Exploding through the frigid waves and frothing foam, the leviathan’s ponderous girth smashes down upon the rocky shore with a thunderous wet slap. Slowly, laboriously, the tidal titan heaves himself ashore, massive muscles undulating under the dense layers of blubber enrobed in barnacle encrusted plate metal. The Iron Walrus has come this day, and nothing on the beach can move him, nor compel his departure. Such is the style and sound of the band we’ll be studying in their natural habitat today. This Germanic sludge collective already has 2 albums under their gnarled pelts, and on A Beast Within, they bring you the gift of heft. Sporting influences from The Melvins, and Crowbar, the Walrus-Tang Clan cleverly opts to keep things simple, thick and meaty. And unlike many of their filthy peers, they craft short, succinct songs and avoid dabbling in drone or the controversial art of riff pile-driving. Is this the formula to make them Kings of Sludge Beach and overlords to penguins everywhere? Let’s count the whiskers.
Opener “Crawling” is about as suitable a tune for a march of the Iron Walruses as there ever will be, and the simple, beefy riffs mix well with the richly raspy death roar of frontman, Aufi. The sheer weight of their style makes you feel like the titular mascot is sitting on your lap after you’ve indulged in too much Thanksgiving revelry, and I mean this in the best possible way. Lunkheaded but effective and definitely enjoyable. “Take Care” sounds like The Truth Hurts era Pro-Pain, albeit slowed down a scosche, and how that smacks your gob depends on your relative tolerance for Pro-Pain‘s “deadlift day” style of weight lifting metal. As someone who likes to lift things up and put them down, it brings a smile to my face.
The album’s biggest surprise is how aggressive and propulsive it is. Much more so than you’d expect from a so-called sludge act. “Control” is a relative dynamo of speed, achieving a lethal mid-pace rumble full of vitriol and piss-angst. Everything is so basic, but the parts slot so well together that the song ends up elevated well above its rudimentary design, and “No More Reason” dials up both the sludge and death factors for a big ole’ slab o’ nasty with a few memorably vocal hooks.
As fun and engaging as the album is, it’s somewhat front-loaded, with later cuts like “Fools” feeling a bit less refined. At a tidy 35 minutes, A Beast Within doesn’t wear you down, feeling like a crisp dose of sludgy death, and the short song lengths make a big difference. The lyrics are a bit goofy, but hey, the band is called Iron Walrus for reef’s sake.
As you might expect, this is a guitar first, second and third kind of album, and axemen Ingo and Bene deliver the sludgy goods with a collection of simple but effective leads. They rarely do much in the way of complex harmonies and the solos are minimalist and short, but the burly force of their playing keeps things oppressive. Aufi has a fun vocal style, sitting midway between Kam Lee (Massacre, Bone Gnawer) and Gary Meskill (Pro-Pain). He rasps, roars and rips like a good walrus should and helps keep the crush quota above minimum flair at all times.
Iron Walrus has the best name, album art, band photo and video of 2017. Maybe their style is a one trick walrus and maybe there isn’t anything truly groundbreaking going on here, but damn if this little platter hasn’t been rocking my world from dawn to tusk. If you want a more dynamic style of sludge in your life, hit the beach, but watch your step and fear the flipper. Now, where do I get my very own walrus mask?