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CVLT Nation Interviews:
“The Kings Of Sludge” Iron Fucking Monkey!

I truly believe that we are living in the best era of extreme Underground music. The world is an incredibly fucked up place, and in these trying times you can look to artists and musicians to reflect the oppressive and debilitating energy that surrounds us all. True pain and sorrow brings out the best and worst in humanity as a whole. Underground music will always be the punch in the eye of the mainstream society, that is why I have always gravitated towards extremely pissed off and punishing music.

One of my favorite bands that I found on my path to heavier music was Iron Monkey. Their music is ferocious and bulldozing. They set out to utterly destroy you and they do it better than damn near anyone on the planet. Iron Monkey was a pivotal band that helped bridged the gap between Hardcore Punk and Doom Metal, they are pioneers of the Sludge genre. When they started out in the 90’s they were one of the only bands in the world really playing their style of hellbent for destruction blues. Following in the footsteps of the gods of American Doom, Eyehategod. Iron Monkey is the most vicious band to be born out of England. If you are unfamiliar with their monumental offerings, Iron Monkey and Our Problem, I highly recommend listening to these two monstrous staples of mammoth Sludge fury. These two records threw me face first into the mud and changed my perception of Heavy music. I was well aware of Doom Metal, but there is something about Iron Monkey that is dirtier than just plain ol’ Doom; make no qualms about it, their music is entirely fucking doomed, but it is also relentlessly punishing. They aren’t messing around with any sort of grandiose pallet of nuanced melodies with layers of pretty heaviness, they only know how to make soundtracks for killing sprees. The music that Iron Monkey creates is an adrenaline rush. In my opinion they are the Kings of Sludge.

 

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Relapse Records was kind enough to upload the entire new Iron Monkey album on their official youtube channel, so hit play on this and continue reading

Iron Monkey has laid dormant for nearly 20 years now. Unfortunately a few years after they called it quits in 1999, their original vocalist Johnny Morrow passed away. Johnny Morrow was one of the most distinguished and electrifying frontmen to have ever existed in the extreme music underground. Johnny was a fucking madman, through and through, he was a perfect match for the absolutely vicious music that Iron Monkey was throwing around. When I discovered Iron Monkey, it was during their hiatus and the internet boom hadnt totally taken off to where it is today, I couldnt just look up videos of them performing online to see what they were about, it was a time when you still had to scour ebay for fan filmed live footage of bands and when it comes to this particular genre of music it was really few and far between that you would actually find anything. I had their records and I listened to them obsessively, they provided a catastrophic soundtrack to the ravenous feelings of mayhem that I felt coursing through my veins. I lived in a pretty small town where the coolest type of music to make was shitty indie rock garbage, I didnt know anyone that was listening to Sludge. I started searching for like-minded individuals within a 150 mile radius of myself because I wanted to get involved and make this style of music. I eventually found a few guys that were playing in Hardcore Punk and Crust bands that were starting to get into Heavier music and one of the bands that we all worshiped was Iron Monkey. They were everything that we wanted in music. My friends and I would play Iron Monkey and talk about how perfect they were and how we wished we could do something like them one day. After awhile of hanging out and lots of drugs we finally set out to do it and create sludge music. I know that I am not the only person that has been inspired by this band, but god damn if you wouldve told me a decade ago that one day I would have the opportunity to be interviewing one of my favorite bands on the planet who recently reformed I would not have believed you, but here I am about 15 years after I discovered their music getting to shoot the shit with the original guitarist and now full-time vocalist in Iron Monkey, Jim Rushby!

 

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First of all, I want to thank you for allowing me to conduct this interview. I have an immense amount of respect for you as a musician and creator. In my opinion you are a super important person in extreme music and your albums genuinely shaped my course and direction in life. I would like to start out by asking you about the formation of the band, what was going on during the inception of Iron Monkey that inspired you to write some of the most pulverizing music ever recorded?

With the exception of johnny we were all unemployed and bored and looking for a new project to waste our time on. Johnny, Doug and myself were all listening to the early Eyehategod, Buzzov’en, Floor and Grief Records and decided to go for that sound, partly because there were no other bands in the UK and as far as we knew outside the states doing this style that we referred to as sludgecore back then (although I consider the latter as doom crust band maybe).

