Herman Frank and David Reece may not have crossed paths during their times in Accept, but with their new band Iron Allies, they have built a solid friendship. Their debut album, Blood In Blood Out, is released today, and the exceptionally talented five-piece Iron Allies have presented a remarkable 12-song disk.
Vocalist David Reece and guitarist Herman Frank, both in wonderfully relaxed form and good spirits, spoke with MetalTalk’s Steve Ritchie to explain how this match made in Heavy Metal heaven came about.
Iron Allies – Blood In Blood Out (AFM Records)
Release Date: 21 October 2022
Words: Steve Ritchie
Technology allows me to speak with Herman in Germany and David in Italy without eating into my 90/180-day allowance enforced by the shit show of Brexit. Technology also helped Frank make contact with Reece.
“When I first got it in my mind that I would love to contact David, I thought to myself how to find this guy,” Herman says. Facebook provided the answer. “I sent him a message saying I am creating a new band. Do you want to join? Five minutes later, he said he would be honoured to join. That was fantastic.”
David and Herman had not met before. “We crossed paths probably 20 times and missed each other by minutes or days on festivals,” David says. “But I’ve known of him for 500 years, before dinosaurs [laughs]. No, I was very happy.”
The genesis for the music was Herman sending a couple of tracks over to David, and it is these initial ideas and the way the pair enthusiastically talk about the results that is very pleasing to hear.
Reece took ’80s Metal inspiration and worked his magic on lyrics and melodies. “It just came out of the air,” he says. “These things just appear sometimes. I just grabbed a pen and started scribbling words down. Then I turned on my 50-year-old iPhone. Thank God it still works. I recorded on that and sent it to Herman. He said, keep going.”
The first track was Freezin, and if you listen to David’s layered vocals and the way he places melody over Herman’s fantastic riffing, you can get the sense of how the excitement must have been building. This track is awesome.
“The second track was Selling Out, and this was a fantastic one,” Herman says. “When David recorded the proper version in Italy in a little studio, I said to myself, we will keep this. There was so much energy and so much freshness in this thing. I’m always a friend of keeping what some would call demo stuff. It’s the same with the guitar. Especially on this song Selling Out, you would call it a demo version.
“Because if you create a song, or compose a song, especially for guitars, then you play the riff in a different way. I tried so many times in my life to record it properly, and it never worked out the same way. It loses the tension, or whatever you call it. So I’m a friend of a first take. Okay, sounds good to me. Keep it.”
For a song like Selling Out, this process is perfect, giving the song life and spontaneity rather than just something manufactured.
“Exactly,” Herman says, “and that’s what you’re looking for. David is such a well-known musician. He is able to do anything. With his famous line, ‘came out of the air’, well you have to keep this moment. There are so many records that are polished, cut and pasted, corrected and tuned. We didn’t record like this.
“When people say, [listening to a band doing a live show], you sound much more aggressive or fresher or sound different, I wonder why? You shouldn’t spend that much time in the studio, guys. Just bang it. Just lay tracks down on the computer or, in the early days, on tape. David is educated to record on tape. I was educated and trained to record on the tape machine too. I guess that makes a difference.”
David Recce has an amazing voice. Herman must have been impressed when he heard David’s first proper studio vocal. “I didn’t expect it like that,” he says straight away. “I was overwhelmed. I said to myself that gives to my guitar a special song. That’s the reason why I think Iron Allies stands for its own. When you listen back, you can’t compare it [to other bands]. I mean, a lot of the guys will compare it to whatever bands in the world. I won’t compare it to anything because the timbre, the sound of David’s voice on top of these guitars, it’s different to many albums.
“David is a native speaker, so he plays around with the rhythm of words and then he uses very good pronunciation on his vocals. He’s creating a melody with his lyrics. And I do like the combination of this heavy rock with a little bit of bluesy stuff in his voice.”
David is straight in, showing how this partnership works wonderfully. “You gotta have a riff. You gotta have a melody,” he says. “If there’s not a melody, I don’t care how great the lyric is. If there’s not a song foundation, it’s going to be crap.”
Herman jumps in, “You’re absolutely right.”
“I mean, you can’t polish a pile of shit because you still have a pile of shit. So if there’s something great to start with, it’s inspiring, man. I haven’t been inspired for a long time, and I was inspired. I mean, I tell the story 100 times, but the guy that recorded those vocals, he’s more of a folk guy. And when he heard Herman’s guitar rip, he literally stopped and looked at me and said, ‘who’s playing the guitar on this stuff?’ I said, Herman Frank. He goes, ‘man, the dude gets it. It’s right there in the left hand.’ He’s technically proficient as well, this guy. Acoustically, he’s brilliant. He said, ‘the guy gets it. It’s right here, how you put your finger on the chord, how you phrase it’.”
Full Of Surprises is the opener, and it is a wonderful start to the album. A moody, Sabbath-esque opening, then the first tremendous riff from Herman allows Reece to fly. With belting double vocals on the chorus, it all builds to that wonderful solo. “David forced me to play a long lead on this one,” Herman says.
“I said, Herman, do you think the solo is long enough?” David smiles. “He goes, it’s not long enough.”
“You’re asking me?” Herman laughs. “Because we are over 40 now. Dude, you have to think about all the live shows we have to do. I need a break in between. To tell you the truth, I just enjoyed to jam on this track and so I couldn’t find any end. If David had not stopped me, I still would be jamming on the track right now. For me, it has the perfect time, beats per minute and stuff like that, perfect harmonies. It was fun to jam over these harmonies, you know?.”
The title track Blood In Blood Out is epic in style. Is there any Iommi riff inspiration there? “I’m always inspired by Tony Iommi,” Herman says. “He’s still one of my favourites. When I started to play the guitar at the age of 14, 15, I tried to play Iron Man and all his riffs with the first band I formed. We tried to do a couple of covers of Black Sabbath. He is one of a kind. I do love his pure riffing. He’s not using that many notes, but what he is doing, wow. Simple, but wow.”
