Iron Claw

Iron Claw

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Scotland's Iron Claw never made it past the unsigned, demo-recording stage of their career, but the group nevertheless persisted for half a decade through unimaginable adversity, numerous personnel swaps, and a few creative about faces, enough to leave a mark on a memory bank or two and see their largely unheard oeuvre released on CD -- this CD -- 40 years after their creation. Not bad for a band accused of ripping off Black Sabbath before attempting, even if unsuccessfully, to find their muse elsewhere. Sure enough, the first five demos showcased here totally and shamelessly appropriate the essence of early Sabbath; whether it's the rough-and-tumble warped jazz and heavy blues inflections of "Clawstrophobia" and "Mist Eye," the lead-footed brontosaurus plod of "Skullcrusher," or the brutish gallop and extended soloing of "Crossrocker" and "Sabotage" (maybe the only idea that Iron Claw had before Sabbath!). All of these were recorded in late 1970 and fairly reek of all the proto-metal tricks pioneered on (and clearly copped from) the Sabs' eponymous debut and timeless sophomore salvo, Paranoid, but the last three are still rather good in their own right. They are certainly better than what issued after the band's subsequent metamorphosis, which began in tentative fashion (see the very rough 1971 demo "Let it Grow") amid rumors of legal action by the Sabbath organization, and proceeded in 1972 with the addition of a second guitar to complement competent but not always memorable hard rockers like "Rock Band Blues" and "Lightning," the shred-tastic "Straight Jacket," and the Rolling Stones-inspired groovers "Gonna Be Free" and "Knock ‘Em Dead." This change in personnel (Iron Claw Marks II and III, if you will) also delivered a new, flute and harmonica-wielding frontman and mounting studio trickery that saw Mellotron tacked on to "Pavement Artist," saxophone to "Loving You," and strings to "All I Really Need" -- all without great success. So it's not at all surprising to hear further evidence of Iron Claw's imminent demise in the ponderous and unfocused prog rock jamming displayed by this collection's final two cuts, "Winter" and "Devils" (both from 1973), featuring prominent synthesizers along with all the other accessories that had come before. Not pretty. And that final descent into overblown mediocrity would nail the lid on Iron Claw's coffin for good, leaving a not-so-good-looking corpse for future generations to uncover, beyond the first half of this career retrospective, which should interest some proto-metal crate-diggers nonetheless.

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