Were you guys involved in other bands before Iron Monkey? How did you find each other, and what bands were you listening to?

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We had all played in a ton of bands mainly from the hardcore punk scene. I had played in Wartorn (UK) with Rich of Sore Throat/Solstice, Ironside with Doug, which was probably UK/Europe’s first holy terror style band, and a straight edge hardcore band with Johnny called Ambush – other bands too that I forget. I then went on to be in a bunch of other hc and grind projects. Doug had been in ironside and after Iron Monkey went on to form dukes of nothing with dean. Steve had been in Cerebral Fix, Desecrator and many other death/thrash bands, currently he’s in Raven’s Creed. Johnny was in Ambush (aka Impound) and after Iron Monkey did other hc bands with myself and a hip hop project. Justin was in a pop punk band with Mitch Dickinson from Unseen Terror when we started the band. Justin and myself were active in the fastcore band Hard to Swallow for the duration of Iron Monkey’s first incarnation, also.

I was living with Doug and some other antisocial types in the cold north of England and Johnny and Justin came up out of the blue to liberate me, having just met each other in Nottingham a week or so before. My name had come up in conversation, apparently. Doug followed later and we formed Iron Monkey proper. We asked local misfit Steve to join and then we were a complete unit. We were called 666 Pack back then.

Personally, in the early 90’s I was listening to the Clevo/holy Terror hardcore bands such as Integrity and the Ringworm demo, the first wave of powerviolence bands such as Man is the Bastard, Crossed Out etc. And of course EHG, Buzzov’en and similar older sludge bands, early 90’s uk doom metal and some power electronics and noise stuff. Doug and Johnny had similar tastes, certainly. Steve was quite into Rapeman/Big Black at the time I seem to remember.

 

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The fucking artwork used for your album “Our Problem” is insane! Can you tell me about the bands visual aesthetics and reason behind picking the name Iron Monkey?

When I designed the monkeygram and the original logo with the big ‘E’ (which we have ressurected as the current logo) I had in mind a juxtaposition between the ugliest and perhaps the goofiest imagery of both punk and metal to reflect the sound. This aesthetic and sonic philosophy is the backbone of all of Iron Monkey’s output – a liminal zone.

Johnny wanted Mike Diana to do the cover of our problem as he was a fan of boiled angel and Diana’s other works. The first album was cut and pasted by me in an afternoon, in fact the monkeygram was essentially done in 5 minutes – a pentagram from a fanzine and a page in a children’s book: a photocopy of each cut up and one laid one on top of the other – fast as fuck.

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I know you are the vocalist now, and I have to tell you that you are doing a phenomenal job, but I want to hear about what possesses you to write and create. Iron Monkey riffs are hypnotic and diabolic. In my opinion you guys write some of the best riffs in the genre, you arent over complicating things with stupid time signatures or trying to tie in bullshit pretty interludes, you just lay thunderous riff after thunderous riff. I love it and I would love to hear about the writing process…I have a theory that you guys are getting super pissed and just playing the most hellish things you can imagine. I would also like to point out that unlike a lot of bands in the Doom/Sludge genre, all of your riffs have meaning and dont just meander around, everything comes across with a strong sense of purpose. A lot of bands claim to be nihilistic, but fucking hell, Iron Monkey sets the bar as far as nihilist music goes. Your music is absolutely hopeless, another thing that sets Iron Monkey apart from the rest of the bands in the genre is how precise everything comes together as a whole and sounds.

This is the style that feels most natural to me, it seems pretty effortless to write these riffs and songs, indeed, I have many tapes of riffs and unused song parts. There is a formula somewhat and certainly more of a crystallization of our sound on the new record. We have lost the Eyehategod copycat tag which has always bugged me (it was certainly a deserved one, listening to the old material). Again, the music is a juxtaposition of punk and rock/metal which is what sludgecore (or whatever you want to tag it) is. I’ve had a lot of shit for highlighting the hardcore influences, but I suppose those people have never heard Buzzov’en or have the references to pick it up in some of the originators of this style. If a riff has that combination of groove and anger (sex and violence) then it’s in the right ball park.

In the early incarnation of the band, I would write a little at home and then lots of jamming with the drummer. Same again on this new record but perhaps more so writing at home and presenting a semi-complete song to our drummer then reducing it down into a complete song this time around. I am very happy with the new material, possibly more so than any other project I have worked on. I’m a control freak and I become obsessed with the songwriting part (I like to be left alone without interruption). The vibes come from a genuine place of malice and frustration and this album is the most misanthropic and menacing of our catalogue in my opinion. This record is an outwardly destructive one as opposed to an exercise in self-destruction and decrepitude. No more of that shit for us.

I think we now stand out as having a distinct and fresh sound, perhaps a new style even. We are certainly musically on some of our new material an oxymoron of our musical tag – psycho speed doom/sludge. Audacious? Yes, as always. Hate me for it if you like but don’t deny it’s power.

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Do you come up with the riffs collectively as a band or were you serving your riffs to your bandmates and then tweaking them together to get more and more destructive as a unit?

As I said, I write the songs to almost completion then crush and render them with the drummer. I use a cheap practice amp and an old tape recorder plus a boxful of c90’s.

What are some of your most memorable gigs that you played before calling it quits?

I was pretty zoned out on stage most of the time, but there was the obligatory stupidity/aggression/surreality before and after gigs. Mostly fuelled by intoxicants, but perhaps more so by the intensity and nihilism of certain members of the band and the ideology of the band in general. I’m not going to put shit on myself or anyone else, but there was plenty of trouble, and at one point we were banned from many venues around the UK. We didn’t get paid much either. To be frank, we would need to write a book of our exploits, and if we do then you can read about what Mr X and Mr XX did then.

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I have always been curious, why did Iron Monkey hang it up after releasing two devastating records back to back in a 2 year period? Were you feeling pressured by a label or yourself to have to try and outdo them? Was there some sort of inner turmoil? I have spoken with a few other bands that were active around the same time and the reason that they gave me for taking a break was just over exposure and feigning interest from show goers who were transitioning into a time where the worst of the worst music reigned. The 2000’s sucked shit, I hated almost every single band that came out in that first decade and found myself digging deeper and further back into the previous century for music that quenched my thirst for heaviness. Iron Monkey was a band that became the soundtrack to my life during those years, everything was terrible, but I had your records to go back and listen to and that helped me a lot as I isolated myself and became more and more pissed with society.

Inner turmoil. I was the person to actively leave (not get sacked) not long before it’s demise back in it’s first phase. There was a definite change in ideology within the band and we were no longer on the same page collectively. There was a lot of stuff happening behind my back certainly but I suppose I had become fairly unapproachable at the point in our existence. I won’t expand on this much more as again, it’s private but that kind of a band was never going to last too long anyway.

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What were you up to after Iron Monkey called it quits?

Most of the band continued to hang out and go drinking together, a few collective projects emerged such as Armour of God and other members went on to other things musically, Dukes Of Nothing and Murder One etc. After Johnny died, I think we all drifted further away from each other; jobs, girlfriends and other shit. The next bands I was involved with were the aforementioned Armour Of God, Phantom Limb Management, Geriatric Unit and later Rid.

We spoke before about how we both are big fans of Black Metal, I would love to hear about your introduction to Black Metal and what the appeal is for you in that style of music. “The Rope” is one of the nastiest songs I have ever heard, I am not trying to compare you to this band, but this particular track reminded me of the visceral elements that I enjoy from the Finnish band Ride for Revenge. Are you familiar with them at all? What are some of your favorite Black Metal bands?

I first heard those Norwegian 2nd wave bands in the early 90’s courtesy of some of the metal and hc types I associated with in the early 90’s living in Bradford. With Peaceville Records around the corner, you got to hear all that stuff so it was the first Burzum, Emperor and the old Darkthrone records, with the Darkthrone stuff standing out from that bunch. I was more concerned with death doom and some of the more extreme hardcore bands to invest a lot of time in that scene until about ten years ago, and again with the aforementioned bands then trying to fill the gap between the early 90’s and where I had picked it up again rabidly. So, all the old Scandinavian bands, Finnish, Polish, Russian, French scenes. Anything with a predominantly second wave sound for me – lo-fi, repetitive etc. I liked Frost and Venom in my younger heavy metal days, of course.

