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Drugs, Sex, and Sacrilege: Mother Iron Horse at Full Brunt on “The Lesser Key”

the lesser key

The stylized and deeply psychedelic realm of stoner doom’s core being is also the true original essence of heavy metal, the ominous sacrilege first introduced fifty years prior by Black Sabbath. Thus, it is no wonder that the subgenres of stoner doom and stoner metal are frustratingly oversaturated. Despite its rudimentary appeal, the only way to attain continued success in this arena is by creating material that is either extremely well polished and perfectly executed, or somehow totally novel. Against this wall of precariously stacked odds, however, up-and-coming sludge-drenched stoner outfit Mother Iron Horse has achieved both.

With a sound defined by infectiously catchy hooks, Mother Iron Horse have built themselves from the ground up, establishing their sound as potently as many of today’s most celebrated stoner bands. Hailing from Salem, Massachusetts, they are steeped in the aesthetics of occult debauchery and esoteric ritual, but with enough sleazy grit and tongue-in-cheek blasphemy to keep their material jovial and exciting. After forming in 2016, the group began to gather the wicked energy necessary for the creation of their first full-length project, a collection of nine barn-burning primordial tracks entitled The Lesser Key. Named for The Lesser Key of Solomon, an ancient grimoire written on the subject of demonology, the record stands as a tribute to the darker side of the spiritual realm, an ode to all things arcane and Luciferian. There’s a full stream for you below.

The Lesser Key wastes no time inducting the listener into Mother Iron Horse’s thick Faustian fuzz as its first track “Gehenna” wades into a low and swinging riff — strongly reminiscent of a thousand hazy basements — before an increase in tempo launches the track into a bombastic, cymbal-heavy sludge assault. This wall of instrumentals is soon joined by the spine-chilling howsl of guitarist/vocalist Adam Luca. His vocals provide an interesting contrast to the album’s largely doom and stoner-oriented motifs, as they occupy an extremely harsh aural space typically reserved for only the most nihilistic of sludge bands. At times, the intensity of his screams creates an effect that not unlike the vocals of hardcore punk or post-hardcore, with a raw emotionality not often found within this niche of metal.

The timbre and songwriting approach of The Lesser Key are split between two distinct styles: the first of these is the vile sludge heftiness of tracks such as “House of Ba’al” and “In Effigy.” Another two tracks that emulate this more extreme side to the group are “Basilisk” and “The Curse” which were also included on Mother Iron Horse’s The Curse EP (their debut 2018 release, unveiled promptly on All Hallows Eve). With a clear expansion on their initial sound, The Lesser Key’s second style is a more vintage brand of stoner riffs influenced by classic heavy metal and proto-metal bands, with songs such as “Scepter of Ice” and the title track inspiring thoughts of more melodic, epic groups such as The Sword or Witch, complete with the clean vocals and dual guitar harmonies of an era long past. The keystone in this strikingly well-rounded arch, however, is the album’s aesthetic outlier “L’Inferno,” an acoustic interlude that expands the album’s stylistic scope into unexplored realms of whimsical fantasy. Clocking in at just under three minutes, it provides a much-needed interval of respite between the ferocity that fuels the majority of the record.

Recorded, mixed, and mastered exclusively by the band’s own members at their self-built home studio, the record is satisfyingly murky yet stunningly crisp. Each sonic element is well-balanced and readily audible in the mix, with a particularly punctuated sense of clarity in the album’s vocals and percussion. In addition to their recording studio, the group’s Hellmouth Records, which records and distributes albums for local Mass metal bands (though The Lesser Key was done through Electric Valley). I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Luca about the group’s development leading up to their first full-length record. With the band’s explosion from relative obscurity having piqued my interest, I inquired about Mother Iron Horse’s creative and recording processes, their tireless DIY approach, and most importantly the deeper conceptual meanings behind The Lesser Key

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Compare the creative/recording process for The Lesser Key with The Curse EP: what went differently, if anything? Was your approach significantly altered this time around, or did you utilize the same techniques as before?

Oh man, the process was completely different this time around. Our EP was really just two songs we recorded a month or so apart. With The Lesser Key we were able to really sink our teeth into the recording process. We spent two to three weeks just totally immersed in creating this album. Recording ourselves, there were no time or money restrictions. The only focus was doing our very best at that point in time.

What are some of the big conceptual themes behind The Lesser Key? What were some of your main sources of inspiration (musical and non-musical) for the aesthetics of the record?

We started recording this album in the middle of winter. I was spending a lot of snowy nights diving into certain occult studies and practices. Some were very beneficial, some not so much. I think my experiences sort of bled their way into songs like “House Of Ba’al” and our title track “The Lesser Key.” The name of the album is certainly open to interpretation, but I’m sure those who know will get the reference.

What are the major highlights/new sounds that you explored or experimented with on this record? What sets The Lesser Key apart from and ahead of your past material?

When we put out the EP there were only one or two main songwriters. It was the very early stages of this project, and was our flag in the ground,so to speak. With The Lesser Key we were able to fire on all cylinders. Every musician stepped up and put their ideas into practice. We were able to utilize more instruments (theremin, organ etc.) and at one point on the record I’m hitting a guitar with a hollow plastic candy cane. I was also convinced by my peers to actually sing, which might not sound too scary. However in my 17 years of playing music I was always a “screamer,” so to break out of that shell was very momentous for me. I’m extremely proud of the work my musicians did on this record and I’m lucky to share the stage with them for years to come.

Tell us a bit about Hellmouth records and your own personal recording studio that you’ve been building. What has the DIY process of creating an album from scratch entailed for you, from its composition to its recording to its release/distribution?

So I started Hellmouth Records in late 2016 as an outlet to push the music of my friends and my own solo projects. In the last year we’ve grown from a one man show to three guys with the addition of our drummer/engineer Chris Kobialka and guitarist/social butterfly Marco Medina. These two have really helped Hellmouth become more than just a hobby. We started building our studio on September 1st, 2018 and were finally able to start recording by late October. The amount of time, money and work we put into this studio is truly astounding. It takes a village to do something like this and we are blessed with a lot of friends who were happy to come help lend a hand. There’s a video of the entire build on our website.

As far as the DIY aspect of the album goes, we recorded ourselves, did the artwork ourselves and printed CDs ourselves. We were approached by Electric Valley Records in January 2019 and signed with them to do our vinyl presses. So the only thing we had an outside hand on was vinyl presses by EVR and mastering which was done by Nick Z. at New Alliance. We’re very thankful for the Worldwide distribution of EVR and anything that’s ordered in the US comes straight from our office.

Where will the tour cycle for The Lesser Key be taking Mother Iron Horse? What’s on the schedule so far, and where do you hope to travel in the near future?

So our first run starts on June 7th and we’ll hit the road with our New Jersey brothers in DUTCHGUTS. We’ll be doing nine dates through the East Coast and the American South. When we get back our summer is already booked solid with festivals and appearances all over the Northeast. We’ve also begun planning for another run this fall as well as Spring 2019. This band has been given many incredible opportunities and we intend to take none of it for granted. We plan on going as far as we possibly can.

The Lesser Key releases Friday; preorders available on Bandcamp.

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