The birth of post-hardcore and grunge marked an era where musical artistic integrity and the sensibilities of the mainstream were in direct alignment. This short period culminated in the early 90s with such pivotal releases as Helmet’s ‘Meantime’ and Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ (to name a few); whether that says more for the musicianship or the sentiment of the general public is left to be determined. Nevertheless, a craving for the ‘underground’ alternative rock scene could not be denied. The aforementioned bands, among others, tapped into an accessible sound that appealed to the darker nature in all of us. Germany’s Iron Walrus, while fundamentally a sludge/doom act, maintain a direct line to the early 90s post-hardcore template. The result is a pleasing mix of brooding, crushing heaviness and pop appeal, giving hope (for those desperate souls who want it) that the early 90s ‘era of alignment’ might yet return.
There’s a controlled ferocity inherent to the tracks on ‘Insidious Black Sea’, no song loses it’s cool; the angst, however, is clearly evident in the start-stop dirge of opener ‘Sleep’ and the tremolo picked ‘Get Murdered’. In the former, Iron Walrus takes a few cues from Ryan Lipynsky (Unearthly Trance), both in vocal style and chord progression. It’s a solid track, no doubt, and an excellent example of this band’s potential as a front-runner of the (doom) scene. But their relevance extends beyond the confines of the doom metal genre, just as Lipynsky’s infusion of progressive melodies and experimentation with unorthodox compositional structures catapulted Unearthly Trance into its own unique domain. Although these two bands are distinctly different in overall sound and atmosphere, they share a common desire to dissolve musical boundaries and allow unique influences to shape their sound.
The band ventures into moodier territory on ‘Minds’, and for the first time begins to fully integrate the tenets of post-hardcore. A haunting acoustic passage sets the tone, which quickly transitions into the song’s central riff; a cleaner vocal style is used, complementing the ‘wall of sound‘ that eventually pummels the listener during the chorus. The same charisma that made Page Hamilton (Helmet) such an influential front man is evident here; Iron Walrus captures the essence of what made songs like ‘Unsung’ and ‘In the Meantime’ classics (hooks and mass appeal) while remaining attuned to the ‘listening needs‘ of the misanthropic sludge/noise fanatics. Iron Walrus understands the effectiveness of the power chord, often relying on simple progressions to provide the bulk of a song’s composition. This can be an incredibly powerful tool when used judiciously (and not by default). This is particularly evident on tracks ‘You’ and ‘Missing Times’, the latter commanding immediate attention with its opening riff…a slow mosh that just plain kicks ass.
Although belied by the band’s public/stage image (all members wear black masks with a walrus tusk design imprinted), a seriousness and intelligence pervades this album, yielding a depth and irresistibly that craves repeat spins. I’ve always admired those who don’t take themselves too seriously but take what they do seriously. Indeed, Iron Walrus does just that; it’s obvious that this band is a focused group, intent on conveying a unique artistic vision while establishing their relevance in the heavy music scene. ‘Insidious Black Sea’ is a solid introduction to what I hope is a long career for a promising new band. Recommended.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore