Iron Fist is a print magazine aimed squarely at disciples of heavy metal, whether that be traditional or classic metal, hard rock, thrash, old school death or doom. Born out of passion for music, it is a call to arms for other metal maniacs that want to reminisce about the genre's early days while remaining hungry for the new blood keeping the scene alive.
Who knows how many hours that have been wasted arguing over our favourite heavy metal bands?
At gigs, in teenage bedrooms, down the pub – and now online – tempers have frayed, voices have been raised and eyeballs have rolled over matters that the majority of the population might foolishly consider trivial.
Yet one fact cannot be denied, and this is that Black Sabbath are the most important heavy metal band of all time. For this reason, Iron Fist are delighted to welcome the Brum beserkers to the cover of Issue No. 22.
He’s watched the dogs of war enjoying their feast. He’s seen the Western world go down in the East. In fact, Bill Ward has doubtless seen countless things in the last half-century that would send the vast majority of Sabs heads spinning in a manner to shame Linda Blair. Yet he’s still standing, and here his disarmingly self-effacing legend regales Chris Chantler with the tale of his life as an architect of the unhallowed, dealing with everything from his discomfort with hit singles to the trials of Geezer Butler as a vegan on tour in the ‘70s.
Yet the unstoppable global metal machine rolls ever onward, and as ever this issue we’re equally intent on both celebrating both the evergreen legends of the heavy metal form and the newer disciples – We not only chat to Satan’s Russ Tippins and Brian Ross about their trajectory from 1983’s legendary ‘Court In The Act’ to their new opus, and to rejuvenated NWOBHM troopers Praying Mantis and Avenger, but also meet up with the now unveiled Tobias Forge of Ghost and Johanna Sardonis of Lucifer about their respective platters of fresh devilry.
Moreover, whilst we take wisdom from diehard sorcerers of madness like Doro and Dee Snider, we also take time out to catch with young upstarts Wytch Hazel on their mightily uplifting second opus, with deadly doom denizens Age Of Taurus and Witchsorrow, and with new maverick Manuel Gagneux of Zeal And Ardor. Whilst ’80s metal cult figures like Lizzy Borden loom large in our sensibiltiies and tell their tales here, we also get the lowdown from steadfast British metal colossus Orange Goblin and grill doom-death progenitors Paradise Lost on their early demo days.
Furthermore on this, sceptred isle, to celebrate Ian Glasper’s mammoth new tome Contract In Blood we chat to the man himself about this much-maligned scene, as well as to Frazer Craske from Sabbat on the subject of arguably its finest album, 1988’s ‘History Of A TIme To Come’,
That said, it’s been a particularly melancholy time here at Iron Fist HQ – we’ve lost a true hero of the form, Mark ‘The Shark’ Shelton of Manilla Road, and as is fitting we pay tribute to a titan who devoted the best part of his life to this music. It’s also our duty to pay tribute to Jill Janus of Huntress, whose passion for heavy metal and her craft made manifest nothing less than a transformative force of nature.
Ozzy once intoned that he was the world that hides the universal secret of all time – we wouldn’t make those kind of lofty proclamations, but rest assured that, with the glory of heavy metal behind it, this issue should be more than fit to enliven our days on this here cosmic continuum.
What follows is Chris Chantler’s look at the life of a man who embodied the meaning of the word “underground”; Manilla Road mastermind Mark Shelton – who sadly passed away following a triumphant performance at Headbangers Open Air last Thursday 26th July. Before we dive into it, please check out the gofundme campaign launched to cover the expenses required to repatriate Mark’s body to the US and cover hospital / mortuary bills in Germany.
“I always thought that my music could be related to by others but I was never sure if it would amount to anything. I always had the dream and I guess I’m proof that sometimes dreams do come true.
But it appears this only happens when you really work hard at it and don’t give up.”
