Originally written by Matt Longo
Have they lost their minds? No, clearly the fine folks over at Rise Above Records can see — and are no longer blind to — the fact that Iron Man should not be passed, and South of the Earth shows why we should all even care.
Now, one would be downright negligent to miss the direct channeling of Black Sabbath, most clearly evident in the axe chops of founding (and sole original) member Al Morris III, and also to a great degree, in the four-string fingering from Louis Strachan. Strachan has brought a welcome Butler-y bassy buoyancy to Iron Man’s 21st-century resurrection across their last five releases which, besides strongly linking them with the Brummies, makes the journey that much more musical and enjoyable.
However, I argue that the most compelling addition to the monstrous Marylanders is vocalist Dee Calhoun. Having tested his mettle on the band’s last two EPs, we now hear the man expand into the breadth of a full album — and let me tell you, brothers and sisters, the man is absolutely capable of stretching into the void. It’s largely because of him that my ears liken the band more closely to their home state brethren like Saint Vitus, Pentagram, or The Obsessed. The interesting thing about Calhoun, though, is that he exhibits a gruffer midrange than either Bobby Liebling or Wino, yet also confidently hits crazy high notes as well. Often it sounds like he’s ready to screech right off the rails, but the dude reins it in and contains the momentum he generates — daunting, but expected from lead vocals.
And while they are propelled by Calhoun, the main driving force behind Iron Man is still certainly Morris, in more ways than one. He brings the old school bluesy doom, heavily characteristic of Sabbath’s early efforts, only with markedly less jazzy swing and no super extended solos or multi-part song suites. The song durations still fall on the long side, though, coming in around a six-minute average. What this means for we who kowtow to The Riff is lots to praise, every time.
Morris’s crunching, crushing tone runs rampant behind the contemplative cerebral crutches in “Hail to the Haze”, which I admittedly thought was going to be a rather dunderheaded approach to weed worship; its questioning, open-ended message was a refreshing breath of fresh air. And I was likewise hoodwinked later, as “Half Face / Thy Brother’s Keeper (Dunwich Pt. 2)” opened up some tasty “Lord of This World” licks before it steadily found its own feet …presumably in heavy boots of lead. When treading familiar territory, sometimes a well-intentioned bait-and-switch can be just what the rock ‘n’ roll doctor ordered.
Let’s not overthink this, folks. What we have here is American-born Marylandian DOOM (in the classic sense of the term), rebirthed by one of the most reputable labels in the business, with an easily argued best lineup of the band’s quarter-century existence. Get thee behind Iron Man, or be one of the victims full of dread.