You can’t hate life, love, liberty, your neighbour, yourself or pretty much anything else for that matter as intensely and thoroughly as Iron Monkey does. Or at least as much as they purport to. Something has brought them back from an 18 year hiatus/abyss, but they’re too busy rambling on about how nihilistic they are to inform us as to why.
That’s OK. The band was one that never got its due respect or acknowledgement for contributions to, and influence on, the wall of noise/doom sludge metal sound until long after the tragedy of original vocalist Johnny Morrow passing away at the hands of heart failure and subsequent disbanding. This, despite the fact that they’d probably just tell you they lifted all their best stuff from Eyehategod, Buzzov-en, Acid Bath and Grief.
The trick in creating effective music of this sort doesn’t necessarily have to do with technical exceptionalism – though the ability of one’s drummer to stay in time and hold a groove will pay dividends – as much as it does finding filth, pain and agony and transposing them. Most anybody in the western world who’s ever picked up an instrument knows something about playing a 4/4, bluesy shuffle, whether via instruction or stumbling across how to do it on one’s own. The trick is taking that and somehow making it worth listening to… Iron Monkey does so via hateful context, emotional discharge and self-loathing. And as much as the cards are stacked against this reunion, with a posthumous subgenre classic in the form of Our Problem staring at them in the mirror, I’m going to pull an Iron Monkey myself and piss off most of you (primarily, the old-school and traditionalists) by proclaiming 9-13 a successor that surpasses its predecessor.
In comparing 9-13 to 1998’s Our Problem and their 1997 self-titled debut – because that’s naturally what’s going to happen when a band makes a return to active duty – there’s an undoubted similarity in the way tar thick tri-tones are used and abused and how that Sabbath-ian doom shuffle is maimed and mangled. Overall, however, 9-13 is played at a faster tempo; in spots, it almost ventures into hardcore territory, or at least towards Eyehategod-live-in-the-late-90s tempos. The band sounds rejuvenated and re-energized, like all that bubbling hate, misanthropy and self-abuse was mainlined into original members Steve Watson (bass, formerly guitar) and Jim Rushby (guitarist and present vocalist via I.V. and/or hate enema.
The destructive duo is joined by current Chaos U.K. drummer, Scott “Brigga” Briggs, which goes a ways in accounting for the punkier feel to the rhythms and the rapid tempos of tracks like “Destroyer” and “Toadcrucifer” as well as the peppier feel of “OmegaMangler” which has power chords jumping over all sectors of the fretboard in creating more rapid musical motion. Then, there’s “Mortarhex” which is probably the fastest song of the Iron Monkey canon. As well, I much prefer Rushby’s beefier howl than the higher pitched scraping of the late Morrow. In Rushby, all the cantankerous animosity is present, just delivered in a different timbre and nudged along by what sounds like the ‘broken phone’ distortion effect.
There’s not a lot of deep thought that goes into this: plug in, get a sound thicker, fatter and sloppier than your ex-wife, pay no mind to feedback and let ‘er rip. Sure, folks will have you believe that a record like 9-13 can only be made with its creators’ suffering from collapsed veins while suffering through bouts of homelessness and painfully bloated livers. On the other side of that coin, I’ve found that everyone (outside of the most prolific of serial killers) tempers their negativity with inversely proportional amounts of some form of good.
Whether 9-13 is that positive result – albeit one sounding like a hate wagon bearing down on a daycare center – or that Rushby and Watson are actually true English gentlemen when all the noise and distortion is stripped away who will offer you tea and biscuits were you to turn up at their flat one afternoon, who knows? What I do know is that for the first time ever, I’ve spun an Iron Monkey album more than once without feeling like I was being dragged through a boring pile of muck.