Iron Tongue: Let’s Get Miserable
There are some fans within hard rock and metal that would have you believe that emotions cheapen music. To these infants, the only worthwhile feelings that are interesting within rock music are rage at established authority or excitement at drunken debauchery; everything else is a bunch of weepy belly-aching. At times this makes sense, because let’s face it, nothing’s worse than a whiner. But there is a sweet spot, where a musician opens up and speaks of the oroboros of heartache that makes up everyday life, that is absolutely vital and wholly irreplaceable within heavy music. On their debut full-length The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown, Arkansas’s own Iron Tongue don’t just find that spot, they drive a rusty nail through it. Burly yet compassionate, gruff but honest, The Dogs… is a nuanced storm cloud of a record that just tears your fucking guts out, one song after the next.
It’s no surprise that Iron Tongue confront the assailable emotions with such vehemence; the band is fronted by C.T. of Little Rock sludge commandos Rwake, whose ugly riff-heavy doom metal is a perfect mixture of musical grossness and personal resonance. One of the most notable differences between Rwake and Iron Tongue, though, is C.T.’s delivery, which forsakes the singer’s traditional raspy mountain-howl (fuck you, you come up with a name for that chilling noise) for a cigarette-scratched holler and wail that could turn a weathered porch into a concert hall and vice versa. The album is primarily a Southern rock record, but the organ trills and soulful female back-up vocals don’t feel too injected the way they sometimes do on songs by other contemporary bands looking to touch upon these time-honored sonic traditions (Hammers of Misfortune come to mind). There is a tough elemental sorrow throughout the music, like the dregs at the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
Opener “Ever After” begins as a twanged, touching goodbye song that crescendos into a crushing wave of pity and despair. “Witchery” sways and undulates with classic rock bravado, summed up in C.T.’s rhythmic growling of the lyric, “You’re going nowhere fast, living your dream.” “Skeleton” is a driving, straight-forward modern heavy metal tune, its burst of organ and back-up vocal pressing a Sabbathian sense of earth magic into the listener’s ear. “Moon Unit” brings the rage through its hard-edged riffs and crashing pace. Next, though, comes “Lioness,” arguably the record’s peak; channeling everyone from The Doors to Sleep, this weed-enshrouded anthem has an infectious central riff surrounded by a cloud of pained vocals melodies and metallic, hip-swinging percussion. The song seems to tap into the very soul of The Dogs Have Barked… like some sort of whispered spell by a backwoods witch. “7 Days” is a Southern-fried to Hell, but more furious in its despair, while closer “Said ‘N Done” is the album’s fast track, stomping forward with an harpy’s shriek and a semi truck-sized riff.
The band Iron Tongue will surely get compared to with this and future releases is Down—their mixture of classic Southern rock and modern metal misanthropy definitely smacks strongly of NOLA’s finest. That said, there is something about The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown that feels very different from Down’s Zeppelin worship. This album doesn’t feel as though it was constructed to be a Southern rock record, but to simply express an ache that would turn excruciating if not spilled onto the Earth. The nerve that Iron Tongue touches here is one covered in chipped paint and backwash, a modern American ideal gone horribly wrong that vibrates deep in the hearts of those brave enough to feel it.