January 17, 2012 - Southern Lord
It's taken 12 years, one instantly out-of-print 2003 demo, and the departure of a founding member (guitarist Pen Rollings), but Virginia/North Carolina instru-metal trio Loincloth can finally cement their legacy with a full-length debut. Album—and song ("Sactopus," anyone?) titles notwithstanding—Iron Balls Of Steel is as serious as a metal recording gets; and, at least until those new Meshuggah and Dillinger Escape Plan discs get mastered, it's also the greatest math-metal album of this still-young year.
Sure, Rollings' absence stings for those of us who still worship the dude's early-'90s work in Breadwinner (please, Google them), but his presence and style are all over these 16 songs. Guitarist Tannon Penland's discordant riffs bend, halt, dive-bomb and leap across speaker channels (the off-time death march "Angel Bait"), while bassist Cary Rowells and drummer Steve Shelton (also the rhythm section of tech-metal favorites Confessor) create impossible pockets and construct entire roadmaps out of sharp left turns. Good luck headbanging to "Slow 6 Apocalypse," for instance—you'll have loosened a few vertebrae by the time Shelton chokes his final cymbal hit to close the song.
With 11 of Iron Balls' (saying that never gets old) songs falling under the three-minute mark, there's no room for filigree or bloat, so outside of a few experiments in fade-ins and false endings ("Trepanning," "Shark Dancer," "Clostfroth"), everything revolves around rhythm, riffs and pure raging. No solos. No 10-minute epics. And, thankfully, no vocals. It's not so much that Loincloth are reinventing the steel—well-attuned ears will hear a lineage that includes Voivod, Don Caballero, Blind Idiot God, Mastodon and others—but cripes, are they finding amazing new ways to heat and bend that sucker.