SAD IRON – TOTAL DAMNATION (1983)
Sad Iron wasn’t forged in the Netherworld, but rather the Netherlands — the harbor town of Hoorn, to beprecise. The founder and sole constant member since their formation in 1979 is guitarist Bernard Rive. He soon recruitedDirk Ooms (bass), Gerrit Soering (drums), and Jan Palenstijn (vocals). Three of Sad Iron’s songs, performed live, were included on Holland Heavy Metal Vol. 1. As a result of winning a battle of the bands, Sad Iron were rewarded with once day of studio time at K&M Geluidsregistratie.
Rive entered the studio with new members Leo “Pro Deo” Ockeloen on bass, Jacques Van Oevelen on drums, andHerke Van Der Poel on vocals and they recorded Total Damnation in one day. Sad Iron shared stages with bands like Hanoi Rocks, Picture, and Vandale.
The band’s name, Sad Iron, is odd. Most English speakers have probably never heard of a sadiron (a flatiron pointed at both ends and having a removable handle) and even split into two words, “sad” and “iron,” the desired effect remains elusive. The lyrics on Total Damnation are also awkward — but in a way that is not unfamiliar to anyone who ever listens to non-Anglo European music nevertheless sung in English. The best song, “We All Praise the Devil,” includes the line “We all praise the devil, he’s so fine” which lyrically owes as much to The Chiffons as it does Chemosh, dark lord of the Moabites.
The awkwardness of Ab Kooyman‘s album art can’t be explained away by language barrier, however. On it the band’s name weeps large tears as a professional wrestler-looking demon wields a Flying V guitar like a shovel whilst an eagle and tiger look with strange expressions. In the background is some sort of neoclassical financial institution or something. It’s charmingly odd but, again, not atypical for heavy metal releases of the era — nor is the focus on Satan, which might warrant some explanation for the modern listener not emersed in the history of heavy metal or Satan’s place in late 20th Century pop culture.
For most adults the notion of songs about Satan is no more scary than songs about monster parties but in the 1980s it Satanic metal struck a fearsome chord into the hearts of the meek. Just a couple of decades earlier Satanism and the Occult seem to have been viewed as harmless fun — like going to a renaissance fair or LARPing. The Church of Satan was established in 1966, not surprisingly, in San Francisco. In Los Angeles County, Louise Huebner was appointed the county’s official witch. The Beatles stuck and image of Aleister Crowley on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Rolling Stones sang “Sympathy for the Devil.” Ira Levin’s popular novel, Rosemary’s Baby, was adapted into a hitHollywood film in 1968 — the same year Black Sabbath formed, taking their name from a 1963 Mario Bavafilm of the same name.
In the 1970s, that interest in Satanism and the Occult continued. Kenneth Anger finally completed Lucifer Rising in 1972. Dungeons & Dragons was published in 1974. There were quite a lot of Satanic horror films, the most popular being The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). Even Aaron Spelling (and two future Charlie’s Angels) made a network television movie, Satan’s School for Girls. In music, mainstream rockers like Blue Öyster Cult and Led Zeppelin overtly (if superficially) played with occult imagery most Satanic bands like Angel Witch, Black Widow, Cloven Hoof, Pagan Altar, Venom, Witchfynde, and others remained decidedly underground and mostly appeared toward the end of the decade.
Satan was dragged back into the spotlight by a group far scarier than Satanists and far more sinister than metal-heads — evangelical Christian fundamentalists. Always late to the scene, America’s Taliban focused their blame for society’s ills on loud guitar music, role-playing games, and “gory” 8-bit video games. The flames of their moral panic were fanned by those eager to exploit their superstitious gullibility, figures like Michelle Smith, who published a memoir (co-written by her psychiatrist and future husband) filled with Satanic ritual abuse called Michelle Remembers, in 1980. Although exposed as a fraud, the imaginations of hypnotized psychiatric patients and children were suddenly treated as fact and hack “journalists” like Geraldo Rivera explored and exploited the imaginary Satanic Underground.
For the most part watching these crusaders tilt at windmills was highly entertaining. I regularly tuned in to Bob Larson’s (author of Satanism: The Seduction of America’s Youth) radio show, in which he would antagonize and be antagonized by metal-head phone trolls and hostile guests. I used to eagerly collect Jack Chick tracts, small comic books that suggested that even benevolent Buddhists were bound for eternal damnation and that trick-or-treating was a Satanic recruitment tool. Some friends of mine were on an episode of Montel Williams about the evils of goth subculture (his henchquack Sylvia Browne must’ve been busy that day).
Sometimes it was impossible to laugh, however. The McMartin Preschool case — which resulted in zero convictions — was the most expensive trial in American history. In West Memphis, Arkansas, three innocent teenagers were sentenced to death in primarily because a jury was convinced that one of the three, since he word black and listened to Metallica (and U2), was surely guilty of ritual murder.
Thankfully, the Satanic Panic seems to be a thing of the past. Today paranoiacs and outrage addicts have a whole smorgasbord of folk devils and boogeymen to choose from (e.g. Barack Obama, the Illuminati, scientists, almonds, bicyclists, campus rape culture, Chinese birth tourists, Millennials, gluten, lawfully-wedded homosexuals, Mexicans, MSG, Muslims, old white men, Planned Parenthood, road diets, Socialists, tap water, the transgendered, undocumented migrants, universal healthcare, white twerkers, and bath salt-tweaking Floridians). Satan, by comparison, seems quaintly old fashioned, as much a part of the ’80s as friendship bracelets and beads.
Back to Sad Iron’s one album, then. Metal is one of those genres which, to an outsider like me, seems to treat virtually interchangeable sounds as vastly different genres. For metalheads the fact that Sad Iron play both speed metal and thrash counts as versatility. If your’e a big fan of bands like Exciter, Judas Priest, Saxon or New Wave of Dutch Metal you should definitely give Sad Iron a listen. (Here’s their website).
Sad Iron, after all, clearly have their fans and after the release of Total Damnation they were pursued by a couple of labels, Roadrunner and Mausoleum. They decided to go with the latter who ended up going bankrupt in 1986 (they’ve since been revived). Sad Iron’s follow-up album, The Antichrist, was thus never released and the master tapes were lost. The band broke-up shortly after but Satan works in mysterious ways and a line-up of Sad Iron played a reunion show in 2000 at the Heavy Metal Maniacs Festival in Hoorn. Rive decided to have another go with a new line-up comprised, this time, of Charles Heijnen (bass),Marc van den Bos (vocals and rhythm guitar), and Robert Bakker (drums). The embarked on the Dutch Steel Attack Tour with Hammerhawk and Vortex.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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