[2 May 2007]
Cataloging the highlights of Baltimore’s Doom or Be Doomed Festival would be a book-length—or at least magazine-length—project. Scattered across three days of doom metal and variations thereof were reunions by the Blood Farmers, Revelation, Penance, and Wretched, along with Maryland doom pioneers Asylum. An incredible performance by Unorthodox made their upcoming comeback album all the more anticipated. Plus, there were worthy showings by newer bands like Earthride, Valkyrie, Orodruin, and Ogre. And that’s but a short list of the highlights. Of course, if there was one performance that was really transcendent, it was that of Maryland’s Iron Man.
In the seven years since Iron Man last took the stage, their cult reputation has only grown. Not only have their long out-of-print first two albums—1992’s Black Night and 1994’s The Passage—been trading for large sums on eBay, but they were also the subject of a lengthy article in the Washington City Paper.
Now, before a sellout crowd of 150 in the cavernous environs of the Sidebar Tavern, which rests uptown from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and right on the edge of the red-light district, they have returned. Or should I say “he”—as in guitarist Alfred Morris III, the driving force and sole constant in Iron Man since their formation in the late ’80s. Moving from a Black Sabbath tribute into a full-borne, all-originals act, Morris spent years attempting to duplicate Tony Iommi’s tone before arriving at his own distinct, Iommi-indebted tone.
But as any fan will tell you, it’s more than just the Sabbath sound: it’s the feel. Many bands—thousands, in fact—have emulated Sabbath, but only a few have duplicated the feel, the mystery, aura, depth, and, yes, overall heaviness that underlies every song by the band’s classic lineup. Iron Man is one of the few.
Perhaps that’s why one fan has come all the way from Chicago specifically to see them, and also why the audience is frantically crowding in front of the stage in hopes of catching a glimpse of the reborn Iron Man. With the Sidebar’s red-tiled ceiling above them and parquet floor beneath (not to mention a doom-metal-appropriate blustery day outside), the fans begin to chant “Iron Man” with rabid enthusiasm as Morris and band hook up their gear.
Maybe it’s just the anticipation after a seven-year wait, but Iron Man’s stage presence is simply awe-inspiring. At stage left is Morris, a bearded black man who stands 6’3”, playing his maroon Gibson SG through the coolest set of vintage pedals (Electric Mistress, Uni-Fuzz, etc.) never to appear in a Tarantino movie. At stage right is bassist Louis Strachan, also standing tall, sporting his ultra-cool, mirror-fret-board black Fender bass, and oversized cross necklace. Crosses also adorn the neck of new vocalist and Ozzy lookalike Joe Donnelly, best known for his membership in renowned Sabbath tribute band Sabbra Cadabra. And behind them is drummer Dex Dexter, who, years ago, played with doom veteran Strachan in Creepshow and whose role is to match the intensity in front of him. He will succeed.
Crazed fans may be giving Iron Man a few jitters as they kick off with the classic opener from 1999’s Generation Void, “On the Mountain” (with a brief intro of Sabbath’s “Time Machine”), but the cobwebs quickly blow off. With Morris standing stalwart and cranking out the fuzz, and the chemistry of old mates Strachan and Dexter readily apparent, the Irons lay down the heavy groove with a killer new original called “Burn the Sky,” “Time of Indecision” from the second album, the title track from the first, and yet another great new one, “Run to the Light.” They then fulfill their promise of a Sabbath cover, unleashing “Cornucopia” from Black Sabbath Vol. 4 with a knowing mastery that would make even Iommi proud.
As the audience does the obligatory slow head banging and fist shaking, Donnelly balances a beer bottle on his head, encourages alcohol consumption, heaps praise on his new mates, and dedicates the set to former Iron Man bassist Larry Brown, who has recently suffered a heart attack and stroke. Donnelly’s throat powers the last two songs of the set, “Generation Void” and “As the Gods Have Spoken,” the latter of which Donnelly lists as the song he wanted to do the most.
It is not, however, the last song that the crowd wants. In a festival that will go down as one of the most efficient and punctual in history (not one of the 25 performers started late), Iron Man wraps up with the 8 o’clock hour about to ring in, unplugging, wiping away the sweat from a job well-done, and exiting stage right. But not in this house, not with an audience screaming and cheering so loud it drowns out the intermission music. After a short conference onstage, the band performs an impromptu cover of “Paranoid” that fans the flames and gives hope that, this time, Iron Man is here to stay.