The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown - IRON TONGUE

Under normal, everyday circumstances, tempers might flare, fists fly, and even vomit spew over the mention of a relatively pure southern rock album being reviewed on these here pages; but when said album issues from the sharp-toothed maw of the eclectic Neurot Recordings, you can rest assured there's some kind of radical and unpredictable sonic agenda to justify all this.

Sure enough, it don't take long to reckon that the latest signings of NEUROSIS' vanity label, Arkansas' IRON TONGUE, sure ain't your daddy's southern rock - nor your pervert older cousin's southern sludge, for that matter.

Instead, this group constructed around singer Chris "C.T." Terry - the gravel-throated tortured soul typically found fronting Little Rock's own avant-sludge gods, RWAKE - approaches things a little differently on 2013's amply named "The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown" album.

For starters, there's nary a sign of anything metallic to be found throughout the first half of opening number, "Ever After" - just the shadowy traces of distorted guitars, nestled deep behind the dominant acoustics, plodding zombie tempo, and C.T.'s despairing, drunken laments.

Only when the song's final four or five minutes arrive, via unleashed power chords, searing solos and full-throated vocals, are there more familiar hallmarks for metal-minds to latch onto, as SKYNYRD starts a-dancing do-si-do with SABBATH in the pale moonlight?

Together, they plough doom-like furrows into the dust-bowl soil (see "Witchery", "7 Days"), drawing pesticide-laced nourishment from both living, dead, and undead nutrients to create IRON TONGUE's very own brand of musical compost, amid occasional frantic seizures (the organ-laced "Skeleton", "Moon Unit") that simultaneously mesh and contrast against each other to often startling effect.

A little further down the line, "Lioness" sees the band (which is completed by guitarists Jason Tedford and Mark Chiaro, bassist Andy Warr, drummer Stan James, and keyboardist JR Top, by the way) latching onto a bad-ass, down-tuned, head-nodding Geezer Butler bass line for nearly nine minutes, wringing blood and sweat from every last groove, before capping it all with soulful cries from guest vocalist Stephanie Smittle.

And, for the final romp of "Said N Done", IRON TONGUE finally allow themselves to indulge in a comparatively concise, surprise- and subtlety-free blast of southern metal, carved out of the weather-beaten old trunk previously manhandled by the likes of ALABAMA THUNDERPUSSY, ANTLER and, for that requisite, inbred dip into the genetic pool, KARMA TO BURN.

So sure, at the end of the day, one could still boil down the novel and intriguing nuances found across "The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown" to its backwoods BLACK SABBATH essentials; but it's the twisted route by which IRON TONGUE arrives at this perhaps inevitable conclusion that singles out this gnarled tree of a debut from the surrounding forest, and does the Neurot tradition proud, to boot.

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