Friday Full-Length: Iron Man, The Passage

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Iron Man, The Passage (1994)

Originally issued on Halloween 1994 by venerable and long-defunct purveyor Hellhound Records — see also: The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Count Raven, Wretched, Blood Farmers, Unorthodox and Revelation; woof — the second full-length from Iron Man, The Passage (reissue review here), should rightly be considered among the defining documents of Maryland doom. It is a record so direct in conveying its influence from and love for Black Sabbath, so unabashed in its worship, that it serves as a near constant reminder that guitarist “Iron” Alfred Morris III started the band back in 1988 specifically to pay homage to the metallic overlords. Formed roughly concurrent to the winding down of Morris‘ prior outfit, Force — whose lone long-player was issued in 1991 and whose discography was compiled onto a single limited release earlier this year by Blood and Iron Records (want) — Iron Man made their debut just one year before The Passage showed up, offering an early mission statement in 1993’s Black Night (discussed here; reissue review here).

Morris‘ guitar tone and ultra-Iommic riffing style, even at that most formative stage of the band, was the defining element of the group. That remains the case today, but a key difference between Black Night and The Passage was a swap in frontmen, and where Black Night was vocalized by Rob Levey, who would later found and curate the Stoner Hands of Doom series of festivals, the 11-track/43-minute The Passage brought in Dan Michalak as singer, and introduced a different style to the context of Iron Man‘s Sabbath worship. One doesn’t have to go far to hear it — and by that I mean it’s evident on the first riff of opener “The Fury,” which draws directly from “Neon Knights,” the corresponding launch-cut of Sabbath‘s 1980 LP, Heaven and Hell (discussed here), which was the beginning of the band’s era fronted by Ronnie James Dio. That’s a considerable shout for Iron Man to make, and would’ve been even in 1994 — Sabbath having reunited with Dio for the triumphant Dehumanizer, which seems to be referenced on The Passage in the foreboding synth of the titular interlude that precedes “Iron Warrior,” in 1992 before working once again with Tony Martin to issue Cross Purposes earlier in ’94 — but Michalak‘s lyrical patterning brazenly follows suit from Morris‘ set rhythm. We hear “Ride out,” references to “the night,” “fire,” hidden knowledge, and other Dio-style themes. Throughout the rest of The Passage, the play seems to be intended to fluidly move between the Ozzy and Dio eras. In the second half of “Unjust Reform,” a sudden stop brings a no less full-on take off from “Snowblind,” while the bit of finger and grander unfolding of “Waiting for Tomorrow” recall some of the more epic Dio-fronted tracks ahead of “Tony Stark” — get it? they didn’t call it “Iron Man” — shooting into the void and evil minds plotting destruction in closer “End of the World,” which caps with canned crowd noise to answer that at the beginning of “The Fury.”

These are just a few of The Passage‘s more Sabbathian moments, but they’re by no means the only ones, and even in the general perspective of judgment from which the social commentary of “Unjust Reform” and the later “Waiting for Tomorrow,” “Time for Indecision” and “Freedom Fighters” stems — notions of man’s inhumanity to man, and so on — Iron Man are willfully adopting the methods of their forebears. Yet, The Passage is more than derivation. At a time when their chief inspiration was crisp and overproduced with a huge echoing snare like so many of their era, Iron Man took a grittier approach, and their identity was cast as much in the raw thrust of “Iron Warrior” — a highlight performance there from drummer Gary Isom, whose CV includes stints in Pentagram, co-founding Spirit Caravan and a current position as guitarist in Weed is Weed, among many others — as in the cover art with a lighting effect that seems to show Morris in flames as he plays guitar. I’ll gladly argue that image stands among the most righteous in American doom, every bit worthy of the gray-on-black logo of Saint Vitus‘ self-titled debut or the line-drawing that would adorn Pentagram‘s Relentless album in iconic terms, but the point is that for Iron Man, even the artwork shows what it’s all about. Yes, it’s a full band, with Michalak responsible for conveying the lyrics, Isom pounding away behind the chug of “Time for Indecision,” and bassist Larry Brown (also ex-Force) in the Geezer Butler role anchoring the low end, but it’s Morris‘ project through and through, and he leads the way accordingly.

