Iron Monkey + Sigiriya + Iron Duke @ The Underworld, London

Date: 14th April 2018
Review by Beandog

It is fair to say that Iron Monkey were at the bottom of the list of bands I expected to re-appear after almost 20 years of inactivity. To be completely honest, Iron Monkey weren’t even ON the list! To me, they seemed like a band destined to burn for a short period of time. Too chaotic and brilliant to sustain themselves; instead they came out of nowhere, charged up on cheap booze and belligerence, eager to gate-crash the riff party.

Their music was the aural equivalent of a dirty fight. Heavy punches, thrown indiscriminately until anyone in close proximity was left broken, bleeding or running away. Given this apparent maelstrom, it seemed inevitable that the wheels would eventually fall off. Sure enough, after a period of line up instability and label problems, the band split at the end of the nineties and all chances of a reunion seemed impossible following the tragic passing of vocalist, Johnny Morrow in 2002.

Despite all of the above and against all expectations, we find ourselves in 2018 with a newly released album (the excellent 9-13) and a re-shuffled line up that puts founding member Jim Rushby onto guitar and vocals while another original, Steve Watson, swaps his six strings for four to take care of the low end.

Unfortunately, due to ongoing health concerns, Jim is unable to play on this current run of live dates. Instead, Bloody Kev from Diagnosis? Bastard! has been drafted in to provide the necessary, guttural howl.

Before the main event, we are treated to a set of crossover hardcore/thrash courtesy of Iron Duke. I missed the beginning of their performance but I am pleased to see that for a relatively early set there is a healthy congregation of metal-heads warming to their enthusiastic clamour. The drummer has a powerful left hand, hitting his snare drum loud and true. The floor is already shaking. I am reminded of Pro-Pain and occasionally Exodus.

Between the songs, apologies are offered for what is described as an “almighty fuck up,” but being a latecomer to the set I’m not sure what this refers to. I do notice that guitar duty is being shared between two members, each taking turns to hammer out the riffs. I assume some equipment failure has rendered the five-piece down to four. In any case they still deliver a passionate and effective performance and they seemed genuinely humbled by a positive response.

Sigiriya from South Wales are up next. They are essentially a reunited and re-branded version of UK’s stoner pioneers, Acrimony. The two bands share several members and play the sort of loose, desert-baked fuzz that you might be tempted roll up and smoke with your friends. The difference being, where Acrimony had a wild, Stooges-esque element to their sound, Sigiriya are earthier and more riff orientated. Musically they remind me of Goatsnake or Acid King, albeit it with an undeniable grunge element that comes via the confident roar of vocalist, Matt Williams.

The challenge Sigiriya face is standing out in a fairly saturated scene. There are currently a lot of bands ploughing the same rolling field of riffs and their set could do with at least one truly memorable song. They come close with their thundering, penultimate tune, Sleeping with the Dogs, and they finish the set on a riff that reminds me of Tool but wouldn’t sound out of place on a Kyuss record. The growing crowd are certainly into it and I make a mental note to investigate their recorded output further. I think they may be a grower.

By this point the Underworld is full and there is a heavy sense of anticipation in the air. Iron Monkey recently acknowledged that their reputation grew considerably in the years after their split. In the intervening years they have become legends in the sludge metal scene with many people discovering them retrospectively. This is reflected by the mixed crowd tonight. Young fans stand alongside the older fans. One guy I speak to has brought his new-to-the-scene friend with him as he’s eager for his pal to see what the Iron Monkey fuss is all about. I can see larger groups of friends, I can see couples and I can see people who have made the trip out alone. Among them all, one thing is undeniable. There is a palpable sense that things are about to go off!

… And go off they do. In a flurry of flashing lights and the signature squeal of feedback, Iron Monkey are onstage. The touring line up is a four piece that wastes absolutely no time in bringing the riff. New drummer, Steven Mellor comes pummeling in with THAT rhythm, heads are banging and we are straight into Bad Year. Any doubts about how things would sound with an alternative line up are smashed away in seconds as Bloody Kev opens up and completely owns it. The weight of the opener is such that an enthusiastic mosh pit erupts as people respond to the music in the only appropriate way; by heaving and pushing and throwing themselves towards the sound. There is a physicality to these riffs; they have a swing to them that pulls and lurches. The crowd can only respond accordingly and it’s a joy to watch.

With complete confidence in the new material, Iron Monkey follow the opener with Omegamangler, a nasty slice of heavy riffing from 9-13. It’s given a welcome that clearly demonstrates people are enjoying the latest album. However, it is Black Aspirin from the debut e.p. that evokes the first truly monumental cheer of the night. Arms are held aloft and there are smiles all around. By this point it is obvious that the crowd are in their element and their enthusiasm is carried into I.R.M.S. Bloody Kev asks the crowd if they are familiar with the new record as a way of introducing the song, 9-13. This is virtually the only direct conversation with the crowd. Otherwise, there isn’t any stage banter. It’s almost as though the band members are simply there to channel riff after riff into the exhilarated crowd, who in turn, soak it all up and return the gesture by snapping their necks through Web of Piss.

Jim Rushby has described the songs on 9-13 as the most “Iron Monkey” music they’ve recorded. He was making a reference to the fact that they have moved out from under the shadow of the bands they were trying to emulate. Bands like Grief and Eyehategod. Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that they aren’t treating this show as a nostalgia trip. To prove the point, Toadcrucifier – R.I.P.P.E.R. and The Rope are up next.

Both songs sound as vicious and as weighty as the older material, but there is arguably a sharper edge to them, a starker, colder violence to which the front rows are still whipping themselves around in appreciation. With these songs the band have effortlessly proved they can still write an convincingly crushing tune. However, it undoubtedly HAS to be the classic material that closes the show. First, a monumental version of House Anxiety to remind us what happens when hardcore meets doom, then an equally savage run through 666 Pack to bring the show to an ear-splitting conclusion.

The band disappears quickly leaving the amps to feedback at a frequency that could destroy sanity. Then, completely in-keeping with the nihilistic tone of the music, and dispelling any hope for an encore, a crew-member confirms the end of the show by literally telling all of us to “fuck off.” It really couldn’t end any other way and judging by the looks on people’s faces as they file out the venue, not a single person was left feeling disappointed.

A triumphant gig.

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