This, my fine feathered friends, is IT. The album of 2012 already. Some EIGHT YEARS after their tantalising Southern Lord 2003 seven-inch and self-released demo, instrumental Fancy Tech-Doom behemoth Loincloth have returned to to crush you, to see you driven before them, and to hear the lamentations of your women.
Still boasting the tight-as-a-gnats-chuff-but-working-on-their-own-damn-time Confessor rhythm section of bassist Cary Rowells and the legendary drum-octopoid Steve Shelton but minus guitar guru Pen Rollings, guitarist extraordinaire Tannon Penland has stepped up to the plate and shouldered the responsibilities of axe-slinging and riff-mastering for himself – no mean feat when one considers Rollings rep and the reliance that the two guitarists had upon one another for the rhythmic interplay and intertwining harmonies of the earlier material – and done so with verve, chutzpah, moxie and a massive helping of aplomb.
Granite-thick, sinewy, writhing stop/start guitars, slightly askew, sinister harmonies and that crazy rhythm section synergy were the order of the day for the earlier Loincloth material, strung together by lead-toned rhythmic chugging of the highest order, and that essential recipe hasn’t changed for Iron Balls Of Steel, merely been refined in the alchemical blast furnace of time and monster chops.
The switch from a twin-guitar tag team to a solo gunslinger hasn’t altered or simplified things one jot either, if anything it seems that Penland has upped the ante on every level – the weird is weirder, the heavy is heavier and the whole thing has the density of several thousand atmospheres, thanks to Greg Elkins’ crushing production job combined with the sheer weight of the three musicians individual tones.
Wasting no time at all, the trio plunge straight in with the opening wallop of ‘Underwear Bomb’, a track that sounds like the Melvins ‘Oven’ being played by berserk machines, swiftly followed by the lurching, seriously off-kilter blast-furnace discord and atonal harmonies of ‘Slow 6 Apocalypse’ – a track that ends in a looping rhythm that can cause your entire brain to fold over onto itself if you attempt to follow it – and the gear-slipping and stuttering ‘Trepanning’, ending with a riff that winds down into a watery modulated warble, first evidence that Loincloth are not at all averse to using additional studio tricks to further pervert their sound.
Following the intense ‘Hoof-Hearted’, with its sense of buried melody, the brooding, glowering ‘Sactopus’ swaggers into earshot, shimmering with washes of tremolo atop the ferociously complex rhythmic workout beneath. Monstrous, lumbering stuff. The choppy, urgent ‘Angel Bait’, the tumbling drums and alternately claustrophobic and expansive psychedelia of ‘Long Shadows’ and the propulsive, convulsive ‘The Poundry’ all carve out thick sonic textures from the air around them while ‘Shark Dancer’ plays around with the volume, squashing the tone and lowering the level in steps until it disappears entirely.
‘Elkindrone’ is built around a chugging and bent guitar that comes off like a cut up of the masterful main riff to Metallica’s ‘Harvester Of Sorrow’ being pulled tightly into a spiral, ‘The Moistener’ is a labyrinth of discords, sudden bursts of harmony and chords pulled out-of-whack, with Penland seemingly functioning as the glue that holds it together as Rowells and Shelton prowl around him stealthily, but ‘Theme’ is truly demented – a writhing agglutination of stop-on-a-dime drum, bass and guitar fencing that feels as though it’s being pulled out of control, even though you know damn well that isn’t the case, that coalesces briefly into some kind of Robert Fripp-infested jazz fusion before breaking apart again into jagged stuttering again. Impossible to pin down, it wriggles like a stuck octopus.
You’ve probably noticed by now that there is a certain tongue in cheek element to the songtitles here, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Loincloth are smirking at the expense of metal – far from it, they are poking fun at the more ludicrous, pompous side of metal, the Manowars, Malmsteens and Saxons. Plus, lets face it, does it really even MATTER what you call a song with no lyrics or central message?
After the lumbering chug and skronk of ‘Beyond Wolf’, ‘Stealing Pictures’ – a cheeky nod to Rush – gallops in with a wall of harmonised guitars, surging bass and a decidedly ‘Epic metal’ feel. Shelton really drives this one. ‘Voden’ is the answer to the question ‘What would the Melvins sound like playing Voivod riffs?’, and final number ‘Clostfroth’ marries razor-sharp riffing to a typically eccentric drum performance from Shelton in as fine a way as any other track on the album before fading out and leaving me shouting at the speaker “MORE! MORE MOOOOORRREEE!!”.
Ladeez ‘n’ gennelmen, I’ve tried as best I can not to be too enthusiastically over the top with this review, fighting against my baser instincts all the way, because I want you to read this, take it in and then go out and BUY this record. I really can’t urge you to acquire this record enough,and I hope that it speaks to you as much as it speaks to me.
Let some Fancy Tech-Doom into your lives and ears, and you’ll be rewarded with Iron Balls Of Steel.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson