Primitive Origins: Iron Claw’s Iron Claw

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

So, if you happened to be in Scotland in 1969, which absolutely no one reading this was, you might have heard a distinct rumbling, the sound of sheer sonic heaviness and a doom the likes of which only Sabbath had touched upon… it was Iron Claw, a band who existed from ’69 to ’74, and whose recorded output from ’70 to ’74 is collected on this excellent self-titled collection from 2009.

Now, these dudes were heavy for their time. Opener “Clawstrophobia” crashes and bashes so hard, with everything fuzzed out and in the red, it sounds just as vital and energetic all these years—decades!—later. The song rules; it’s an incredible example of early proto-doom.

Clearly, they loved them some Sabbath: “Crosswalker” shows a serious Sabbath boogie in the opening riff, and “Skullcrusher” is ominous doom metal, with killer riffing and haunting vox that actually kinda work, which is rare because “haunting vox” never work. Plus, the song is called “Skullcrusher”! Holy shit. Between this and “Clawstrophobia,” we got two killer proto-doom tunes here, making this well worth whatever you gotta pay for it.

Based on the power of these two songs along, you gotta wonder why this band isn’t spoken of in the same hushed tones as Pentagram or even Sabbath: such is the cold, hard reality of, well, luck and locale, both of which seemed to conspire pretty hard against this band, who, at least on these two songs,  hit just as hard as any NOLA sludge band of today. Think about that for a minute.

Now, there are a few duds on this (very long) collection: “Rock Band Blues” is what always happens in these proto-metal affairs: the blues influence becomes blues rock, and blues rock kinda always sucks; still, despite some agonizing riffs here, the lyrics are entertaining enough, I suppose, and the drummer is enjoying the chance to play a bit faster and rock out a bit harder; this ain’t my bag but these guys deliver this song with confidence. “Strait Jacket” starts with just a guitar solo, so you’ve got to be stoned to enjoy that, and “All I Really Need” is also way too happy-’70s-rock to be anywhere near doom.

The flute comes out in “Winter,” and, man, we’re not passing judgment if you’re into that kind of thing. More than a couple (I dunno, three, maybe) occult rock/doom bands wet their whistle with those things in the past half-decade, so it’s not entirely off the metal radar, no matter how not-heavy those things sound.

Despite those missteps, this is a very recommended collection for those who want to know the roots of very heavy doom metal. When Iron Claw aren’t screwing around with flutes and blues rock, they’re laying down heaviness that would make Pentagram blush, no problem. A shame this band isn’t more talked about in metal history lessons, because this is a fantastic, and fascinating, early metal germination, one that looks not just at what is blooming with metal at the time but one that has doom and sludge in its radar, and it’s sludge and doom on a level of pure unhinged heaviness that might even surpass Sabbath, no small feat indeed.

Iron Claw’s Iron Claw – The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Definitely not, although it is really damn long.

Heaviness factor: Right beside Sabbath, leaving Pentagram in the dust when we translated both bands’ songs to pie charts broken down into heavy, proto-doom versus rocky, keep-trying ’70s fare.

Obscura Triviuma: Legend has it some of the Iron Claw dudes saw Sabbath play live, had an epiphany, started covering their entire self-titled album live, and created a more Sabbatherian Iron Claw sound. Who could blame them?

Other albums: A Different Game was released in 2011 after the band got back together.

Related bands: Dude, Iron Claw are still rockin’:

Alright, fine, if you must: No one’s saying that a hit of acid isn’t going to make this even more of a wild downer of a ride.