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Live Review: Iron Kingdom + Built from Chaos @ The Tusk, Philadelphia (Photos)

Iron Kingdom. Photo credit: Tashina Byrd
Iron Kingdom. Photo credit: Tashina Byrd

Built from Chaos lived up to their name with a set that seemed to teeter on and off the ledge due to technical difficulties and likely a lack of seasoning. The local foursome had more dead air than a college radio deejay, but made up for it with enthusiasm.

The band calls themselves melodic death metal, but vocalist Julian Yeager rarely evinced a convincing growl. He spent more time scowling or actually singing. As a result the band came off more like groove metal, with occasional flourishes of musicianship. At times it sounded disjointed, like all four members bring slightly different influences and they try to find a happy medium. When it works, such as on the bass-chugging metalcore “Voices,” it shows promise, which is all you can hope for.

Iron Kingdom knows battles of all kinds: figurative ones they triumphantly recount in their lyrics as well as literal ones that come about from self-releasing four albums over eight years and doing shoestring DIY tours throughout North America. This lead to weekday shows supporting local bands that play alongside inflatable sharks in the corners of upstairs bars like The Tusk.

There was no stage and they brought their own lights (which frankly were better than in some venues that actually have a stage), and they absolutely killed it.

Iron Kingdom is all iron and not a drop of irony, a true throwback to the exact moment when North American bands started to emulate Iron Maiden and Saxon but before the nexus of thrash. This shines through in a presentation that draws so perfectly on trad-metal trappings it’s like someone popped open a time capsule from 1981 and they stumbled out.

Bassist Leighton Holmes thrust his axe into the air more often than he held it. Megan Merrick and Chris Osterman traded off guitar solos with such a vintage flair they really should note in the lyrics who did ’em like just like Tipton and Downing on those perfect Priest records. Chris Sonea did an actual arena-metal drum solo to boot. And each of them hammed it up, mugging for camera phones, truly embodying what metal used to be when metalheads filled muscle cars with feathered roach clips and feathered hair and they mugged for actual cameras.

Being a supporter of the arts, I picked up the band’s catalogue at the show and it was apparent that it took a while for them to reach this point (maybe the new addition of Merrick was the catalyst — she really seems to bring the best out of Osterman — though more likely it took a while for him to really learn how to use that great voice). Their latest release On the Hunt may be the sleeper trad metal album of the year. Fortunately, the band played most of it.

It’s been a long time since metal galloped. It’s been almost as long since a frontman like Osterman came around. There’s an obvious Biff Byford comparison to be made, though on the likes of “White Wolf” and “Road Warriors” you hear the range of a young Axl Rose, if he had an appetite for a different kind of destruction.

It’s actually a good time to harken back to the good times; there are a few other bands riding the revival. Haunt seems the brightest light, Cauldron add rockin’ with Dokken to their NWOBHM brew, Eternal Champion and Sanhedrin make it pretty easy to ditch Dio holograms for flesh and blood. They all admirably take it to ten, but Iron Kingdom goes all the way to 11.

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