ESP-Disk’ : Last Exit - Iron Path LP
All-star quartet Last Exit garnered its reputation with a string of unrelentingly forceful concert recordings in which it pushed the energy style of free jazz to its limits. When the group went into the studio for the only time, though, a very different sort of album resulted—very different not only from all their other output, but even from anything else ever heard from anyone at that time. Because of that, when it was released in 1988, some fans and critics didn't know what to make of it. This was, in a way, understandable, because Iron Path was so far ahead of its time that perhaps only now, over a quarter of a century later, is there an audience prepared for this album's pioneering hybrid of abstract heavy metal, unsettling ambient music, and free improvisation. Back in 1988, "Darkwave" hadn't yet been conceived, much less named and niched.
The brutal sonic assault of Last Exit's live albums is not banished; it lurks below the surface onIron Path, sometimes allowed to break through for a moment of stark contrast. But the unremitting density of texture heard in the quartet's shows is stripped back in favor of more subtle and varied textures, sculpting an atmosphere of moody brooding and sinister suspense. And, of course, the studio also allowed for far greater sonic clarity, putting these virtuoso players in a setting that shows off their masterful command of myriad timbres.
In a world that has since become accustomed to hearing Earth, Pelican, Blut Aus Nord, Aphex Twin's Ambient Works sets, and Oöphoi, and artists such as Whote who explore the overlap between them, Iron Path can finally get its due, and an audience schooled to appreciate what it offers.
Sonny Sharrock, guitar
Peter Brötzmann, saxophone
Bill Laswell, bass
Ronald Shannon Jackson, drums
01. Prayer 4:37
02. Iron Path 3:28
03. The Black Bat (for Aki Ikuta) 4:33
04. Marked for Death 2:20
05. The Fire Drum 4:19
06. Detonator 3:47
07. Sand Dancer 1:55
08. Cut and Run 2:30
09. Eye for an Eye 4:54
10. Devil's Rain 4:13
"Iron Path introduces a less frantic direction, with more value placed on the space between notes. The compositions impose a thin veneer of structure: the recurring slide-guitar phrase in 'Devil's Rain,' the Oriental motif of the title track. Some of the more textured pieces at times suggest King Crimson at its most venturesome, while 'Prayer' employs a majestic Sharrock riff for Jackson to scurry under, and 'Cut and Run' hints at surf-metal." – Greg Kot, Trouser Press
"Using the studio to their advantage, Last Exit explores sonic texture on 'Prayer' and 'The Fire Drum,' but never loses sight of the power and energy that makes their live recordings so memorable. If you were to have one Last Exit recording, this might well be the one." – John Dougan, All Music Guide
"In 'Sand Dancer,' Sharrock, the most seismic axmonster on earth...makes your head spin in hirsute swirls. 'Eye for an Eye' is where Piggy from Voivod goes to church in dimension Hatross and the congregation’s all mammoths with their fat butts stuck in the pews. They’re getting their wool shaved off, Sonny's making wild electronic noise as if he's vacuuming up fur left over from the last Ice Age. The album ends with the drummer repeatedly booting you in the teeth with steel-tipped construction-worker shoes. This is 'jazz,' by the way." – Chuck Eddy,Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe