorded 2009’s I Have Returned. Though the two outings have that in common and they’re united by the inimitable, smoke-on-the-finish tone of guitarist and band founder “Iron” Alfred Morris III, they’re nonetheless vastly different offerings from the long-running and long-underappreciated Maryland doom stalwarts.
Primarily in lineup. A change in the frontman position back in 2011 saw “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun enter the fold in place of the departed Joe Donnelly, and though it was clear from the first searing high notes of the 2011 Dominance EP that Calhoun lived up to his name as a singer of Halfordian power, it wasn’t until Iron Man brought drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann into the rhythm section alongside longtime bassist Louis Strachan that the South of the Earth lineup would be complete. Taking to the stage almost immediately, Iron Man soon became a new force in the live setting, also releasing the Att hålla dig över EP as the first output with the Morris, Strachan, Calhoun and Waldmann lineup to keep their momentum going into the recording of the new long-player.
But the differences on South of the Earth go well beyond the simple matter of personnel. Full in sound and crisply professional, Iron Man‘s latest serves as an arrival point for Morris‘ years of riff-slinging. With the validation of a release through Metal Blade/Rise Above behind them, Iron Man stand poised to take their place at the forefront of the American doom consciousness as a band that have never wavered from their purpose or, no matter who’s involved, sacrificed their loyalty to the Sabbathian traditionalism that served as their founding principle when they emerged out of Morris‘ prior outfit, Force, in the late ’80s. Top quality riffs, undeniable grooves and Calhoun‘s glass-shattering pipes make South of the Earth unlike anything Iron Man has released in years gone by — and their other records, whether it’s the 1993 Black Night debut, 1994’s The Passage, 1999’s Generation Void or I Have Returned, already kicked considerable ass. As a band, they’re simply at another level.
And they know it. In the interview that follows, Morris speaks with confidence about their stage presence, the writing and recording of “The Worst and Longest Day” and the rest of South of the Earth, Iron Man‘s impending UK debut this December at the two-day Rise Above 25th anniversary party in London and much more, giving the impression not of arrogance, but of someone whose decades of experience bleeds into everything he and his band does. Whatever notoriety or attention Iron Man are able to gain as a result of the new album upon its release, it will be well earned, by both past and current efforts.
As it happens, Iron Man are doing a track-by-track through the album this week on their Thee Facebooks page, and today’s is “The Worst and Longest Day.” You’d almost think it was planned out (it wasn’t). Here’s what they had to say about the track:
“I left you alone long enough for your guard to die…”
TRACK FOUR: THE WORST AND LONGEST DAY
Another track that is swampy and mean, “The Worst and Longest Day” is as unsettling in subject as it is heavy in delivery. Heavy guitars and soaring vocals ride atop a bouncy rhythm section, and drag you through a cold monologue, delivered by the thing that vexes you.
Special thanks to Metal Blade and to Rise Above for allowing me to premiere “The Worst and Longest Day.” Please find the Q&A after the jump and enjoy.
Actually, I have a unique process. Usually I’m standing in front of a large mirror in my house, and I play in front of the mirror. Riffs come to me, and I figure out, “Okay,” and I work with them a bit, make them as heavy as I can for the band, develop it. Then, when I have it down for myself, I bring it in to the guys and we kick it around a little bit, put the bass and drums with it, which makes me do a little more to it, because they’re inspiring me to do stuff to the riff also.
We get that together, then once the music is put together, we give it to Dee and he goes ahead and he’ll get a spark off of it and start writing lyrics, and he’ll arrange where the lyrics would fit on certain parts of it, and there you go. You got an Iron Man song.
How did you get started playing in front of a mirror like that?
I don’t know. I just started doing it. Unplugged, you know, and I’m there. I used to practice through the amp, but that was more during when I was just developing. I would have an amp basically in my parents’ basement, and I could plug in then, but once I got out on my own, I kind of kept it under cover. I never plugged in once I lived in an apartment or a house or whatever, so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. It just got to be magic.
In the earlier days, I would be plugged in, and I would record it, so whatever I did, it would be on tape, regardless. Because sometimes the magic is in between. A set idea you might be going after, but in between that, you might fiddle with something and bang, it just kicks ass. And you go, “Wait a minute, what was that?” and go back. But yeah, after ’85-’86, I did it unplugged from then on.
Do you still record everything?
No, just remember it in my head. We get it over to the guys and then we might lay it down on the Zune or something and that way Dee can take it home and he can work on it.