– Mark Shelton, Metal Brothers webzine, 2017
Mark Shelton was entranced and consumed by music from the earliest age. His mother was Professor of Music at Friends University in the Sheltons’ hometown Wichita, Kansas, and she ensured that the fledgling Shark was learning piano from the age of four. At school Mark played trumpet and baritone and sang in choirs before playing drums in jazz band The Herd, but he finally picked up an electric guitar after bearing eyewitness to the birth of heavy metal. Mark was still 13 years old when he saw Black Sabbath live in Wichita in 1971; “I stood right in front of Tony Iommi all night going ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do’,” he told Mark Kadzielawa in 2017. However, in his first rock band – appropriately named Embryo – Mark was drumming and singing on covers of songs by abiding inspirations like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Alice Cooper, Grand Funk, Yes and Johnny Winter. Mark’s first stint as guitarist was in a band promisingly entitled Apocalypse, but around this time he also joined a couple of “country rock” groups “just to make money” he later admitted – surely the only time he ever applied financial motives to making music.
After a stint in the Marine Corps, Mark had a load of aggression to work out: “When I got back I was all ready to rip people’s heads off and shit down their throats,” he explained to Snakepit zine in 2000. “That’s what I was trying to achieve with my music at that point.” The result was Manilla Road, perhaps the one band that best separates metal’s true brethren from the dilettante part-timers. A demo tape, ‘Underground’, was recorded in 1979 (and subsequently lost), but with such raw, arcane sound, label support was unforthcoming. Undaunted, Mark set up his own label, Roadster Records, to produce and distribute the trio’s debut LP ‘Invasion’ – a rough-and-ready curio absorbing influences like Rush, Hawkwind and the emerging NWOBHM with an eccentric, late-night stoner basement vibe. After recording and scrapping an entire follow-up, ‘Dreams Of Eschaton’, MR unleashed the self-explanatory ‘Metal’ in 1982, a slightly more accessible LP that fully embraced Mark’s passion for epic fantasy in infectious tunes like the Conan-indebted ‘Queen Of The Black Coast’ and the mystical ‘Cage Of Mirrors’.
Although Mark was later critical of the homemade naivety of those early records, they bear testament to the development of a highly singular talent, a man whose lead playing spontaneously assimilated the quirks of Seventies rock’s finest axemen and fired them through his own wholly unorthodox and distinctive vision. Mark’s voice already set the band fully apart, although he often conceded that his valorous nasal proclamations (once likened to Skeletor fronting a metal band) was an approach that people either loved or hated (but really, how could you not love it?). His songwriting nous was also embryonically evident, taking a dead simple, in-your-face riff and somehow imbuing it with celestial magnitude. All these were to radiantly crystallise on 1983’s ‘Crystal Logic’, a cast-iron classic of doomy Weird Tales metal that was just the first in a cryptic triptych of cast-iron classics, with 1985’s ‘Open The Gates’ and 1986’s ‘The Deluge’ both benefitting from richly-improved production, the auspices of a ‘proper’ label (French imprint Black Dragon, who signed Candlemass on the strength of Mark’s enthusiasm) and a new trump card behind the drum kit: Randy ‘Thrasher’ Foxe, pushing the propulsive momentum to thrilling new levels.
With an impulse to get faster and heavier with each release, 1987’s ’Mystification’ and 1988’s ’Out Of The Abyss’ edged closer to the barbaric fury of thrash, with Mark’s love of horror to the fore – where it stayed for 1990’s ‘The Courts Of Chaos’. However, as the Nineties began, traditional heavy metal was in a state of embattled confusion. “Metal is dead so I’ve heard, but not while I’m still above ground,” Mark sang on the hypnotic ’Dig Me No Grave’, but in truth the band he’d fronted for 13 years was on the brink of collapse. He assembled the all-new project Circus Maximus, recording a versatile, experimental LP in 1992, yet Black Dragon insisted on releasing it as Manilla Road, a weasel tactic that hastened Mark’s withdrawal from the music business. In retrospect, it was a savvy move to sit out the Nineties altogether; while metal was diluted into increasingly undignified, bastardised forms, the true cult epic legend of Manilla Road continued to grow, new generations cottoning on to the secret majesty of those deep-underground masterworks.
