Hailing from Austin, Texas, you would think Iron Age would have a slightly more Southern bent, perhaps a Pantera-type influence than they do. Oh no, Iron Age is not a band bound by their physical location. Their sound, to my untrustworthy genre-ears, borrows heavily from sludge acts like Louisiana's Crowbar, crossed with New York City thrash and hardcore. The resulting sound is aggressive, heavy, and definitely puts some raw emotion back on the stage. I have not seen the band perform, but something tells me they are low on theatrics and high on delivering high energy directly to the audience's blood stream and letting nature take its course.
Iron Age is yet another new experience for me, and I have to say that I like what I hear. There is something in this band's aggression that really gets under my skin and makes me want to bang my head and throw down in the pit. This despite my inability to defend myself properly amid the spin kicks and elbow throws that the kids like to do these days (I am a bit more old school in this regard, not to mention considerably softer than I was in my younger days).
The Sleeping Eye is Iron Age's second full length release, and they have seemingly matured in a very short period of time. Granted, I have not heard their debut, 2006's The Constant Struggle, but what I am witnessing here is pretty special. It stands out from the crowd, clearly has respect for that which has come before, and is not going to do anyone any favors. If you want to like this, you are going to work for it.
What exactly does that mean? Well, think about some of the more mainstream acts that you may like, genre notwithstanding, there is often some sort of calculation that goes into crafting those tunes that comes somewhere in between mainstream (even fringe genre mainstream like the flurry of -core bands that have ridden the coattails of the originators) success and artistic integrity. When it comes to Iron Age, I do not get the sense there was any compromise of artistic integrity, not to say this is the greatest album ever, but this is a band that is clearly traveling the path of their choosing, all others be damned.
The opening track, "The Sleeping Eye of the Watcher," takes the listener on a near six and a half minute excursion into raw, thrashy, sludge that takes you through a couple of tempo changes, a pair of nice solo breaks. I actually cannot recall the last time I heard an album open with such an epic track, usually this is the sort of thing you build up to. Iron Age puts their ambitions front and center.
The epic opening is followed by the very thrashy "Dispossessed." This puts the epic sludge n' thrash journey momentarily to the side. Even as they do this, it does not reduce the skill. There are nice transitions and a wailing lead to take you through to the song's conclusion.
"Burden of Empire" sinks you back into the sludge by way of NYC sound that greeted us in the opening. The visit does not last too long this time as this is followed by a track that seems to be more or less filler. It is called "Masteria Prima" and is, essentially, two and a half minutes of atmospheric ambiance. I find it an easy call to skip this track.
From this moment on, The Sleeping Eye builds up a head of steam behind it as it thrashes towards its conclusion. This build takes us through "A Younger Earth" and the two track song "Arcana Pts. I and II" before concluding with the epic "The Way is Narrow."
This final song has a great slow burn opening before catching a full head of steam just before the 3-minute mark. It builds to a fevered pitch with driving guitars and drums, a nice fuzzy solo or two before fading out to the riff it opened with. It is followed by a minute or so of silence before we get some nice riffing and drums to put a capper on the album.
The album has a nice low-fi quality to it. It is not overproduced and has a crunchy, live recording quality that really fits it well. The guitars have a great sound that has not been processed to death, the drums and bass keep everything surging along. The vocals are raspy and live right in the mid-range where you don't hear a lot of guys these days, just helping them stand out from the crowd.
Bottomline. This album was a pleasant surprise. It has a sound that begs to be listened to more. The more you listen, the more you pick things up, things like the solo work that you may be tempted to gloss over, or the transitions between the thrashy and the sludgy portions. If you like metal, you will want to give these guys a listen.