A Different Game
posted on 9/2011 By:
A few months back, I reviewed the "debut" by blast-from-the-past outfit Hell, and though the sounds of the two are worlds apart, the stories behind that band and Scotland's Iron Claw are similarly both stretched out and slowed down. (Thankfully for them, Iron Claw's tale of taking the long way 'round is less tragic than that of Hell. Sadly, it's also less rewarding, both in terms of exposure and result.) Originally formed in 1969 as a blues-rock cover outfit, Iron Claw shifted members and approaches before grinding to a halt in 1974, completely unheralded and largely unknown. A reunion gig came and went in the early 1990s, and in 2009, forty years after their initial inception, Iron Claw saw their first official full-length release: a Rockadrome compilation of all the proto-metal goodies they never quite got on your radar (or more likely, your parents' radars) back in the day. That compilation generated enough interest to warrant a reformation with three returning members -- guitarist Jimmie Ronnie, drummer Ian MacDougall and bassist Alex Wilson -- alongside new vocalist Gordon Brown, replacing Wullie Davidson. A subsequent record deal with the California-based Ripple Music begat A Different Game, the band's first record of all-new material... well, sort of... ever.
In some respects, A Different Game is just that, and in other areas, it picks up where the band left off. In terms of the latter, these tunes are still bluesy, guitar-driven, very "classic rock" in scope and execution -- this is still proto-metal heavy rock but forty years later, given a modern polish but little-to-no modern influence. But a few things have changed: With the loss of Davidson, so, too, went the band's tendencies towards psychedelia and art rock -- gone are the flute, the harmonica, and the brief symphonic flourishes that touched earlier efforts; gone is the post-hippie-rock voice that tempered the band's harder edges. In place of that, Iron Claw c. 2011 sports Brown's blustery snarl atop Ronnie's driving riffage, a more straight-forward approach akin to that of fellow Scotsmen Nazareth, to the less prog side of Deep Purple (sans keys) or to the perpetually-underrated UFO.
The best tunes on A Different Game are mostly the stompers -- "The Traveler," the Skynyrd-tinged "Southern Sky," "What Love Left", "See Them Fall" -- but Iron Claw balances their attack with a few ballads, none of which falter but none of which outshine the guitar-heavy rockers. Ronnie's riffs are strong, if not stellar, and they fit neatly within the blues-rock paradigm, and Brown's gut-level voice fits perfectly with the more streamlined approach. Where the Claw falls a bit short is in the lyric department -- nothing here is unbearable, and not all are even substandard, but a select few of these tunes would be better suited with even a slightly-above-basic-rock lyrical slant. "She's my woman and I love her so / I pray to God she don't never go" and "It hurts inside / but it's easy / you know it hurts / but it's easy, easy if you try" aren't exactly brilliant insights into the human condition -- they're rock lyrics, no more and no less, but forty years removed from the time when classic rock was just rock, they feel a bit trite, underwhelming, retread.
All that said, it should go without saying that your innate like or dislike of classic rock structure and tactics will dictate whether or not you find A Different Game to be clever or cliche. Listeners who systematically avoid the excesses of gritty and bluesy arena rock will likely want to continue avoiding them here. Those nostalgic fans of 70s rock will find this a fine example of then-done-now, a solid return from a band no one really knew was here to begin with. Not a mandatory listen, but for those digging into the long-forgotten castaways of heavy rock, Iron Claw is certainly a band worthy of investigation...
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