Manilla Road finally re-emerged in 2001 with a concept album that redefined the concept of epic; ‘Atlantis Rising’ told of a war between Cthulhu, Odin, Poseidon and Thor, stuffed with sea beasts and elder gods (“I don’t know how I came up with it, except that I smoke a lot of marijuana,” Mark quipped). It set the tone for a Manilla Road comeback that Mark undertook with total conviction and commitment, gigging relentlessly while releasing seven more studio albums in fifteen years securing the band some long-overdue recognition and devotion. “For many years I had to work a normal job as well as work at keeping a music career alive,” Mark explained to Spanish webzine Metal Brothers, accounting for his prolific creativity. “That and also raising two children left me very little time to spend working on writing and recording music. Nowadays my children are fully grown and I am making a meager living on my music alone. I don’t have as much money as I did, but I am much happier.”
In the last few years Mark was expanding his horizons via the mischievous nom de plume EC Hellwell, forming an eponymous band to explore his love of Seventies prog, also using the name to pen weird tales for the metal musicians’ literary anthology Swords Of Steel. Additionally, Mark recorded an acoustic solo album ‘Obsidian Dreams’ in 2015, and reunited with original MR drummer Rick Fisher to form Riddlemaster, releasing a stellar LP in 2017. Last month Mark featured as guest vocalist on the new album by Greek power metallers Battleroar, as Manilla Road worked their way around the European festival circuit. It was in the midst of this busy activity that Mark was suddenly and unexpectedly taken from us after a headline show at German festival Headbangers Open Air. He leaves behind three children and a granddaughter, as well as an immensely passionate and loyal worldwide fanbase. Just last month Iron Fist spoke to Mark for a forthcoming feature on American metal. He was the most easy, sincere and humble interviewee, and we’re enormously glad that we took the chance to thank him for one of the all-time greatest discographies in metal. We asked if there was a feeling around ‘Crystal Logic’ that Manilla Road had something truly magical going on: “Oh hell yes!” he replied. “There was and still is that overpowering feeling of magical influence going on. I still feel it today, stronger than ever. Onward and upward into the never ending spiral of magic we call music.”
Rock legend Dee Snider has unveiled his official video for new track ‘Tomorrow’s No Concern’ – the first track from his upcoming solo album ‘For The Love Of Metal’.
Says Dee: “Lyrically, it’s about me living for today, not in the past. So many people waste their lives away remembering the glory days. While I am proud of all that I’ve done, I am more interested and excited about what is happening now. In the song I urge the listener to do the same; live in the moment and don’t let the past – good, bad or indifferent – or what might or might not happen in the future ever slow you down.”
DEE SNIDER - Tomorrow's No Concern (Official Lyric Video) | Napalm Records - YouTube
Recording in bedrooms and underneath grocery stores, ANGEL WITCH leader KEVIN HEYBOURNE recalls the creation of what has been released on vinyl as the ‘Seventies Tapes’. In this abridged version of the feature from issue 21, IRON FIST’s KEVIN STEWART is all ears.
Original member, guitarist/vocalist Kevin Heybourne has guided Angel Witch through disbandings and hiatuses, continuing on to this day, emerging as popular as ever with underground bangers. With that popularity comes a further thirst for both new material and gems from the past. 2012’s ‘As Above, So Below’ album satisfied the former, while the recent issuing of ‘Seventies Tapes’ – originally digitally via Bandcamp last year followed by a more recent vinyl release – satiates the latter. As the title hints, it’s a collection of recordings from a specific era. What makes it special is that the content hails from various sources chronicling the band’s woodshopping and demonstrates the dedication required in the days before ProTools and home recording rigs. Iron Fist caught up with Kevin to discuss moving forward, giving back and why parents should never throw away their kid’s stuff.
What was the impetus for the release of the demo material?
