Posted in Whathaveyou on January 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Why would they take a new lineup picture if they weren’t?
I’ve heard Iron Monkey quoted as one of the UK’s least likely reunions. Between former drummer Justin Greaves moving on to a host of outfits including Crippled Black Phoenix and the June 2002 death of vocalist Johnny Morrow, one had to agree the prospects weren’t great. And while I don’t have confirmation of anything in the works in terms of recordings, new material, shows, fest appearances or anything more to go on than a new photo of guitarists Jim Rushby and Steve Watson and drummer Brigga below and the concise first post they put up on a new, seemingly-official Thee Facebooks page, again, it brings back the question above: Why would they bother even going that far if they weren’t reactivating on some level?
Hard to estimate the impact of Iron Monkey‘s two studio full-lengths — 1996’s Iron Monkey and 1998’s Our Problem (box set review here) — because, quite frankly, that impact is still spreading. Their foundation in hardcore echoed US bands like Buzzov*en and Eyehategod to an extent, but in a pre-social media era, Iron Monkey formed in 1994 and immediately set about conveying a rawness all their own. That would lead to their being picked up by Earache Records after a first issue of their self-titled debut in ’97 — the label put it out again in ’97 — and Our Problem behind it, and while that pair, a 1999 split with Church of Misery and 2002’s Ruined by Idiots live compilation would comprise their total discography (to-date), an entire generation of acts has continued to walk the path that Iron Monkey helped forge.
So what’ll it be? Festival appearances seem most likely, but I wouldn’t speculate as to what and when. Needless to say, nailing down an Iron Monkey reunion is a coup for anyone who’s managed to do it, and until we know more about what’s to come, the only thing to do is keep watch for info as it arrives.
Interested to know as well what Earache has to say about it. For now, this is what we have to go on:
[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Watch it Grow’ from Church of the Cosmic Skull’s Is Satan Real?, out Sept. 16 on Bilocation Records.]
I don’t know how many people it takes to constitute a “church” by UK standards, but Nottingham’s Church of the Cosmic Skull most likely hit that standard. The newcomer band brings together seven players from different groups — guitarist/lead vocalist Bill Fisher was in Mammothwing, others come from Pilgrim Fathers, Hellset Orchestra, Iron Swan, Polymath, Club AC30, and so on — and together they take the band beyond clear aesthetic vision into a near-conceptual level of execution. That is, their mission is so firmly in their grasp, their control held so definitively throughout the seven songs/38 minutes of their Bilocation Records debut, Is Satan Real?, that it becomes easy to imagine the band took shape as an idea before anyone actually came on board.
Fisher is joined by vocalists Caroline Cawley and Jo Joyce, electric cellist/vocalist Amy Nicholson, bassist/vocalist Sam Lloyd, Hammond organist/vocalist Michael Wetherburn and drummer Loz Stone, and as one might expect, the album makes its primary impression in lush sounds. Deeply indebted to classic prog rock, it is immediately distinguished by its multi-part vocal harmonies and overall melodic flourish, working with an unabashed poppiness that some will no doubt attribute to Ghost, especially with the underlying Satanic theme of the title, but Church of the Cosmic Skull‘s heavy psychedelic clarity almost can’t help but be distinct, from the opening bounce of “Mountain Heart” through nine-minute progstravaganza closer “Evil in Your Eye.”
And if you’re thinking this might just be another British band with a cumbersome or otherwise silly name, I’d say each work in Church of the Cosmic Skull‘s moniker earns its place. “Cosmic” for the swirling psychedelic aspects of a cut like “Movements in the Sky,” “skull” for the darker aspects in “Black Slug,” minimalist centerpiece “Answers in Your Soul” and the almost Opethian prog (or, more likely, Magma) of the title-track, and “church” for the sense of reverence that emerges from the lush arrangements of vocals, keys and/or cello throughout “Mountain Heart,” album highlight “Watch it Grow” and the aforementioned closer, for how crisp the songs sound and how each manages to establish its own personality while also adding to the overall breadth of the whole work. Is Satan Real?, as a title, also evokes late-’60s cult interest, like Anton Lavey on the cover of Look magazine.
This all feeds into a comprehensive aesthetic ideal to which the band ascribes, “Mountain Heart” and “Black Slug” setting up a play back and forth between lighter and darker sounds while maintaining a steady thread through them of complexity and textured prog rock, the rolling riff of “Black Slug” coming about as close as they ever do to a doomed vibe. That threat does a lot of work in the subsequent tracks, as “Movements in the Sky” picks up with quiet guitar and organ and brings an underlying chug to a brief but effective three-and-a-half-minute linear build, the vibe has clearly switched back toward brighter fare, but the context has shifted, expanded, and that’s something Church of the Cosmic Skull continue to toy with as the album proceeds forward. After the lustrous finish of “Movements in the Sky,” “Answers in Your Soul” picks up with subdued acoustic guitar and Fisher‘s voice alone — a stark contrast to the rest of the record before and after, but obviously intended to be just that. The relative minimalism and still-on-point melody only further highlight just how broad the spectrum at play in Church of the Cosmic Skull‘s sound can be and can continue to become.