Iommi talks about his book of riffs. Is that something Herman has too? “I started very early when I was on tour,” he says. “I had this little cassette recorder, 20 or 30 years ago. Right now, if I wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea, I sing it right now to the iPhone and try to figure out the next morning. So once in a while, it works out for sure.”
Iron Allies are collecting riffs too. “I’ve got mountains of riffs here that didn’t make the record,” Reece says, “and they’ll be reviewed for the next album.”
“There are more riffs,” Herman says. “The most difficult part is, as I remember, we wrote 18-20 songs for this album. We asked the record company, would it be possible to release 20 songs. They said, are you crazy? Are you out of mind? We want to have a second album. So don’t waste it on the first one. Then the difficult part started for David and me to choose the 12 out of 20. I didn’t like this moment.”
Both agreed on the opening song. “For the running order, we didn’t argue that long either,” Herman says. “I mean, there are 12 songs. We could have used to a pair of dice.”
Destroyers Of The Night has David’s opening scream grabbing your attention immediately. This will be an awesome song to play live, especially with the second guitar. Surely Iron Allies are going to take this on the road?
“Otherwise, we wouldn’t have recorded an album,” Herman says. “That’s the only way. I started to play music to go out there on the road. I don’t want to sit back home and spend my days in the studio. That’s not the rock n’ roll life. I really enjoy going out there riding the bus, entering the club and just plugging in.”
“What’s the point of sitting on my ass making albums,” David says. “I could do 20 albums a year, and then what for what? I want to tour. I miss touring. It’s the only way.”
Fear No Evil is exceptional too, and one that will surely be another live staple. Another two-guitar belter and a further great example of why this is a proper Heavy Metal album, full of aggressive riffs, wonderful melody and something you can swing to when you play it loud.
“Yeah, and it just drives,” David says. “We’re driving nails. That’s what Herman and I said, and that’s why Francesco Jovino is our drummer. If a drummer is not driving nails into the floor, you don’t have that attack machine gun rhythm, and you need that for this type of music. You need a drummer who is driving nails through your skull, literally, with groove. You can pound and go fast all day long with your feet and show off your tricks, but if you don’t have that feel, that’s the whole ticket, man.”
Jovino had fractured his wrist earlier, but rehab and return to fitness finds him in outstanding form across the album. “The producer looked at me after about eight hours and said, do you realize the impact and the attack and the power on the snare has not diminished the whole day? He hit that at the same tension and power all day.”
Blood On The Land is another great example of Jovino’s finesse. His use of the double bass drum in places in the song is tremendous and adds a wonderful atmosphere to the piece. It is the opposite end of the spectrum to kind of programmed drums, and alongside the great chantable chorus, this means it is another great song to hear live.
If Nightmares In My Mind is another great riff-led track, Truth Never Mattered extends that concept even further. The structure and mix of the guitars is intoxicating. Check out the guitar solo. For recording something as sublime as that is what all guitarists must strive for in terms of the goosebump-inducing emotions of a listen.
“I just like to play guitar,” Herman says. “Most of the time when I start jamming around on a lead part, I don’t calculate or something like that.”
Herman is not into arpeggios or diminished, or chord numbers. He plays from the heart. “I’m not a player like this,” he says. “I’m more like old school plug in, record, to try to get something done. You have to have it in your heart, in your hand and in your mind. It often happens that it’s not just one take because it’s not played properly in my technical style. It’s nearly impossible to play everything totally correct in the first take. But the ideas are mostly there. And if you won’t have it on the second or third or maybe the fourth try, then stop.”
Nightmare In My Mind is taken from a quote David read. “A lie makes it nearly halfway around the world before a man can put the boot of truth on one foot,” he says. “That’s basically what it’s about. Truth never seems to matter is lyrically in the song. People would rather listen to you lie all day than really get to it. We all looked at each other in the studio and I said, can I please put the ‘li-ar’ Queen thing there with harmonies? We did it in one take. Yeah, man, I mean, that song is…. I’m sorry man, but I just love the whole album.”
Martyrs Burn is another standout track on an album of top quality. David explains that the song is about WWII London when the posh folks would watch the London industrial areas being bombed from a safe distance while drinking tea.
If Full Of Surprise is the obvious opener, then We Are legend (You And I) is the perfect bookend to a perfect album. A fantastic song, with a wonderfully flash solo, leads to an epic last minute, with a great opportunity for crowd participation in the future.
“Oh yeah, that was one of my favourites and another one that people are always bringing up,” Reece says. “They say it’s a great bookend finish to the record because that’s kind of tough to do. Your whole goal of the record is to keep moving. You don’t want to get these flatlines and then try to regain momentum. Like live, you want to kick them in the balls and leave their balls hurting when you walk off.”
Repeated listens to Iron Allies Blood In Blood Out has filled my head with dreams of growing my hair, buying a bullet belt and playing the album loud in the kitchen to scare the wife and kids. It’s that engrossing.
It’s been described as a new sound, which I would not totally disagree with, but what it certainly is, is fresh, aggressive Heavy Meal played by a super talented band. The tracks are organic, written and recorded from the heart with no sign at all of over-tinkering or manufacturing.
In Herman Frank and David Reece, you have two people loving their company and engrossed in the beauty of each other’s talents. It is refreshing to hear them talk together.
Blood In Blood Out is an outstanding offering and is sure to be in my top five albums of 2022. Live, you just know this will be something very, very special.
Herman Frank (Guitar)
David Reece (Vocals)
Malte Burkert (Bass)
Francesco Jovino (Drums)
Mike Pesin (Guitar)