Cold Irons Bound - Cold Irons Bound (self released) & The Edge of Winter - Eden (Seraph)
You need to know that I don’t know Melbourne band Cold Irons Bound from a bag of chops, while I do know Sean Bowley, the man behind Eden (a situation which I dread, because what if my mate produces some awful muck? How the fuck do you tell them?).
And the thing is, while I always give a band an even chance regardless of whether I do or don’t know the personnel involved, there’s always a risk that some irritable individual will go, "Hey… favouritism!"
But no. I put on Cold Irons Bound long before I’d received Eden’s disc. I looked at the cover (mean, dark, moody), read the blurb sheet ("recall the best distorted twang of the past 50 years. Imagine Tom Petty jamming with Teenage Fanclub") and saw that their Soundcloud page mentions Black Crowes, The Allman Brothers Band and The Replacements) and felt queasy. To me, Tom Petty is just awful, awful slop. No point to it. No purpose.
But I slid the disc into the slot, heard a few minutes of track one and hastily ejected it in horror.
However, I will now give it another twist. Just for you, dear reader. In fact, I will be reducing my CD reviews from now on - not because I don’t like doing this, but because I need more time for other things, and dislike nasty surprises like Cold Irons Bound.
Have you ever been in a workplace where they play the local MOR FM radio all day? Without a break? With no-one saying something like, "Fuck, this station’s fucking dreadful. Can’t we have a change?" No?
Builders and sparkies on building sites always seemed to enjoy stations like this, a bit heavy on the gibbering DJ, too. Maybe it makes them feel like they’re involved in life rather than grubbing about making houses for other people. God, the ways we find to con ourselves that our life is worthwhile.
God, I really am a grumpy bastard.
Now, I recall a ghastly six-month factory stint. The work was hard, partly because I was soft. But the fucking FM radio… torture. Really, really horrible. Every now and then they’d slide in an old 1960s Stones or Beatles track and it was like a drink of cool water in a drought.
This is why their LP rates 4.5 bottles out of five. Cold Irons Bound are certainly good enough to be staples of FM radio … and that cool drink of water…
They take their name from the Bob Dylan song from 20 years ago (one of those "I lost my love and I’m travelling like a hobo" songs), but they’re far stronger, evoking Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young at their most simplistic with a touch of Keith Richards and other names (which will probably leap to your mind more readily than they do to mine).
And Cold Irons Bound sound great, have all the kinds of songs people want to hear, and they’ll do well on the radio and they’ve worked hard to hone, develop and polish the songs; and this is no simple first disc. This LP of theirs fits the bill in almost all the ways you’d want; it’s complex, evocative, warm and empathic, for example; the twin guitars (Mark Adams and Ben Carter) are perfectly played, measured and without fuss or braggadocio and are set elegantly against an understanding rhythm section (James Alderman and Sam Fiddian).
And you’ll probably swoon when you hear it - the vocals are strong, yearning, exciting. The first side is a long, slow burning groove, and the second side equally strong and gorgeous; I can easily imagine them packing out places like Rod Laver Arena.
But after several listens, I can appreciate what Cold Irons Bound do. But I still don’t like it. Which is just my taste, I guess. Maybe I should see them live?
Now, to Eden were one of those Australian bands who came out of Melbourne's Crystal Ballroom scene after the Birthday Party imploded, quickly made a name for themselves (particularly overseas), and who looked like becoming a lot bigger before collapsing.
There’s yet to be a decent book written about the Ballroom days, and while the initial five or so years appear to be the most influential, the days thereafter held just as much sway in terms of their influence on today’s scenes - the difference is that that scene wasn’t part of a world-wide tsunami of new music.
When Eden played the Ballroom, they had Sean’s collection of battery-operated toy robots waddling about on stage while the band played. None of the robots were ever nicked. Eden’s first record was released by a Scottish label, their first single put them on Countdown; their first LP was released in both UK (where they were based) and Australia. Eden have shared the stage with Love Spirals Downward, Lycia, Rowland S. Howard, These Immortal Souls, Underground Lovers, Attrition, Heligoland, Ostia and countless others.
After many travels, Bowley reignited his band a couple of years ago, and they’ve been playing around Melbourne to considerable crowds.
