For those around the UK metal scene in the mid to late nineties, Iron Monkey is still a name that matters. Metal in Britain at the time was largely stagnant, with bands pottering around making bland music for the sort of bland people who ate up whatever magazines like Kerrang! fed them. Feverishly put-together versions of whatever was big in America at the time. Shit like One Minute Silence, for instance.
So yes, Iron Monkey mattered. They mattered because, even though they were signed to a ‘big’ indie label (Earache) they refused point blank to play any music industry games. They existed to make not music for pleasure, but the sort of cathartic vortex of noise that was required to get them and people of a similar mindset through the sheer numbness of every day. If I’m hurt at least I can feel was the mantra, and Iron Monkey’s album two albums for Earache (the self-titled debut which they reissued on the label in 1997 and 1998’s Our Problem) shoved that message into your ears repeatedly and remorselessly.
They couldn’t hold it together, of course – bands this brutally real rarely can – and fell apart before the century came to an end. Original vocalist Johnny Morrow died in 2002 and you’d have thought that was that.
But Iron Monkey, like every other band on the planet with even a whiff of a reputation, are not immune to the call of the reformation, and in 2017 here we are with two members of the original lineup, guitarist and now also vocalist Jim Rushby and bassist Steve Watson having a go at showing the kids what all the fuss was about all those years ago. They are joined on drums by Chaos UK man Scott Briggs, original drummer Justin Greaves being too busy in cult proggers Crippled Black Phoenix to return back to the fold. Or something.
The resultant album, 9-13, is good, very good in fact in places, but in no way matches the savagely inspiring albums of the band’s first iteration. The sheer, desperate nihilism of those early recordings is replaced by a somewhat empty roar on tracks like Toadcrucifier – R.I.P.P.E.R., and whilst the band have certainly released a state of the art sludge album, older fans will find themselves wanting a little more for the most part.
Of course it’s entirely admirable that the band haven’t simply elected to make this reformation an exercise in slavish nostalgia and historic replication; You’d have expected nothing less. And when the monolithic Destroyer gets going into ramming speed you will find thoughts of miserable days gone by retreating meekly to the back of the brain for a rest and a reviving fag. Indeed new fans coming to the band will probably wonder what I’m moaning about whilst enjoying the blustery crust of Mortarhex or ear scouring nastiness of The Rope. And good luck to them, because 9-13 is a very good record if you are new to the band but a fan of bowel-rattling heaviness.
Iron Monkey still matter – that much is clearly true, otherwise I wouldn’t have written this review. But they don’t move the soul quite as much. I guess I’ll just have to find a way to deal with that.
9-13 is out now on Relapse Records.