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Surviving the passing of trends, members and generations, Iron Man bear resemblance to Robert Downey Jr's Hollywood character but it is naturally the classic Sabbath track this old-school fourpiece are really related to. A listen to "South of the Earth" could easily lead the uninitiated into lumping these guys amongst recent hyped retro acts Orchid and the like but in this respect Iron Man are the real deal, now on album no. 5 having existed since the halcyon days of 1988. The sheer dedication of guitarist Al Morris III and co certainly cannot be questioned but how about their musical output nowadays? I am only previously acquainted with 1999's excellent "Generation Void", a record which in comparison to "South of the Earth" revelled in a much bassier tone more closely resembling early Sabbath material. It also possessed a vocalist in Dan Michalak who operates in a smaller range than today's Dee Calhoun but whom I feel works better with the pumping doom tone of Iron Man. Otherwise the tonality of "South of the Earth" is markedly fatter and brighter - think of the band changing from an old Count Raven sound circa 1999 to a new Candlemass one today - a testament to the greater production techniques of the modern era and an extra decade's worth of experience under their collective belts.
The album's title track gets things going with a heavy, crashing Down-esque riff before engaging in a standard structure of verses, bridges and chorusses. It marks a confident start to the album and when it breaks mid-way through with a dissonant stoner passage and flashing solo I find it remarkably easy to get on board with the band's tempo, happily ignoring that the compositions never really match the peak of the bands I am here referencing Iron Man alongside. Through "Hail to the Haze", which works off a singalong 'wooahhh ooohh aaahhh' (I think that's how you spelt it) to compliment its fun, bouncy progression and numeros subsequent listens the sense of satisfaction reigns throughout its 52 minutes but herein lies my biggest gripe - "South of the Earth" sounds so much like an experienced band content with their place in the world that they do not take feel the need to take any chances in their songwriting. Rather like Black Sabbath's "13", both musical epitomes of the idiom 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks', they rock hard but without the panache of a more modern practioners like Moonless.
Considering this major down-scaler "South of the Earth" still provides much pleasure. "The Worst and Longest Day" unleashes a volley of psychedelic soloing in between a riff as heavy as "Symptom of the Universe". "IISOEO (The Day of the Beast)" rages and punches lead by a beautifully audible bass sound, relegating Morris' layered guitars to a background rhythm instrument at times. "Half-Face/Thy Brother's Keeper" opens with Eastern chords before delivering a riff so classic doom I imagine it's first word spoken was 'Iommi'. The slow introduction to "In the Velvet Darkness" loses some of this goodwill before seeing Calhoun really let loose, an asset I would like to have heard more upto this point. "The Ballad of Ray Garraty" closes in a more penitent mood but a deeper tone to the guitar which leads for the majority of the track would have been much more engaging. Ultimately "South of the Earth" is one of those releases that is both eminently good yet lost among many others of similar ilk. As a band redolent of the underground spirit Iron Man are a fine example but it is that level of comfort that will not see them break free of it on this outing.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net