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My favourite bands of the genre are the obvious ones to be honest, but I do listen to a lot of new stuff on a daily basis. I have highly rated the projects done by Sir N and Swartadauthuz in recent years such as Svartrit, Azelisassath, Grav etc. Last year’s favourite for me was possibly Panphage’s album, not sure about this year yet but I think the latest one from Horn (Germany) is excellent.

Yes, I am familiar with ride for revenge and see where the comparison lies, one of the more outsider black metal bands I would say.


Most folks that play in extreme Underground bands are pretty big fans of music overall, can you tell me about some of the bands from your local area that you dig on, and can you tell me about some that you can’t get enough of from outside your neck of the woods?

I’m not one for attending gigs and being part of a scene these days, in fact I abhor that stuff to be honest. Our live guitarists band bloody head is good one.

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I listen to many styles of music, so it depends on the day/week. Currently it’s Oswald Von Wolkenstein, bands on Youth Attack Records, projects on Malignant Records, some old oi! bands and revisiting Tenhi’s output.

 

 

Let’s say you were about to embark on a tour, what would you be spending time listening to the most? What are you and the rest of the band really big on? I know that a lot of Metal bands try to act like they don’t like other genres of music outside of Metal, but I am curious what other genres of music strike your fancy? When you play in Metal bands listening to strictly metal can get tiresome, so I know you have to indulge…

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Probably early/medieval music and some classic neofolk such as Otwatm (I would need to keep the blood pressure down if I had to spend time stuck on a bus with other people). Steve would be listening to either Celtic Frost or Venom, that’s him covered. Briggs has a really eclectic taste in music like myself so anything that lies between Slade and Slang.

I don’t listen to tons of metal to be honest, and if I do it’s either 2nd wave black metal or nwobhm such as Old Maiden and Priest. I like industrial/power electronics, neofolk, early music, early 80’s style hardcore punk (Jerry’s Kids, Koro, The Fix etc.), dark ambient, classical…

What made you say fuck it, WE are coming back and putting out a new record?

Initially, a few riffs fucking around on the guitar at my place, then the idea and a discussion with Steve who agreed it would be totally unexpected, divisive, challenging, obnoxious and audacious which is very fucking Iron Monkey if you ask me. It was also unfinished business as I had written half of the third album shortly before I left the old Iron Monkey then the band split up. I only needed an okay from one person to make it perfect and I got that.

Did Relapse reach out to you or did you reach out to them? I am sure that other labels and festival promoters tried to coerce the band to make a comeback over the years, and I am very happy that you guys did, but what about 2017 signified that the shit had hit the fan and that it was time for you re-emerge?

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I started putting the band back together in late 2015 and we didn’t even have a drummer when I started writing the 9-13 record. We kept the idea quiet as we wanted it to be an unpleasant surprise. So, we approached Relapse and they were into it the idea immediately but I am sure they were a little skeptical at first until we sent our hastily recorded 3 track demo.

…2017 is as good as any year.

I ignored Iron Monkey entirely after I left and didn’t want to know anything about the band which was a mistake as other people decided they would seize the reigns. I’m Iron Monkey now.

 

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As I mentioned before, I love your earlier albums, but I have to be totally honest with you, “9-13”, is the Iron Monkey album that I have needed in my life. While Doom and Sludge has never completely faded away, bands have certainly been getting softer and softer, it is rare that a band gets heavier and heavier, but that is exactly what you guys did on this new album. This album is disgusting and infects listeners with hopeless feelings of dread. Misanthropic is an understatement, the new Iron Monkey is torturous. I fucking love this record and think it is amazing. By far the best Sludge record to come out in 2017, rightfully so as Iron Monkey is the most seasoned band around. In my opinion Iron Monkey is the best Sludge band in the world and you guys are at the top of your game. I have heard a lot of lackluster releases from nostalgia acts looking to cash in on their new fans that make me wish the bands wouldve stayed retired, but Iron Monkey is deadlier now than ever before. You really seem to have dialed in your sound and know exactly how to create next level nightmarish sludge. How are you making music that sounds this fucked up, what fuels your fire?

It’s the best record the band has made, in my opinion, although if I could have John singing on it I would. Plenty of people hate it/don’t get it/want the same as before etc. This record is straight Iron Monkey with our formative influences less obvious (in fact I haven’t listened to sludge since the mid 90’s which is a good thing in my opinion). An ‘our problem two’ would have been a lame move. The records have always had progression and this is the album that would have been released back before we split. We had started getting a lot faster and more punk (see the live tribute cd to Johnny on Maniac Beast Records) and this new stuff is in the same vein – this is all brand new material incidentally written from winter 2015 onwards.