“They have been released in one form or another in the past. There was a release called ‘Sinister History’ on a couple of small labels about 15 years back, and they also got added to the official 30th anniversary edition of the debut album back in 2010. We just thought that, at some point, we should do something ourselves with them rather than handing them over to other people all the time. Then, when I was back at my parents’ house a couple of years back, I found the tapes!”
In what condition were the original tapes and how much studio magic was needed in order to make them playable and worthy of reproduction and sale?
“They were just cassettes, not reels, or whatever, sitting in a box at my folks’ place. The versions which had been digitised in the early 2000’s sounded like shit. You know, straight-into-the-PC sort of thing through some “mastering” plug-in. There was a lot of that stuff happening in those days; a lot of low quality audio from home mastering getting released by everyone. We all thought it sounded okay at the time, but you look back and it’s like “fucking hell!” It makes you cringe. Things have changed in terms of what you can do to make old tapes sound better. So, we just gave them to a mastering guy we know and he made them sound pretty good actually! I don’t think there was any real “magic” or audio restoration which needed to happen. It wasn’t like we had to bake old master tapes or anything. Once the mastering job was done, we were just sitting on some WAV files with an idea that we’d do something with them at some point, but [we had] no real plan.”
At what stage of the development were you at when these were recorded? By that I mean, how close do you remember being what you heard in your head as Angel Witch and the reality of the situation and how the band sounded?
“We were still very much in the development stage as a band. It was pretty raw and pretty wild, sometimes in a good way, but sometimes it was a mess! In my head, I wanted it to sound as good as all the original masters I was influenced by, certainly in terms of proficiency. But I did like the fact that we were faster, rougher and younger I suppose? I didn’t want it to become all slick, you know? But I think that we all knew the demos were just sketches of how those tracks should end up sounding and that we hadn’t got there yet. As it turned out, our debut album did end up being a lot more polished and I do think it sanitised our sound a little too much. We lost that power trio vibe, especially with the drums. Looking back, I feel [original drummer] Dave [Hogg] was over-reaching in a lot of his playing on these early tapes, but you could hear the ideas he was trying to get across in his fills and licks. Maybe they weren’t hitting the mark, but there was a vibe. When we did the album, the producer’s cure for that was to just make him play everything straight and take all the tricky bits out. Looking back, I think, if he had worked on the drums longer and let Dave put more of himself into the parts, we would have had a heavier base to work on with the rest of the music. Of course, that would have eaten into the time we had to spend tracking a 100 fucking vocal and guitar harmonies – which we’d never be able to replicate live – but that would have been just fine with me! And fine with the other guys in the band, as well! We’ve fallen in and out with each other over the years, but I think I can say – hand on heart – we all agree on this one point. There probably a few more, actually, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
When you initially listened back, what did you hear and what memories were spurred by the sounds and songs?
“It’s a mixture of emotions. Obviously, the songs and playing became so much more refined as time went on, so there is an element of horror in hearing all the mistakes. But we were really young and were blasting loud amp set-ups in the middle of people’s fucking houses trying to record this stuff. It was exciting. It felt like the start of something.”
Proceeds from the initial release of ‘Seventies Tapes’ were donated to victims of last June’s Grenfell Tower fire. Was there a particular personal connection to that incident?
“Well, like I said, we had these mastered WAV files sitting there doing nothing and we just woke up to the news and thought we should help. It’s not like Grenfell was part of our local community, but myself and Will [Palmer, bass] are both Londoners and Jimmy [Martin, rhythm guitar] has lived here for 18 years. It just felt so close and was so horrific. Also, we’d been discussing the social housing situation in the UK quite a lot when we were on the road and stuff, and how a really bad situation was developing. The amount of times we had sat there and predicted this exact event, and when we saw those flames it was like, “well, there you go.” It’s just so predictable and so avoidable and taking place in the richest borough in London, which is one of the richest cities in the world. As it happens, on the day, we just did it very quickly and weren’t thinking too much. We had already registered the band name with Bandcamp, just in case we ever needed it, and it took Will about half an hour to upload the files, write a bit of blurb and chuck the Baphomet into some quick form of cover and it was out all over our social networking and everything. We raised over £2000 in a pretty short time and split it between the Red Cross appeal and various local community centres where people were having to live after they lost their homes. Also, for any digital downloads of this release from our Bandcamp page, we’re still paying the money though to Grenfell charities, that’ll carry on for some time to come.”