You did the Att Hålla Dig ?ver EP –
That’s Swedish – it means “To Hold You Over” – that’s for us. But in actuality, they mean it (laughs), like if there’s a fire, you’re being held over the fire. But you know, we’re taking it as a stopgap between the time of the full-length and the EP.
That’s what I was going to say. You did the Dominance EP when you brought Dee in on vocals and the second EP when Mot came in on drums. Were those to test out the lineup or see how everything was progressing on the way to doing this album?
Well no, what happened was, the general idea was to keep something in front of the fans. Don’t let a year go by. Because that’s been a problem. Between ’95 and ’99, four years went by with nothing, and 2000 and 2007, there wasn’t anything until late 2007, we did that first EP, Submission. So that was the plan, to keep something active out there.
With Dominance, that was actually a demo. What we did is just we played it straight. We didn’t do any overdubs. We just played it. When people listen to Dominance, we’re just playing. It’s like seeing us live. A little bit on the vocals, but basically, it’s just a straight thing, supposed to be a demo. That’s what that was.
Then we came in and Att Hålla Dig ?ver and we actually produced it ourselves in hopes of having a full-length come out after that. So that’s where we were working on that and tunes for the new album.
At the same time, you mean?
Yeah, myself. I was basically putting riffs together and then finally early 2013 – well, from late ’12 to ’13, we were actually putting together the album – and then we managed to start recording in February of this year.
Tell me about how “The Worst and Longest Day” came together.
It’s weird, because I had an idea for a riff, and the idea came from listening to the song by Black Sabbath, “Voodoo.” For some reason, inside of my head, things get twisted up, and that came out (laughs). So, I played it for the guys and they go, “Oh man, that’s heavy.” So we started working on it, and Dee was inspired, and that’s basically a pretty freeform song. There’s a little structure to it, but Louis put this serious groove bass on it, and him and Mot got a groove going with that, and I just went freeform with the guitar stuff in the middle. That’s what you got.
Like I had said I think somewhere else, we go into the studio, even though we worked on everything before we get in, but we’re just treating it like it’s a blank canvas and we’re going to paint a new picture. That’s just how it happens. We got in there and got inspired. Usually with leads, I have never planned a lead, and as long as it’s moving, that’s what happens. If I’m up since five in the morning and it’s two in the morning and I’m trying to lay it down, that’s what you get.
And that’s what happened, because Frank Marchand is the Punisher if nobody knows (laughs). They know now. I was even asleep standing on my wah wah pedal (laughs). He said, “Hey, first time I ever saw that.”
How was it working with him this time as opposed to when you did I Have Returned?
It was great. It was great. We didn’t do a lot of what he probably had in his head to do on the first record. It’s pretty straightforward, a few little things going on. With this record, we had time, and he had a head full of ideas, and we said, “Yes, take us there.” So he was putting a recipe together and we were following it.
He knows us. He knows where we can go. He knows where we came from, so he just drives us. He pushes and he does what he thinks’ll work, and you hear it. You hear everything that he thought of and how he drove us into it when you hear the CD.
How involved was he in guiding that improvisation that you talked about? How much direction did he give you guys?
Well, he doesn’t. For instance, if I’m doing a lead, I’ll do one, and he’ll go, “Man, that was pretty good. I think you can beat it” (laughs). It’s like, “Okay.” So we roll it back again and I hit another lead, and like I said, they’re not planned, it’s just whatever thought pattern is coming through me it gets spit back that way. I did about two or three on some, and sometimes two was enough and it might be good enough to where he’ll intertwine them with each other on the finished track.
So that’s basically how it works. That’s how it works with all of us. Dee sings a line, Mot plays a drum line, or Louis rolls down a bassline, he’ll tell us all, “Yeah, that was pretty good. I think you can beat it.” The way he says it, you know you’re under command, you better go beat that (laughs).
Louis has been in the band – obviously other than yourself – longest at this point. Can you talk about the working relationship between you two and having him on bass while you’re improvising leads and going for it like that?
Yeah, he’s been in the band since 6/6/06, 2006. You’re right, he’s a long survivor. I’m trying to figure out how to get rid of him (laughs). No. But seriously, he is perfect for what I want to do. He knows how to lay down a background and we discuss at points where we’ll have notes that meet each other, which means that if he goes high, I go low, and the notes will meet and it’s a slight kind of a drone thing that happens in there, and the way his bass playing is, it’s like a moving pattern.
Sometimes I can do something that goes right on top of it perfectly without even realizing it, because he’s laying down such a good, heavy groove. And it’s a moving groove. It’s not like he’s plucking one note. I think you’re hardly ever going to see him pluck one note like that. He’s not gonna do that. He’ll throw some extra notes in there. He’ll do harmonies, sub-harmonies. He’s a fantastic bass player, and he’s perfect for how heavy I am. It just works perfectly.