But that’s hardly all: "The Edge of Winter" is scheduled for official release on 4th June 2017 at Gottik-Wave-Treffen GWT in Leipzig , Germany where Eden will perform with a showcase of bands including The Mission, Skinny Puppy and And The Girl Past
I presume Eden are monitoring their Wikipedia page, as so many bands do. They identify as being a Dark Wave band (I believe we’ve had the discussion about genres here: I loathe the pigeon-holing of music, although it’s obvious that you have to provide hooks for people to hang their coats on otherwise they apparently can’t make up their minds whether they like you) which, while I understand the term, if you take a squint at, say, ranker.com you’ll find a series of bands ranked more or less arbitrarily. The diversity is such that the term Dark Wave really seems to mean "whatever the namer wants it to mean" - like post-punk or post-modern.
So, we'll be skipping those terms. "The Edge of Winter" Like "Cold Irons Bound", the cover is mean, moody, magnificent; similarly, Eden belong on mainstream radio like that cool drink of water in the desert ... here you will find nods to bands you’re familiar with (such as Joy Division, Cure, Cocteau Twins, early Ultravox!, Swans, Dead Can Dance, Marc Almond…) and with Mute Records, which surely should be Eden’s natural home.
But Eden don’t sound like any of those bands. They sound lush, and absolutely gorgeous.
Beauty isn’t always pretty, of course. As many followers of Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Mark Lanegan, Tom Waits (Hell, Brel and Piaf… and opera) and many others realise, beauty can come from the depths of despair, bring us up and into the light. Songs can have a revelatory aspect, possess a near-religious fervour. Deeply rooted in an almost occult-like whirlpool, Bowley’s powerful, hovering vocals are straightforward and from the heart; he sings perhaps or perhaps not about himself, but he takes on the role of the narrator, the revealer of dreams.
Grand, yet simple. You’ll recognise aspects of Eden’s style instantly; rich, lyrical, sweeping and rather glorious. Bowley’s firm direction leads us into something like a gateway; his whopping Burns guitars are liquid with strength - imagine something like an Orbison intent on writing small soundtracks via spaghetti westerns and te deums … and Bowley’s lyrics recall the Nineteenth Century Novel in more than just style.
Yet, despite all the huge, choir in a huge cathedral aspect, there is a simple, direct communication going on here.
We, that is, all of us, create an internal mythology to some degree or another. We have to; it helps us comprehend the world around us and our place in it.
But you don’t want that perfectly-practiced grasp of the literary or the shonky mythological schtick that more established rock stars produce, and you don’t get that from Eden. Bowley’s worldview is purely his own, gently teased out from the everyday into his own hitherto private mythology.
From the first song, "Death of a Diamond":
There’s a stranger on the hill
he’s miles away from everything sane
This - this is the death
the death of a diamond
When something so hard and irresistible as a diamond dies… the strength you thought you had but found that you didn’t, and all you were is wrong and all you are is just a bloke on a hill…
And this from the second song, "Lost and Found…
Like phoenix sinking down
Gotta be a point where it burns down
Like a phoenix sinking down
Gotta be a point where it turns around
I contacted Sean for a bit more than just the blurb:
I believe ‘The Edge of Winter’ has integrity, quality and vision. It's very emotive, and locked into an ethereal setting. I suppose it's an unlikely thing to have been created in Melbourne, but when we were in the studio I had the firm feeling that I was seeking to place an inspirational energy into it, the same variety of energy I’d witnessed in a lot of Australian recordings which have inspired me. I felt like I was something akin to one of the last of the music hall generation. Rowland’s songs were key in my mind, but also the Seekers hauntingly introspective LP 'Seen in Green' was a great motivator. Being the introspective soul that I am I felt that I had to sing for and with these great Australian artists I love.
Eden are one of the few bands which can pull this stuff off live - and when you get your mitts on "The Edge of Winter", I will advise: PLAY LOUD. If I had to make comparisons, I’d compare discovering Eden in 2017 akin to discovering one of those bands which just appeared from nowhere, it seemed, up from under the sidewalk, fully dressed, fully sorted and ready to take on the world. The more you hear "The Edge of Winter" the more you'll want. Eden are that addictive. Eden’s second LP (from 1995) is also available on Bandcamp.
So, maybe, it may be a taste thing here. If you don’t get it first time, go round again. "The Edge of Winter" is a keeper and a stayer and a grower. I can’t wait to see Eden live.
1/2 - Cold Irons Bound
Cold Irons Bound: 4.5 bottles.
Eden: 6 bottles.