I suppose their potential going forward is a major appeal of this first outing, and for a first outing, that’s fair — it’s easy to be excited about a band starting what seems like it could be a fruitful creative progression — however, in the case of Is Satan Real?, that excitement shouldn’t be taken as a knock on the current accomplishment. As “Is Satan Real” serpentines through a winding prog structure, largely instrumental for the first three-plus of its total four minutes save for some whispers, then dives at 3:31 into organ-laced gospel verse, the sense of realization the band brings to their work already is palpable, and in its engagement and confidence, their material soars when it wants to soar, broods when it wants to brood, and in “Watch it Grow,” kind of engages all sides with a max-efficiency hook, gorgeous arrangement, heavy thud and fluid build. With a foundation of bass and drums, the band construct a landmark chorus and continue to add depth to it as they move forward, dedicating the second half of the song to pure revelry that provides an absolute standout moment leading into “Evil in Your Eye,” which answers back with the most complex structure on hand, keys emphasizing urgency early but the vocal chorus taking hold with next to no backing before the push resumes.
Near the halfway point, they shift into a more subdued psychedelic jam and loosen some of the structural reins for what feels like genuine exploration. Naturally, they bring it back to the chorus for a final build before they’re done, but it’s a welcome moment of play and speaks to the possibility of structural changes being as fluid as mood and vibe are all across the record. A quiet hidden track finds Fisher accompanied by piano — perhaps in answer to “Answers in Your Soul” — and once more underscores just how wide open Church of the Cosmic Skull have thrown the doors with this debut full-length. The fact that their range comes with a corresponding cohesion of sound and purpose makes Is Satan Real? even more impressive. Its shining moments blind and its darker moments pull downward, but it’s in being able to pull off both and craft such seamlessness between the two sides that the band truly begin to make their mark.
One could look at any number of sludge or sludge metal acts coming out of the UK these days and point to the continued impact of the relatively short tenure of Nottingham’s Iron Monkey. The dual-guitar deconstructionists issued two full-lengths in their time — 1997’s Iron Monkey and 1998’s Our Problem — through Earache and hooked up with Frank Kozik‘s Man’s Ruin Records for the We’ve Learned Nothing EP, also released as a split with Church of Misery in 1999. They split up that same year, and in 2002, the live album Ruined by Idiots: Live and Unleashed surfaced, compiling material from shows between 1995 and 1999 in memory of vocalist Johnny Morrow, who died of heart failure in June 2002. By the time they were done, they’d traded out both guitarists who appear on the self-titled, Jim Rushby and Steven Watson (Ravens Creed) for Dean Berry (ex-Capricorns) and Stuart O’Hara (ex-Acrimony, now Sigiriya), which left Morrow, bassist Doug Dalziel and drummer Justin Greaves as founding members. Dalziel would go on to play in The Dukes of Nothing with Berry and O’Hara, while Greaves did time in Electric Wizard and Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine, among others, before founding Crippled Black Phoenix, with whom he remains to this day.
But if Iron Monkey‘s legacy has tentacled its way into a sort of varied pedigree, the music on the self-titled is almost entirely more singular in its purpose. Topped with Morrow‘s uniform throat-ripping rasp, it is a more active, upbeat thrust than, say Grief‘s Come to Grief, released a few years earlier in 1994, but similar in its attitude and consuming fuckall. From the crawling “Fink Dial” through the chaos-minded mega-chug of “666 Pack” — just in case you doubted a punker lineage — Iron Monkey remain as crusty as Bongzilla but uniformly pissed off. Their tones were thicker and their approach more refined than Buzzov*en — for whom being stripped down meant peeling flesh from bone — but they were perhaps even more vicious. You felt every single second of the self-titled. It’s still not an easy record to get through. It remains more geared toward destruction than a good time.