The guitarist remains among the most pivotal figures in American doom. Though Hellhound Records is long gone, Shadow Kingdom Records has stepped up to reissue many of Iron Man‘s earlier works (it’s their version of The Passage in the Bandcamp player above) and Iron Man released I Have Returned (review here) through the label in 2009 before swapping out singer Joe Donnelly for “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun and signing to Rise Above for 2013’s South of the Earth (review here), which remains their latest offering. They got to the UK, playing internationally for the first time to support that album, and continue to perform local shows in Maryland with the lineup of MorrisCalhoun, bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann, but don’t really tour, and a series of health concerns seem to have sidelined larger activity. I’m not 100 percent sure what the situation is there, but obviously one wishes Morris and the rest of the band nothing but the best and a full return to stage and/or studio productivity soon. As anyone who dug into South of the Earth could tell you, Iron Man still have plenty more to say, and in a world that’s finally caught up to their ethic of Sabbathian homage, they’ve never been more relevant than they are now.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading and for listening.

Next week is the Quarterly Review. I’ve been working on setting up the back end for the last few days, and this weekend, as I also travel to the NY/NJ area to see a Yankee game (tonight) and family (tomorrow), I’ll be starting the actual process of digging into the 50 records that will be covered between next Monday and Friday. It’s already been a lot of work but I immediately regret not doing a sixth day this time around and maybe even a seventh. As I’ve been so busy the last couple months concerning myself with things like losing my job and the impending Pecan due in October, there’s a buildup of album folders on my desktop and mail piled high on my actual desk of records that want covering.

I wish I could get to everything. Sincerely.

But I’ll do the best I can and because I’m a flop at scheduling, there’s already other stuff slated for the days early in the week of the 17th where the otherwise extra Quarterly Review days would go. Fair enough, and at least it’s good. I’ve also got a bunch of premieres and whathaveyou slated for this week coming, so here are my notes as they stand now, subject to change without notice:

Mon.: Quarterly Review day 1; Fungus Hill video premiere.
Tue.: Quarterly Review day 2; Demon Eye track premiere/album review.
Wed.: Quarterly Review day 3; Salem’s Bend video premiere.
Thu.: Quarterly Review day 4; Arduini/Balich Six Dumb Questions
Fri.: Quarterly Review day 5.

If I can, I might just give myself a break on that last day and not slate anything else, roll with whatever news I’ll inevitably be behind on by then and the Friday Full-Length post, but we’ll see what comes in. I’m already about two weeks later on the Quarterly Review than I’d prefer to be, but whatever. Nobody cares except me. I have to keep reminding myself of that. Constantly. Nobody knows the arbitrary schedules I try to keep, and even if they knew, it wouldn’t matter. No one cares.

There’s a sad kind of freedom in that.

Speaking of sad freedom, if you’re in the US, I hope you had an enjoyable and safe July 4 celebration and that nobody got their hand blown off, etc. The Patient Mrs., the Little Dog Dio, the impending Pecan and I have been at the beach all week — the plus side of not having a job is being able to get up here and see sunrises like this one yesterday — and though I’m out of clean laundry and will be day-twoing it in these socks, it’s been an utter pleasure. We’ll be here until early Monday morning and then back home to Massachusetts, where no doubt copious errands will need to be run.

Whatever you’re up to this weekend, I hope it’s a great and also safe time. I’ll be writing in the passenger seat along the I-95 corridor if you need me, so yeah, that should be interesting. Thanks for reading and please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Internal Void, Standing on the Sun

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 17th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Internal Void, Standing on the Sun (1993)

Admittedly, I’ve got Maryland doom on the brain. Next weekend is Maryland Doom Fest 2016 at Cafe 611 in Fredrick (info here), and as a part of a stellar lineup that reaches well outside genre confines, Internal Void will put in a rare appearance that includes a guest spot from former drummer Eric Little (see also Earthride and the most recent offering from Church of Misery), marking the first time the complete Standing on the Sun lineup will be on the same stage in nearly a quarter-century.

To listen now to Standing on the Sun, issued in 1993 through Germany’s Hellhound Records, it’s a prototype workingman’s doom that bands around the Frederick area continue to build on to this day. As did concurrent groups like The Obsessed, Revelation, Wretched, Unorthodox and Iron Man, Internal Void set themselves to the task of refining a Sabbathian ethic on sans-frills principles, rolling out bluesy grooves in songs like “Take a Look” after beginning the album with a foreboding chug on “Warhorse” and before creeping their way through the title-track and the acoustic melancholy of the later “Eclipsed.” It’s worth noting that all of the above-listed bands issued albums between 1991 and 1993 via Hellhound, as did Saint Vitus, Pigmy Love Circus, Lost Breed, Count Raven and Year Zero, among others, and though located on a different continent, that label’s contributions to this pivotal formative stage of Maryland doom aren’t to be understated. Internal Void‘s Standing on the Sun remains a prime example of the attitude and aesthetic of Maryland doom, and even 23 years later, its roughed-up-Candlemass vibes ring through loud and clear of a time when doom and metal were in many ways far more interchangeable than they are today.

In addition to Little on drums, the band at the time was comprised of vocalist J.D. Williams, guitarist Kelly Carmichael and bassist Adam HeinzmannWilliams also fronts War Injun, and Carmichael and Heinzmann have done the requisite stints in Pentagram, but Internal Void remains a standout from their contemporaries. After Standing on the Sun, it would be seven years before their second album, Unearthed, arrived in 2000, and four after that for the follow-up, Matricide. They reissued their 1991 Voyages demo in time to sell copies at Roadburn 2012, which was where I last saw them — by coincidence, The Obsessed also played and will be at Maryland Doom Fest 2016 as well — and I’ve seen no indication of future plans past this one-off appearance. The basic operating rule seems to be that if you can see Internal Void, see them, because you never know when the chance will come again.

Hope you enjoy Standing on the Sun. For more on Maryland Doom Fest 2016, click here for the Thee Facebooks page. If you’re going, I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

Getting there will require a bit of travel on my part, but next week is also the Quarterly Review, so keep an eye out for that. 50 reviews between next Monday and Friday. I expect by the end of it I’ll be very much ready to get out and see a show. We start Monday. Have I started putting any of it together yet? No I have not. As I’m also going to New York tomorrow and New Jersey on Sunday, I expect it’s going to be quite a weekend.

I want to thank Diane Farris aka Diane Kamikaze for having me down to WFMU once again for an appearance on her show, The Kamikaze Fun Machine. It was a pleasure and an honor to share the airwaves with her once again for two hours, and thank you as well if you had the chance to tune in. If not, the show is archived and available to check out here: https://wfmu.org/playlists/DK.

Of course, the focus next week is the Quarterly Review and travel to Maryland, but also look out for new videos from Mars Red Sky (along with a cool announcement), KadavarTelstar Sound Drone and Soon A.D., and a bunch of other news as well that I’m already behind on. This was my second week of unemployment before I start my new job at Hasbro, and it was fantastic. Really, this entire period has just completely underscored how ready I am to retire. I mean that. I’m not even kidding.

Gonna go head to the farmer’s market in a bit and get my hair cut, then enjoy a quiet evening with The Patient Mrs. before tomorrow brings its own brand of chaos. I hope you have a great and safe weekend, and thank you for reading.

Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Iron Man, Black Night

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 30th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Iron Man, Black Night (1993)

[Please note: Shadow Kingdom reissued Black Night in 2009 and the album is available on Bandcamp here.]

If you ever wanted a primer or a summary of the entire Maryland doom scene distilled into one record, it might be Iron Man‘s 1993 debut, Black Night (reissue review here). I say that because even more than Pentagram‘s Relentless or The Obsessed‘s self-titled — both landmarks, make no mistake — Black Night has remained an underground phenomenon, and while its tracks and particularly the riffs of founding guitarist “Iron” Al Morris III are on par with any of the post-Sabbath downer metal that region has produced and at this point has influenced a lot of it, to a broader worldwide audience, Iron Man continue to be a relatively obscure act. Less so now than perhaps ever following the 2013 release of their latest album, South of the Earth (review here), on Rise Above, but still. Riffers don’t come much more underrated than Morris.

Whether that’s due to issues of race or if it was a lack of promotion at the time, I don’t know, but Black Night is all the more exemplary for the whole of Maryland doom for being undervalued. It is unremittingly straightforward, whether its the hook of its title-track or the basic frustration at root in the social commentary of “A Child’s Future,” and its roots are directly traced to Black Sabbath and the heart of what doom metal was taking from them and melding to the gallop of the NWOBHM at the time. Black Night, in being issued via the German imprint Hellhound, was one of a swath of records from the Doom Capitol area that saw release at what was apparently just the right time to make a lasting impact, and one could easily look at it as well as concurrent offerings from UnorthodoxInternal VoidThe ObsessedRevelation and Wretched as the blueprints for what Maryland doom has become.

As with any scene, the players involved are pivotal. Morris has remained in Iron Man, and vocalist Rob Levey founded and ran the Stoner Hands of Doom festival series, while drummer Ron Kalimon split his time with Unorthodox. Bassist Larry Brown stuck around to play on Iron Man‘s 1994 follow-up, The Passage (reissue review here), and had played in Force with Morris as well, but parted ways with the band after that, and Iron Man would go on to become a hub for players and vocalists in the tradition of Pentagram, though by no means that extreme in turnover.

Hoping for a new Iron Man release in 2016, but I haven’t heard any solid news in that regard. Now fronted by “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun with Louis Strachan on bass and Jason “Mot” Waldmann on drums, the band began playing new material live as of this summer. Hope you enjoy.

Well, The Patient Mrs. is in Portland, Oregon, for a conference until Sunday, and you know what that means: Bachelor weekend! My plans? Make chicken soup, vacuum, and if there’s time, log the recent mail in the Excel file where I keep track of everything (physical; I’m sorry, but there’s no keeping up with Bandcamp links) that comes in for review. That last item might be ambitious, but either way, it’s gonna be a fucking rager. Look out.

Next week: Radio Adds! Yes. Radio Adds. It’s going to happen. No joke, I have well over 100 albums sitting in a folder on my desktop waiting to go on the server, and next week, it’s happening. It’s been since June, and it’s getting ridiculous, so the time has come. I’ll set it all up Sunday. Also Monday I’ll be streaming the new EP from Return from the Grave that Argonauta Records is putting out, and maybe Tuesday I might (fingers crossed) have a Death Hawks track premiere. I’m loving that album. Svart does not screw around.

Speaking of streams, if you didn’t listen to it yet, that Kristian Harting album is very much worth your time. Stream it here.

If you’re the celebrating-Halloween type, be safe. Whatever your plans might be — bet they don’t have you nearly as excited as the prospect of chicken soup has me — I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Wino Wednesday: The Obsessed, “Back to Zero” from Lunar Womb

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 8th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

wino wednesday

An awful lot about Maryland doom can be explained by listening to The Obsessed‘s Lunar Womb. Not everything, obviously, but many of the early-to-mid ’90s groups began putting out albums in the wake of The Obsessed‘s reformation and subsequent to the release of their self-titled debut in 1990, whether it’s Unorthodox (first album ’92), Wretched (first album ’93), Revelation (together since the mid-’80s, first album in ’91), Iron Man (first demo ’88, album ’93) or Internal Void (same). It’s important to remember Pentagram were going at that time with the Bobby Liebling, Victor Griffin, Martin Swaney and Joe Hasselvander lineup and to note the impact that band had on the entire Doom Capitol region, but particularly for coming back after Wino‘s stint in Saint Vitus ended, The Obsessed would have some measure of influence as well, and one that continues to resonate in trad doom today.

Released in 1991, Lunar Womb moved beyond The Obsessed‘s self-titled with a sound that was darker, heavier and more forceful on the whole. Listening to it now, the production is dated — one can hear the ’90s about to happen in the drums — but the material holds up anyway, and “Back to Zero,” which begins side B of the vinyl, is one of the album’s best realized tracks. Bassist Scott Reeder takes a turn at vocals over a driving groove and for a band whose overarching vibe is so straightforward, consistent largely in mood and pace, it’s kind of an unexpected turn. That said, even the first chugs of the intro/verse riff telegraph the fact that, indeed, you’re listening to The Obsessed. The lineup of the band at this point was Wino on guitar/vocals, Reeder on bass and Greg Rogers on drums. Both Reeder and Rogers would later play in Goatsnake as well.

So far as I know, the reunited version of The Obsessed never included “Back to Zero” in a set. Or if they did, there isn’t footage of it out there. Either way, it’s something a little different from them and worth singling out on this Wino Wednesday. Hope you enjoy:

The Obsessed, “Back to Zero” from Lunar Womb (1991)

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Wino Wednesday: The Obsessed, “Touch of Everything”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 23rd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

As far as The Obsessed deep cuts go, “Touch of Everything” is probably about as deep as they get. The song appeared as track 11 of the total 13 on The Obsessed‘s final album, 1994’s The Church Within. By then, the band was comprised of guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, bassist Guy Pinhas and drummer Greg Rogers, and whatever else you can say about The Church Within, by the time it got down to its 11th track, it had pretty much played all its cards. I dig that record and all, but it’s a straightforward album across the board and there aren’t a lot of surprises as it moves into its second half. Accordingly, it’s easy for a song like “Touch of Everything” to get swallowed up by all the classic riffing and rolling grooves surrounding, which, duh, is all the more reason to single it out. Presumably the person who put together the fan video below for it had the same idea.

What “Touch of Everything” might have to do with the 1956 sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, I don’t know. That one’s a mystery. But that movie — which was the first appearance of Robby the Robot, which would later appear on tv’s Lost in Space and in numerous other films and shows and which also served as a major inspiration for the original Star Trek — is nonetheless the basis for the video, and it’s been edited so that the footage more or less lines up with the song. YouTube user “DaemonPazuzu” obviously put a lot of work into editing, so I’m not about to trash the effort just because I don’t see what one has to do with the other. Screw it, you get The Obsessed and old sci-fi. I’d hardly call that a loss.

Enjoy the song and the clip and have a great Wino Wednesday:

The Obsessed, “Touch of Everything”

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Wino Wednesday: The Obsessed, Lunar Womb in Full

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 12th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Reissued in 2006 on CD through MeteorCity and vinyl through 20 Buck Spin, the 1991 Lunar Womb sophomore outing by The Obsessed still seems underappreciated on repeat listens. It was the recorded debut of the lineup of drummer Greg Rogers, bassist Scott Reeder and guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich — then winding down his tenure with Saint Vitus following the release of V in 1990 — and indeed the only album this trio would put out. By the time The Obsessed got around to releasing the follow-up, 1994’s The Church Within, Reeder was long since departed to Kyuss and replaced by Guy Pinhas.

Reeder winds up a major contributor to Lunar Womb, whether it’s his bass coming to the fore on the later “No Mas” or his taking lead vocals on second track “Bardo” or side B’s “Back to Zero,” but the album is best taken as a whole and on that level, it’s easy to see how it became so central to the blueprint of modern traditional doom. From Wino‘s dreary riffing on the title-track to the faster rush of “Spew” and the ultra-primitive “No Blame” to the muffled heartbeat noises that cap closer “Embryo,” the completeness of Lunar Womb as both an overarching flow of songs and a collection of individual standouts isn’t to be overlooked.

It’s easy to argue the enduring appeal of Lunar Womb and its tracks is part of why The Obsessed have been able to reunite to such fanfare at fests like Roadburn and this year’s Maryland Deathfest (video posted here). With production from the band along with Mathias Schneeberger and the striking Saturn Devouring His Son (circa 1819) cover art by Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, the album taps into a timeless sphere of doom that’s perhaps even more resonant with 22 years of hindsight than it was at the time. After hosting the band’s 1990 self-titled debut a couple weeks back, it seems only fair to give some follow-up.

Here’s The Obsessed‘s Lunar Womb in its entirety. Enjoy and have a great Wino Wednesday:

The Obsessed, Lunar Womb (1991) in Full

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