To say Iron Monkey was a part of my college experience is an understatement. I was lucky to be part of the “first wave of sludge” – Eyehategod, Floor, Cavity, Grief, 13, Buzzoven, Corrupted, Dystopia (same vein), 16 and others. These were glorious times – the underground was alive and a real sense of camaraderie existed. Friends recorded tapes of different bands, passed them around and the sheer love of a style of music kept it alive. Zine culture was at it’s peak and you could pick up a heavily worded ‘zine with interviews with bands all over the world and get exposed to everything and anything. The internet continued that tradition but there is something to be said about the love and the work of the underground scene in the 80’s and 90’s. And I remember getting my hands on as many issues of Ill Literature as possible. No internet blog can touch the amount of work and reviews that Ill Literature had.
And in comes Iron Monkey. Wrongly described as “the UK’s answer to Eyehategod”, Iron Monkey embraced the low and slow with more hardcore stylings than their New Orleans brothers. But the secret weapon was Johnny Morrow. NO ONE in extreme music has ever sounded so vile, disgusted and venomous than Morrow. I once heard his voice as described as “gargling broken glass, Drano and cigarettes.” And that about sums it up. And if you are an Iron Monkey fan you know his voice – and if I say, “Obese male!” you will respond, “Feeding begins!” Still gives me chills.
I got Iron Monkey’s debut when it came out, which was no small feat due to unavailability of many of Earache’s artists in the states. I still remember listening to it the first time. I still remember the awe. When I heard they had a follow-up, “Our Problem”, I rode my bike to the nearest record store that carried obscure releases and asked them to pre-order it for me. I couldn’t wait. And then came the opening song, “Bad Year”. Justin Greaves’ opening drum beat took me by surprise. Just a thick, fat groove. Iron Monkey had the most vile singer ever, and riffs that I would die to write but having the anchor of Greaves behind the kit made it all work. I see that now more than ever, playing in my own band. I am a horribly average guitar player that has some (not a lot) of talent in understanding what I want to hear. And the drummer, Joey Waters, can interpret, adjust and improve everything. A good drummer makes a band – rock music is based on rhythm and if you can’t keep the beat and make it great, it suffers. Pop music is largely based on vocal melody – you can program a drum machine and use computers since no one cares about the subtlety of tones/volumes in pop music. Its not worse, just different. Of course, if you have a great rhythm section, a great guitar riff/melody and a great vocal melody, you have a winner. Think Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Who (Bohnam, Ward and Moon!). There are a lot of great bands that make up for each area in another (AC/DC, the Beatles (had two of the most amazing musical talents in their ranks) and Metallica.
After Iron Monkey broke up, Greaves moved to Electric Wizard, manning the drums for “We Live”. Jus Oborn even said about Greaves, “He was too good for us – we needed something sloppier.” And yes, there is a place for that too (see Mark Greening, for example. Not the tightest drummer but he works perfectly for what he plays.) Greaves left the Wizard and began another chapter in his life that cemented him as one of the most talented, versatile and amazing musicians in this era. Crippled Black Phoenix, an ode to a lyric written by Morrow, is a far cry from Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard. They can be best described as post-rock – maybe a heavier Pink Floyd?
Greaves is the mastermind of CBP – he has played drums, guitar, bass and arranges and writes most of the music. For anyone that has done any kind of music, this requires a talent that goes beyond scales and paradiddles. Like Tobias Forge of Ghost (who writes the music/lyrics, does the image/ideas and all the interviews even when dressed as a Nameless Ghoul), Greaves has a talent and vision that I cannot even fathom. There is one thing to be able to write a song or lyrics. It’s another thing to see the entire picture. To be that good. As I’ve gotten older, wiser and more involved in the PLAYING of music, I’m able to recognize great music or talent – even if I don’t love the style of music. And while I am always impressed at individual performance, I am in awe of those that are bigger than the notes being played.