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Iron Heel : Book of Grief

Iron Heel greasy, fuzzy Doom is played "all about the riff" style.

Sludgy Trad/Stoner Doom: it's not really a place you go to in search of surprises. Rather, it's somewhere you go to spend some time with the comfortable, long-established familiarity of downtuned riffs being cranked out at maximum volume and minimal pace. So, not much of a shock to discover that the most unusual facet of Iron Heel's music is that it's made by Austrians, perhaps the most under-represented nationality in the history of Doom. The least unusual is that 'Book Of Grief' has some haunting senses of familiarity about it; not because it's plagiaristic, but because it's based on principles laid down so long ago they're getting on for pensionable age.

For all that, this debut - following on from an EP in 2011 - leaves itself a certain room for manoeuvre, mixing up the old and the new as if to prove that style is a constant, however ephemeral fashion may be. Like a classic denim jacket: the back-patch may be new, but it looks authentic and it's being worn with pride. Or, in musical terms, laying down some defiantly swaggering, fuzzed-out, heavy grooves in true "it's all about the riff" style. No, it doesn't come close to being mistaken for retro 70s-era homage - there are clear post-NWOBHM influences in the solo guitarwork and the hefty doses of distortion and texture are from distinctly later Stoner/Sludge templates - but its heart's certainly come from the same place. And there might be a reasonable suspicion that some of the riffing could have been directly inspired by learning to play 'Iron Man', way back whenever.

Principally, though, the combination of clean vocals and unrelentingly saturated, buzzingly-distorted instruments is some way removed from Black Sabbath, by way of the school of Electric Wizard, et al. The baseline sound is an ultra-heavy, mid-tempo weave of background percussion and riff with guitar leads and vocals making an effort to stamp their authority over the top.

All perfectly respectable so far: not enormously ground-breaking, but delivered with a dedication to making an awful lot of noise via a bassy, slightly swampy mix whose sole concession to gimmickry is the occasional single-channel guitar moment. The songs are quite martial in origin, in a mystical great-struggles-of-sword-and-sorcery way. And that lines up beautifully with the opportunity for a mythological pun: there is something of a Talos' Heel involved - Talos being a bronze (sadly not iron, as that would have been perfect) giant who suffered a similar foot-related fate to Achilles - as far as the vocals are concerned. They have conviction and forcefulness; unfortunately, they also have a slightly odd intonation and a tendency to sound laboured on higher or sustained phrases. This is particularly noticeable when combined with sections where the same lyric is repeated rather too many times for comfort - the refrain of the track 'Sleepwalker' being the worst offender.

If that's not the sort of thing that bothers you - and, let's face it, somewhat histrionic vocals are hardly unknown in Trad-based strands of Doom - then the enthusiastic combination of modern equipment and classic attitude steams along with zest, purpose and all the subtlety of a sustained artillery barrage. The two standout tracks show some small willingness to break that pattern: 'Mountain Throne' is all the better for an atypical central Post-Rock-ish section, and closer 'Séance' starts out with an excitingly pacy Heavy Metal gallop and hoarse growls. Other than that, there isn't a great deal to differentiate between the pieces on offer, which are good enough to have Iron Heel shouldering themselves firmly into their chosen niche. It remains to be seen whether there is any great ambition to go further than that.

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Reviewer's rating: 6.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Book Of Grief
2. Mountain Throne
3. Sleepwalker
4. Sokushinbutsu
5. Séance

Duration : Approx. 41 minutes

Visit the Iron Heel bandpage.

Reviewed on 2014-03-12 by Mike Liassides
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