This progression in style is the correct one for Iron Monkey, what we have lost in Sabbathisms we have gained in menace and aggression. It’s important to stay fresh and relevant in my opinion, avoiding a nostalgic yawn ritual was never on the cards. As I said, you would have had this album in 1999/2000 anyway. Stay still and die.

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I am not going to ask if it is going to happen, I want to know WHEN it is going to happen. When will Iron Monkey be hitting the festival circuits? When can fans like myself expect to catch a live Iron Monkey performance? Iron Monkey would destroy at California Death Fest or Maryland Death Fest. Have the promoters reached out to you guys yet? We need it!! Who amongst your peers would you like to play alongside?

As I write, we are prepping for live gigs in 2018 that will be announced on social media as and when. There was never a plan to play live initially as it was all about releasing new material only but we thought we better play some gigs as we started to get asked constantly. We will be doing festivals too so stay alert.

We will play with anyone, I don’t have a great preference except it would be good to play with bands who have members that were somehow connected to the band historically. We like to keep things in the family generally and walk a small circle.


A lot of people talk about the big 4 of buttrocker bullshit and thrash crap, but Iron Monkey, Grief, Noothgrush, & Eyehategod are the big 4 Sludge bands in my opinion. Corrupted is one of the best bands on the planet and they certainly deserve to be mentioned in the conversation but they lean towards the realms of Funeral Doom more often than filthy Hardcore Punk, and to me the relentless aggressive attitude of Hardcore Punk colliding with the hypnotic heaviness of Doom Metal is what makes Sludge. There is something about the groove of Iron Monkey that puts you above almost everyone else in the genre of sludge. Iron Monkey understands that at the end of the day you are creating music and while you definitely have suffocating riffs they actually drive your music onward, you are not just layering dissonant chords on top of each other to mask your inability to write effective riffs, you guys are bringing it full force with absolutely vile riffs. It is super rare that a band will put out their strongest work nearly 25 years after they started, but that is exactly what you guys did on “9-13”. You and the rest of the guys in Iron Monkey should be extremely proud of what you have created with this new album. I fucking love that you didnt decide to change your formula to appeal to the wussy masses and that you stayed true to yourself and put together without a doubt one of the strongest Sludge albums ever recorded.

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You missed Buzzov’en, who are in my opinion the best of the genre, the Sore album is fucking king. Along with Floor, Eyehategod and Grief, those are the best of the genre and after that I didn’t pay that much attention to that scene.

Yes, 70’s rock, old metal and hardcore punk of bands such as early C.O.C., Flag and Accused etc. Make that sound what it is, with Eyehategod leaning towards the southern rock, Buzzov’en with a more obvious hardcore punk streak. All those bands sound different too – important.

We have a fairly clean sound compared to the first record, but playing faster required it and gives it definition and bite. We aren’t trying to be the heaviest, filthiest, slowest band in the world. We wanted to write records that trigger adrenaline-fuelled hatred and nihilism while being memorable and standing apart from the rest of the genre. We write actual songs. Iron Monkey is a middle finger and the devil.

Who would be in your top 4 Sludge bands?

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Buzzov’en, Eyehategod, Floor (’94 era), Grief …to Iron Monkey at least.

Other bands that either influenced us in that vein or were around playing similarly were
Upsidedown Cross, early Melvins, Crowbar, early Cavity, 7 Foot Spleen, Toadliquor and others I forget now.

Thank You again for the opportunity to chop it up with one another. It means a lot to me as a fan that you would give me the time of day/night to get to know more about you and your creative process. You and Iron Monkey have made a huge impact on my life and I am very grateful that you have shared your sonic destruction with the world.

My pleasure. Thanks for the great questions.

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Jim

 

 

 

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Written By

Music appreciator, Videographer & Tape pusher. Currently residing in the Bay Area. My goal is to bring exposure to Bands/Artists that I think are worthwhile. Follow my video archive at: http://www.youtube.com/user/hellsasick Follow my music label at: http://transylvaniantapes.bandcamp.com/

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