The home city of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Napalm Death, Benediction and Anaal Nathrakh needs no introduction, but metal bands from Birmingham have a daunting heritage. The quartet of musicians in Iron Tomb come from the more extreme end of the spectrum, yet they harvest influences from Florida and New York besides the ones they cannot ignore closer to home. You won’t hear an obscure jazz chord ringing through their amps, but you’ll lap up the crunchy power of their riffs and marvel at the might of their crusading rhythms. Iron Tomb are the hybrid death-thrash band you need in your life when it’s time to expel that avenging hatred building up inside you like a parasitic virus.
“Death metal from the Kingdom of Mercia,” is the description the group use on their Bandcamp page. There may be some accuracy in the regional identity of their riffs and pounding beats if you expand the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia to modern day Coventry and include Bolt Thrower as well as Napalm Death and Benediction. Opener, ‘Pagan Rule’, mixes a heavy guitar groove with low-tuned tremolo notes and a crossover drum assault. You can spin your head, expand your eyeballs, or tense your biceps as David Blaney switches between caveman grunts and testosterone-fuelled hardcore vocals. One suspects the true meaning of the band’s “Kingdom of Mercia” identity is more of a lyrical affinity. Track number one is a violent onslaught of metal through the eyes of the formidable ‘berserker’ Vikings that swept across England in the ninth and tenth centuries. “You can hear it/ The sound of steel against the shields/ Echoes surround the hills/ Fear fills your veins,” screams Blaney, in admiration of the Valhalla afterlife that awaited the Norse invaders.
The ambiguity of the lyrics allows you to frame Vile Retribution as a historical narrative, a fantasy epic, or a universal war story. It’s your choice. ‘Wretched Dead’ could easily be about the Christian English people subjugated by the pillaging Vikings. “Your souls will burn for this/ Upon the raging flames/ Your souls will burn for this/ We choose your fate,” might be the bitterness of an English peasant towards the savage pagan occupiers of Mercia. It might also be the dismissive attitude of a Viking looking down upon a strange race that find no salvation from their God in their time of need. The opening riff will leave you scratching your head. Parts of it share similarities with Machine Head’s ‘The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears’ before they descend upon the classic Floridian death metal sound for their power-chord hungry chorus.
You’ll need minimal imagination to envisage the fear that comes with fleeing to the hills to escape a massacre. The band set this panic scenario to the crunch of alt-picking riffs and double-time beats on ‘Death Immortal’ with a poignant stanza that can apply anywhere at any time. “Rivers run red/ Hate fills your head/ Run for your lives/ No one survives.” English thrashers, Flayed Disciple, would be ideal touring partners to share in this type of metallic bludgeoning. Slayer are the preferred medium of execution on the closing title track, but they’re not afraid to pile on the blast beats here. How refreshing to hear no guitar chords that sound like sizzling vegetable oil pouring into sink holes or chair legs screeching across wooden floors. English death metal legends, Cancer, would give them a thumbs up.
Iron Tomb know the UK death metal scene is a crowded field these days, but the indication here is that they can penetrate it and leave a lasting impression. Bring on the debut album.
Release Date: 03/06/2022
Record Label: Mercenary Press
Standout tracks: Pagan Rule, Vile Retribution
Suggested Further Listening: Flayed Disciple – A Hell in Living Flesh EP (2022), Overtoun – This Darkness Feels Alive (2021), Vaulted – Left in Despair (2022)