by Ryan Bollenbach (@SilentAsIAm)
Seattle’s Old Iron is a great example of the variation that’s found its way into every shade of contemporary metal. On their newest album Lupus Metallorum (produced by Matt Bayles who recorded contemporary metal innovators Mastodon and Isis), they incorporate the plethora of approaches that made their debut LP Cordyceps memorable: chugging riffs locked to the bass drum; dissonant melodic leads; sparse, atmospheric interludes; the occasional pentatonic flourish; and walls and walls of power chords. What sets this album apart from the last one—and this band’s progression from the progression of most heavy bands—is that they’ve actually gotten more focused instead of more sprawling. The songs on Lupus Metallorum’s are half the length of the songs from the predecessor (with four more tracks to make the 40 minute running time 1 minute shorter than their 6 track debut). These songs emphasize urgency and punctuation where, for the most part, songs on the previous album emphasized atmosphere and texture.
Take, for example, the intro to the second track “Gravewax,” which moves back-and-forth from a halftime groove to an almost hardcore two-step rhythm then dives into the depths as guitarist/vocalist Jesse Roberts rides the bottom string. It’s not until the last minute of the song that some melody even begins to cut through the mud by way of the melodic outro. In the next two tracks “Maelstrom of the Black Tempest” and “Bog Witch,” the melody acts as the through line that gives unity to the shifting pace of the songs. These two fit well with the brighter songs on the album, like the title track or “Valerian,” that seem to move the band slightly backwards, if in a compressed form, to the progressive doom of Cordyceps. To bring things full circle, the album closes with “Banisteriopsis Caapi,” the album’s longest song, which incorporates all of album’s the hallmark features but gives that added bit of space.
One thing that keeps the band sounding cohesive and energetic through all ten songs is the rhythm section: Jerad Shealey’s accompanying bass riffs (and his crushing, stringy bass tone on this recording) works with Trent McIntyre’s tasteful drum work to push the songs wherever Roberts takes them. Being a drummer, McIntyre’s drum work stood out to me. Whether he’s filling at the end of a heavy part or just providing cymbal wash and a time-keeping snare during the breakdowns, his drum parts show flair and focus—a difficult balance to pull off that’s easy to miss, but keenly felt.
For an album that seems so measured in composition, the vocals seem a bit like an afterthought. Roberts’ screams and the cavernous reverb Bayles’ employs in presenting them fit nicely in the sonic palette of the album, but the lyrics were not very distinct to my ears. But, if the latinate names of the songs, or the lupine, black-magic aesthetic of the album, is meant to convey a sense of ritual in these dirges, then perhaps the incantation-like quality of Roberts’ screams is exactly the point. And in that way, I think they serve to cohere the complex twists and turns in this album while not overshadowing the band’s well-crafted songs. And I think that’s just what these well-crafted songs need.