|by Francesco Ferorelli|
Everyone loves an underdog. In metal, rooting for underappreciated (or perceived to be) bands is practically doctrine. Baltimore’s Iron Man are a band worth championing. They formed in the late-’80s as a Black Sabbath tribute band by guitarist and only constant member “Iron” Al Morris III. Billed as “blacker than Black Sabbath?” because the band contained multiple black musicians, they soon started writing Sabbath-style originals.
Landing a deal with Hellhound Records, Iron Man released three records throughout the ’90s, none of which had the same lineup. Ill-fated tours, festival gig cancellations, lineup problems, and other misfortunes have kept Iron Man well below the radar for over 20 years. One could probably do an Anvil-style documentary on Iron Man detailing the tribulations that befall talented aging bands playing terminally unhip classic metal. I lived in Baltimore for a bit and never heard a peep about Iron Man. My fault, perhaps, but either way Charm City’s proverbial graveyards are full of great bands that without bad luck wouldn’t have had any luck at all.
Iron Man’s first record in 10 years, appropriately titled I Have Returned (Shadow Kingdom, 2009), sounds triumphant. Thick, luxurious production presents songs clearly and powerfully. The walloping rhythm section swings effortlessly between propulsive classic rock and swaggering classic doom. Vocalist Joe Donnelly capably straddles the sonic line between Ozzy and Wino. Morris’ groovy guitar work and songwriting chops kept this dream alive for so long, but at no point does I Have Returned feel like “the Morris show.” This is a true band record where every instrument excels in its role without overstepping it.
You should probably know by now if you’re interested in this record. The band is, after all, named for Sabbath’s best-known song. Novelty is not on the menu. This is metal-is-as-metal-does purist stuff. No tight jeans and vintage high tops, no hot chick singers, no indie appeal, and no compromise. Bands like Iron Man shouldn’t be mislabeled “retro.” They’re more like valuable relics and deserve the same respect.