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Monday, May 13, 2013

Album Review: Iron Tongue – The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown

The origins of heavy metal are consistently fought over by rival factions, but one irrefutable fact that stands out from the bickering, regardless of whether you stand in the Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Cream camps, is that without blues music, metal probably would never even have made it that far. This is an interesting counterpoint to consider when rolling Iron Tongue‘s debut album around your skull for the first time.


With its heart in blues and its soul in metal, this cathartic crusher, hammered out by a mélange of Arkansas veteran musicians, pays due deference to its forbears. Initially, the music bears a strong resemblance to the recent batch of Townes Van Zandt covers, perpetrated by doom Illuminati Steve Von Till, Wino and Scott Kelly. Brief bursts of it emerge as Iron Tongue roughly feed their country affectations and hefty, blues-tinged rock through the chomping maw of old school doom metal in much the same manner. However, there is no getting away from where much of this album’s running time is spent; playing between the twin forces of St. Vitus and The Allman Brothers Band.

As an addendum to this, it is worth noting that leading the line here is Rwake‘s vocalist Chris “C.T.” Terry. Although The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown oozes with a far more laid-back, almost-jammed approach to songwriting, it still comes as no great surprise to discover that there are also strong hints of the Little Rock sludge-flingers’ Southern drawl, twang and propensity for experimentation coursing through this.

Kicking us off, the soft-hearted, warm and gently twinkling ‘Ever After’ sucks up a Cream-esque vibe and neatly introduces us to the juxtaposition between Stephanie Smittle’s crystalline high-pitched backing and CT’s cracked, gnarly growl. Step forward a notch into ‘Skeleton’ and you’ll find yourself cornered by controlled, insistent chord rotations. Intense disillusionment and anger begin to flood through in the lyrics, fed by the steady pounding of skins and dense bass thunder. Sneaky Hammond organ rushes leak into the kind of bleak, glacial riffery employed by Dave Chandler (only without the cone-splitting distortion) as we drink in echoes of his first-love, St. Vitus. To finish, Smittle’s emotive bullet-points ram home the power of the wordplay as the valve amps creak and cry for mercy.

For those in search of walking riffs and a spot of bluesy swagger, head over to ‘Lioness’ and ’7 Days’. The former offers jinking boy-girl vocals, fuzzed-up bass and a tune-in, drop-out, throbbing four-chord trick, as Iron Tongue menacingly wrap you around their collective finger. The latter is all whining leads, sweet drops into half-time, more background Hammond and a croaky, lived-in vocal that winds itself up into a tuneless howl.

Realistically, for a seven-tracker to really shock and awe, you do need to be able to dig through all the songs and hit gold and that isn’t the case here. Some less-hardy souls might find things a little repetitive, and a couple of tracks, despite their reasonable running times, fail to keep producing and, consequently, do stretch the limitations of patience. Sadly, closer, ‘Said n’ Done’, by conjuring up the Blue Cheer proto-metal spirit – a matter of dispensing with the formalities with a simple grip and rip – suffers most of all. It stomps about, before it petulantly sinks down to a lethargic plod, where it revels in its own soul-sucking wedge of sludgy dissonance like a sullen brat. Thankfully there’s album highlight, ‘Moon Unit’, surely a reference to Frank Zappa‘s wackily-named first-born, there to save the day and act as a Sabbathian counterbalance, and it does hit like a brick between the eyes. Making plenty of room in the music, it sticks CT front and center. From this position of dominance, his vocal shifts from frazzled to fragmenting as he sets about bellowing out this trip of a track like his very soul depends on it.

Neurosis’ Steve Von Till has been moved to refer to this release as one containing “a power and an edge and soul that rarely exists in music today”. Now there’s a man who knows his onions and there is no arguing with that as the perfect one-line analysis for this beasty. As the viscious lyric from ‘Moon Unit’ warns – “The lights are out, engine is running and I have got you in my sights”. CT and, indeed, Iron Tongue have got metal history to back them up here, so take note.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy = http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/2013/05/10/iron-tongue-the-dogs-have-barked-the-birds-have-flown/
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