And disaffection. Woof. “Web of Piss.” “Big Loader.” The lurching “Shrimp Fist.” These songs would be anthems if everyone who ever said “fuck it” to life had any interest in picking a rallying cry. The above version of Iron Monkey includes a bonus track cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Cornucopia” from Earache‘s 1997 Masters of Misery tribute CD, which also included the likes of Sleep, Godflesh and Cathedral — it’s a good one if you can find it. There have been a few reissues of the album over the years, 1999, 2012 on vinyl, a 2009 boxed set with Our Problem (review here), etc., so it’s not exactly a lost classic, but at the same time, the better part of two decades later, it still feels like Iron Monkey are underappreciated for just how furious they actually were.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
Not exactly disingenuous, but in some ways I feel like closing out the week with Iron Monkey is at very least in opposition to my current mood. I’ll spare you the effusiveness and just break it down to a list of thanks:
THANK YOU to those who’ve placed the 30-plus orders for The Obelisk merch, hoodies and t-shirts. That response is more than I could’ve dreamed of. It’s on sale till next Friday, so if you want to get in on it, please do so.
THANK YOU to everyone who’s as psyched as I am for the Obelisk All-Dayer next August at the Saint Vitus Bar. I’ve got one open slot left in the lineup and will start making announcements early next year.
THANK YOU to everybody who has shared a link, left a comment, retweeted, etc., the lists and other posts this week. It’s been hugely appreciated.
THANK YOU to The Patient Mrs. for continuing to take care of me as my ankle heals up.
It’s been a wild week and I feel like this is really just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re reading this, thank you.
Next week, maybe we start off with the year-end podcast? Seems reasonable, right? Maybe I’ll shoot for putting that together on Sunday. I’m going to try to get a writeup done for the Borracho/Geezer split, which I’m sure is long-since sold out by now, and I have a stack of tapes that I’d love to get through before the month ends. Working on it. Also look out for the Top 20 Debuts of 2016 and if I have time, a revisit of that massive 2015 Most Anticipated List that went up in January.
Gonna start on the Quarterly Review as well, because it occurs to me that the weekend before it starts –when I would be writing it — is Xmas. Whoops. Maybe we’ll push that one back to the start of next month? We’ll see how it goes.
Again, thank you all so much for the support, for reading and hopefully digging what goes on in this space. Please have a great and safe weekend, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 13th, 2013 by JJ Koczan
As far as I’m concerned, this one gets a twofold fucking a: It exists and you can hear it now. Disgruntled sludgers Bismuth and drone-minded nightmare-conjurers Undersmile have partnered, each with a vinyl side of their own brand of sonic madness. Put some Tony Roberts art on it, press it to tape and LP, and you’re good to go. Tartarus Records has the beast available for preorder and that’s great, but what’s even better is being able to listen to its low end drag before you make your purchase.
This is the first I’m hearing of Bismuth and it’s pretty clear from “Collapse” that I need to go back and check out their 2012 Eternal Marshesdemo. For Undersmile, they follow-up the split with their acoustic alter ego, Coma Wall, with a 23-minute behemoth of a track as tonally huge as it is melodically disturbed. It’s not easy listening, but I dig the challenge.
Preorder link, Tony Roberts artwork and the standard Bandcamp player follow, hot off of the PR wire:
TAR023 Bismuth / Undersmile split
Amp worship meets agonizing doom. Finally a split release between two of UK’s heavyweights in female fronted doom and sludge. Bismuth from Nottingham offer Collapse, a worthy follow-up to the Eternal Marshes demo tape, released last year. More bleak drone landscapes and torturous vocals by Tanya. Undersmile from Witney chose for an atmospheric approach on their side of the split and came up with Titanaboa; a dark, nightmarish beast of a track. Truly their best offering so far. The artwork was made by the amazing Tony Roberts, which fits perfectly with both bands.
FFO: Khanate, Corrupted, Bell Witch, Ensorcelor.
The LP is a co-release between Graanrepubliek Records, Tartarus Records and At War With False Noise
Burly-as-fuck British foursome Peacemaker announce their coming with the song “The Siberian Problem.” The track is taken from their already-recorded debut and in just over four minutes, manages to give a pretty solid idea of what they’re all about, which seems to be stomping your ass with a foot made out of sludge-riffed metal. Some might recognize vocalist Al Osta from his role as the post-Ben Ward frontman of Ravens Creed, and backed here by gang shouts of “blood, and, soil!” he’s in solid and throaty form, if a little high in the mix.
Nonetheless, being someone who considers himself as having roots more in extreme metal than not, I was stoked to see Peacemaker shares a similar experience, culling together Sam Taylor and Rich Maw of the death metal outfit Infliction with Osta and bassist Al Lawson, both of Satanic Fatwa. “The Siberian Problem” is doomed by definition and by design, but there’s an intensity behind its groove that one could probably trace back to deathly dealings if one had time before the punch of the song landed. Which one doesn’t. Why do I keep saying “one?”
Whatever. Thanks to Peacemaker for getting in touch and sharing their issues with the Russian wilderness. If you want to check them out, do so at their Bandcamp or their Thee Facebooks, and feel free to stream “The Siberian Problem” below, courtesy of the former: