They hail from the birthplace of heavy metal and draw inspiration from the West Midlands greats that influenced the course of extreme metal over the last four decades. But Iron Tomb are more than just custodians of a legacy. They want their brand of death metal to tighten the skin against your face. Imagine you’re a windsock subjected to the gale-force winds of the Outer Hebrides. This is how you’ll feel when you finish listening to the quartet’s debut EP, Vile Retribution.
The members of Iron Tomb earned their stripes in the English metal underground over the least fifteen years, but some of them return for the first time in over a decade. For vocalist, David Blaney, Iron Tomb’s debut EP represents his first recording activity since his fresh-faced youth as the vocalist for Stoke-on-Trent deathcore quintet, Bound by Blood. He’s married and had a child since then. The world is a different place. His world is a different place.
They aim to make an immediate impact on the UK’s thriving death metal scene and should have no problem if the four songs on Vile Retribution are an indication of things to come. Scream Blast Repeat spoke to Dave and master songwriter, Gaz Stephens, about the future of Iron Tomb. But first we must start with the past…
Tell us about the origins of the band and the groups you played in before you formed Iron Tomb.
Dave (Vocals): We have all been in bands together over the past fifteen years or so, of varying genres under the metal umbrella. Me & Tom [Stokes] were in Bound by Blood and Shadows together. Tom was also in Odessa with Gaz [Stephens]. Gaz and Josh [Murphy] were in Lock & Key together, and Josh’s most recent band was Ground Culture.
Iron Tomb was very much Gaz’s brainchild. Most of us had had a couple of years out of music, or in my case, ten years. Gaz wanted to do the music that he has always wanted to write – really old school death metal, basically. He approached me and Tom, and we were really up for it. He was really keen to get Josh onboard with drums due to the really high standard he plays at. Everyone was basically handpicked by Gaz wanting to put together his perfect band.
You declare on your Bandcamp page that you play metal from the Kingdom of Mercia. Of course, this former Anglo-Saxon state encompassed much of the modern West Midlands. Which bands from the old boundaries of this polity are the most influential on your music and why?
Dave: So, some of us are from within the Birmingham city boundaries and some sit just outside. Obviously, the old Mercian borders encompass a wider area that we all reside within, and it fits our lyrical aesthetic perfectly.
For me, the influential bands that fall within those boundaries are the likes of Benediction and Bolt Thrower. That sound they created during the 80s and 90s was just perfection. It’s very much at the core of what we put out as a sound today.
The opener to your debut EP, ‘Pagan Rule’, is a ferocious blast of death and thrash metal. To what extent can the listener view the lyrics as a description of the Viking invasions of ninth-century England?
Dave: Yes, one hundred percent. ‘Pagan Rule’ tells exactly that story. A heathen raid on English soil, where they find men fighting for king and country. Battle commences, bloods is spilt, and lives are lost. I was heavily engrossed in the HBO series, Vikings, at the time, so I was drawing a lot of influence from that.
Following on from this, the song ‘Wretched Dead’, appears to be an alternative perspective from the subjugated Anglo-Saxon Christians. What are your observations on this interpretation?
Dave: I really like this interpretation, it works perfectly. Most of the lyrics are open to the listener’s interpretation – to take you off to a fantasy world of your choosing almost.
I personally had seen ‘Wretched Dread’ telling of a world oppressed by an evil ruler, that has finally met his time of judgment and is put to the sword. It’s about losing their image of power, as fear is seen in their eyes as they and their regime are slain.
Which song on your Vile Retribution EP was the most difficult to record and why?
Gaz Stephens (guitar): It’s hard to single out particular songs or even sections as such that we found difficult to record. Each member put so much groundwork into their own parts, and we were so methodical, that when recording came around, we all brought our A-game. I guess for me personally, recording the solos was a little out my comfort zone, as I hadn’t laid any guitar solos down on record for over ten years. Despite Josh being an incredible drummer, I know he initially had issues with some lengthy double-kick sections which he soon remedied, too.
The guitars on Vile Retribution seem to avoid the increasing trend of death metal towards more dissonant and obtuse chords. How much of this was a conscious decision?
Gaz: To be honest, it wasn’t a conscious effort to avoid any current or trending traits. I always wanted the music and style to take its own course, rather than keep to a certain “blueprint”. I guess that’s why you can hear other influences and elements within our music. We love traditional death metal, but we also love various other sub genres of heavy music.
What are you planning for your next record release?
Gaz: We’re currently writing more material and plan to go into the studio as soon as we’re happy with the new music we have. There’s no rush, and the quality of the music is important to us, but we’re all highly motivated and want to press on with another release in the near future.
Dave: Like Gaz says, it’s definitely a quality over quantity approach for us. We’re not one hundred percent yet whether it will be another EP or if we push onto a full-length record yet. There are so many other factors that can play a part in what we do next.
Which three from the following media platforms below are the most helpful to Iron Tomb and why?
Dave: Twitter has been the surprise package. I don’t have Twitter and questioned whether as a band we should really bother. Tom, to be fair to him, pushed its importance and he was bang on the money. It’s great for really connecting with people. People are really fanatical and passionate on there. Spotify is obviously hugely important being the biggest streaming platform. It has a decent artist platform as well, so you can see how well your music is performing and where. You get the real music heads over on Bandcamp. In a world of free content, it’s really uplifting when somebody makes the choice to pay for our music from Bandcamp.
Which three bands would you most like to tour with if given the chance and why?
Gaz: Obituary. To tour with them is a real dream of mine.
Dave: Obituary just never stop do they? They tour a lot with newer death metal bands, which is really cool too. Proper old school torch bearers. I’m also going to throw Slipknot in – the childhood nostalgia would be overwhelming. Also, you know you’re not sleeping in the back of any vans if you’re touring with Slipknot. I’d be looking for some comfy hotels and generous riders, and I’d also want to try on all the masks. I would have loved to have toured with Trevor and The Black Dahlia Murder. He seemed like such an all-round great guy. Everybody loved him, and he was a huge inspiration. RIP to a metal legend.
The death metal on Vile Retribution is filthy by modern standards, but do you ever envisage making a record without the use of ProTools or any other supporting software?
Dave: Not really. We are all so busy outside of the band that the use of digital recording and remote collaboration is almost at the core of Iron tomb. It allows us to be a band really. Songs often start life by having their riffs hummed into Gaz’s phone while he’s in his work van. At some point in the process, I’ll whisper vocal pattern ideas into my son’s iPad. This is all before we get to the pre-production demo stage, where we record the songs and really pick them apart before we hit the studio for real. I don’t think it works for us without all these digital tools.
Final question: How would you describe your music if Prince Andrew asked you about your art in a chance encounter at Pizza Express in Woking in 2022?
Dave: Your mother’s worst nightmare!
*** Iron Tomb self-released their Vile Retribution EP on 3 June 2022. You can read the original SBR review here.