Strange as it may sound to some, at Iron Fist we don’t consider ourselves a retro magazine, exactly as we don’t consider Heavy Metal a thing of the past, more a timeless force. Therefore it’s something of a delight to unveil a new issue – a staggering thirty-six pages fuller and printed on a much heavier, more tactile paper-stock – that does more than ever before to unite past, present and future into one everlasting continuum of steel.
Who better then for the cover, indeed, than modern Metal’s most towering progenitors, the mighty Judas Priest. Currently traversing the globe on a tour that takes them across the States, to Bloodstock and beyond, this titanic troupe’s storied career is covered in depth in a chat between Dom Lawson and Rob Halford, from the 40th Anniversary of Sin After Sin to the ripping new album Firepower, and all points in between on the eternal heavy metal highway.
We’ll also be taking you all the way back to the big bang, courtesy of an illustrious new addition to our writing team. Electric Wizard’s Jus Oborn waxes lyrical here in passionate fashion, and in the first of a regular series on his essential touchstone rackets past and present, on Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum – a garage-birthed mutant recently fifty years young and of such supernatural proportions that many reckon it the first ever Metal record.
Moreover, we’ll be dealing with another legendary institution in the mighty and mystical Jethro Tull, whose Ian Anderson discusses a half century of unclassifiable magick and his near-one-man mission to elevate the flute to heavy rock glory. Wishbone Ash, meanwhile, have been essentially responsible for the twin-guitar-harmony fervour that underpins the classic metal metier, and we not only interview the band’s main protagonists but are delighted to have James Sherry, son of their former manager John writing a memoir on his days hanging out with Martin Turner at the age of ten, not to mention exactly what happened to the guitar on the cover of ‘Just Testing’.
We meet a veritable titanic triumvirate of metal mainstays, as Barnsley stormer Biff Byford chats about Saxon’s mighty career as the most resilient and righteous lords of Northern steel. Kevin Heybourne details Angel Witch’s earliest days and the recent re-release of the sounds of their unholy inception, and Mantas discusses Venom’s scything ‘Assault’ live series. Meanwhile, there’s thrashing rage galore on offer, with features on Testament, Kreator and Deathrow, and six-string deity Michael Schenker also details a career equal parts triumph and enigma.
As if all this wasn’t enough already, another new regular feature sees us offering a 16-page zine report and meeting chroniclers of the underground past and present, with photos and original typewriter and Xerox print galore – who better to kick this off than Brian Slagel, the man who signed Slayer and he who once sparked up a conversation with Lars Ulrich over a Saxon T-shirt. Elsewhere, we’re glad to welcome another Californian legend, and arguably the world’s most devoted and passionate metal maniac, Hirax’s Katon W. De Pena, to talk us through his vinyl glories old and new.
We pay tribute to two fallen legends in Fast Eddie Clarke and Alfred Morris III, yet we also look forward with features on modern masters of darkness and malice Tribulation and Watain, death metal powerhouse Memoriam, and features on Night Demon, White Wizzard, Black Moth, Visigoth, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons and yet more.
All things considered, and when the dust’s settled from this almighty firestorm of heavily amplified majesty spanning generations and worlds alike, we strongly suspect we may have amassed more heavy metal than you can handle this time around. Fancy proving us wrong?
London metallers Rock Goddess are currently working on a new album – their first in over 30 years!
The trio – Jody and Julie Turner and Tracey Lamb – are currently working with Pledge Music for the release of ‘This Time’.
Via the Pledge Music site, the band says: “We’ll be going into a London studio with the award winning Wes Maebe, who’s worked with the likes of Robert Plant, UB40, New Model Army and Praying Mantis. Wes has been our sound guy at recent London shows and I’m sure you’ll agree gets the best out of us on stage.”