Do you feel like the band has clicked with this lineup after so long and so many different people?
Yeah. Even if you look at video footage, I’m kind of driving things. I had great players then and they were kind of following a certain little groove, but with this band, each guy is like a super-entity, and then we just have it all wrapped together. Everybody is powerful in their position, and then we put these four positions together, here’s what you have.
You have the actual power. We have a big stamp now. Our carbon footprint is the size of four Jupiters or something. We’re big. It comes through. It comes through. We show the energy on stage, movement, along with the music. So yeah. We’re trying to blow your head off.
How long after Mot came in did you realize that you really had something? Because he was the last piece of the puzzle, right?
Yeah. We were doing rehearsals. He was one of the few that I felt like, “Wow, something’s going on here.” I even said to the guys, “You know what? I could play a gig with this guy.” And he only knew six songs. He came in and he knew six songs. He was in the rotation, and we had lots of guys coming by, but then we did a benefit with him…
That was the Heinzman benefit?
Sure was, sure was. A huge one. Pentagram. A lot of bands came out for that one. It was a great cause and we were glad to do it. Adam’s been a friend since the beginning – since before the beginning (laughs). So it’s cool, he’s family. So yeah, that was November 2011, so yeah. I think early 2012, we announced, Mot’s the man.
And yeah, as he came into practice and as we developed things, everything just locked in like quick. He can play at will. He feels good about what he’s doing, and he’s like the gauge. If we’re putting something together, it ain’t ready till he says it’s ready. That’s how we do it. That way, we know, “Hey, if he likes it, and he says it’s ready, then we can go record or play it live.” But yeah, he’s the master of that right now (laughs).
And you mentioned how Dee comes in after the music is set, but his voice on the record blows you away listening to it. Tell me about working with him as opposed to Joe Donnelly.
You know, each guy has his own thing. Different strengths. Joe has the huge Sabbath background, and he also has his own unique style within himself that people haven’t heard yet, that he has inside himself. He’s working on projects now, I think people will finally see. But that dude is very well read and he has just a vast amount of writing, musically and lyrically. He’s very well read, also.
Same for Dee. Dee is a very well read person. He taps into his emotions. He can pull melodies out of the sky like I do. He puts words to it. Pretty incredible. He’s super-talented as far as coming up with some of our art designs and stuff like that. In fact he did the art for South of the Earth.
Tell about signing to Rise Above. How did that come together?
Actually, last November, I had emailed Lee [Dorrian], asking if Rise Above was taking on bands. Then I hadn’t heard from him again after that, so from November until about June, never heard a word out of him. In between that time, somebody posted I think one of the Days of the Doomed songs on Facebook and it was on his website, and he emailed me and commented to me about that. He said, “Yeah, somebody put this rockin’ video on my Facebook, and I was like, ‘Man, Iron Man’s killing it.’” He was answering my email about listening and blah blah blah.
I said, “Yeah well, I’ve got some tracks. I could let you check them out,” and he heard them and he was like, “Wow,” and we started talking about a deal. That was it. I think it was early June, and by mid-June, we had signed the contracts, and pretty much he had a perfect seat, because the album was done and mastered and we were just figuring out who was gonna do it. At first, we thought we would do it with the help of Sony Music, they have something called Music: Realized, but once we got with Lee, we were like, “Yeah, we’ll do it this way.” And it’s going to be incredible. It’s going to be a blast. Plus, aside from Rise Above, it’s like a two-sided blade, because you have Metal Blade for North America, taking care of that part. It’s a double-fisted attack.
And in December, you’re going over to play the Rise Above 25th anniversary show in London.
Yeah, sure. I don’t know what day we’re playing yet, but yeah, that’s for Dec. 27 and 28. That’s perfect. It’s gonna be a killer time, party. Oh man, it’s gonna be a blast. Believe me. The only thing that worries me is that I’m not sure what their sea level is, but it’s probably gonna drop a few thousand feet by the time we play (laughs).
Oh yeah (laughs).
Anything planned for 2014 yet?
We’re waiting for stuff to come in. The rest of ‘13 is filling in now, and 2014, we’re looking at some touring, you know, so Europe can get ready, and there’ll probably be a few surprises throughout the year, some more festivals and stuff like that. Once we get the release dates past us, I think things are gonna start to fill up quickly.Baltimore, Iron Man, Iron Man South of the Earth, Maryland, Maryland doom, Metal Blade Records, Rise Above Records