Last September, Late Iron Age Sonic Architect Wade Allison Spoke About Composing a Crossover Metal Standard
Eighteen days after the death of Power Trip frontman we uncover an unseen interview with the late guitarist
"Iron Age are very important to the history of Texas hardcore and metal," guitarist Blake Ibanez of Dallas metal heroes Power Trip told the Chronicle last year. "Sometimes a band's 'success,' for lack of a better term, is related to timing. Iron Age existed right before everyone was really ready for them. Regardless, their records continue to be revered and their legacy remains intact."
The pioneering Austin metal act – a powerhouse fusion of complex thrash, roaring hardcore, and cosmic doom – became a seminal influence on Lone Star heaviness after them. About 2009 Iron Age lodestone The Sleeping Eye, Lincoln Mullin of Denton's Creeping Death pledged, "I truly believe the Texas scene would not be the same as it is now without it." Ibanez admitted as much:
"It's safe to say [Power Trip] wouldn't be a band if it wasn't for them."
As primary composer, guitarist Wade Allison proved a major architect of Iron Age's distinctive sonic blast, composing a cornerstone blueprint for the last decade of Texan metallica. Allison died suddenly on Sept. 10, by some cruel irony a mere 18 days after the equally abrupt passing of his friend and Iron Age proselytizer Riley Gale, the driving force behind Power Trip. The two bands last played together on March 25, 2017, for a record release show at the Mohawk marking PT's acclaimed second LP, Nightmare Logic, which Allison noted last year as a "big deal for us, having been friends with and watching them.
"They're like younger brothers to us and have been since they started."
The Way Is Narrow
Allison grew up in Texarkana, the son of an Austin-born, guitar-building father. He learned to play after his dad gave him an acoustic and used his junior high and high school years to nurture his musical ambitions. "I feel like being in a band was all I really wanted to do," he noted. "High school kids all want to do that."
Attending Texas State at 18, he spent nights and weekends in Austin, finally meeting similar musical minds like singer Jason Tarpey. The pair became the mainstays of Iron Age, recording the albums Constant Struggle (2006) and The Sleeping Eye behind Tarpey as lyrical conceptualist and Allison as the musical template builder. Following the band's dissolution in 2011, the axe grinder moved to Houston, earned a law degree, and recorded and toured 2013's Underworlds with Austin thrashers Mammoth Grinder, whose leader Chris Ulsh briefly pulled duty in Iron Age before taking the drum seat in Power Trip.
After moving back to Austin in 2014 with his wife and two children, Allison reassumed the mantle of Iron Age sonic designer, writing new music and participating in sporadic shows, including a pair at NYC festival Hardcore Hell in 2019. The reunion didn't last and the new material remains unrecorded.
Allison and I met around the pool of his apartment complex a year ago, Sept. 18, 2019, for a story on the 10th anniversary of The Sleeping Eye. Here, he talks about how he became Iron Age's lead tunesmith.
Wade Allison: Originally, we used ideas Steve [Norman, first Iron Age axeman] had. He'd bring something in and I'd be like, "Well, here's an intro," or, "Here's a song to go with that." Pretty soon after that, I was like, "Here's the next song, and the next song, and here's how it's gonna go, and you do this, and you do that." So, early on, I just assumed control over how stuff was gonna go. I'd write on guitar, then get with our drummer [Reed Thomas on the first LP, Wade's brother Jared on the second], and it went pretty easy at first. The songs were simple.
But we were trying to be less simple.
A lot of The Sleeping Eye was written in 2006, beginning of 2007. Reed quit in the middle of the process, so we brought in my brother, and the writing went pretty much the same. I'd have the ideas and work through them with him, "This part fits with this, this part fits with that, let's try this, this transition's good." That was the process: me and Jared spending a lot of hours putting in work.
Drums are the most important part, so getting someone to sit in a room with me while I go through every permutation – "try this, play it slow, play it fast, play it backwards, play that into this" – that's what they have to do. Since then, that's generally been the case. It continues through to now.
We've been writing stuff on and off for after Sleeping Eye starting in 2009, when it came out. Me and Jared would get together and say, "Hey, remember this part?" Jared and Jason and I have gotten to work together a lot more recently. It's nice to have all three of us. Smarter bands have less annoyingly complicated songs where you can just have people show up – "Let's just do it like this" – but for us, it's more like, "I can imagine where the vocals go, I think we'll probably do a solo here." Having Jason there helps hear that dimension instead of just imagining it.
Austin Chronicle: Jason said you have an album's worth of songs ready to go.
WA: "Ready to go" is pretty close to right. I'm not gonna say ready to go, but if he says ready to go, I'm not gonna argue with him. We do have a culmination of stuff we've been working on since 2010. We've got about 10 songs that are all either pretty much there, or there. As far as what ends up happening at this point I don't know.
Cro-Mags Patch, Kreator Shirt
Last year, Iron Age's two performances at New York's Hardcore Hell festival, Aug. 9 and Aug. 11, billowed their second wind – as terse as it ended. The Austinites' reception underscored their impact on underground metal in the decade since The Sleeping Eye emerged.
WA: To me, those shows were two of the top five we've ever played. This is stuff we didn't have in the first five years of the original band run. We played a lot, but we never had that connection between what we had and people who were understanding what we were doing. That connection existed for some people, but not for the majority.
It was always a thing where we were playing with more Eighties traditional hardcore bands. That's the kind of music I'd want to listen to, but there was still a disconnect between six-minute metal and thrash songs, and that vibe. People just didn't put two and two together the way that we did. We were just in our own little world.
Since 2013, that's changed a lot. People now understand us, and I don't know if more of them have heard us, but people have changed. Back then, if you're some metalhead, you're not gonna have a Cro-Mags patch on your shit, but now you might. And if you were some hardcore kid, you weren't gonna wear a Kreator shirt – but now you might.
People go back and forth a lot more. That's a great thing for us, because that's literally what we've always done. It culminated in some of the best shows we've ever played, one being that Power Trip record release in 2017. And the New York shows were the same vibe: sold-out, people going crazy, every friend we had on the East Coast was there. We connected with people on a broader level. We're not some big band – I have no delusions about that – but it's nice to have our little thing that people get.
If you stopped me in 2006 and asked me what I wanted to do, I'd have said, "Be as big as Mastodon." I don't think I would've been serious, but we never did anything that would put us in that position. We just did whatever we wanted, and didn't really understand things bands would do to make their work realized.
Times have changed. The record has found its audience. It's revered. I have a hard time even thinking those things, much less saying them, because it sounds ridiculous.
But it's nice.
Big As Mastodon
Before its reissue on modern classic metal label 20 Buck Spin, The Sleeping Eye came out on Tee Pee Records, a prime mover in the stoner rock revolution of the Nineties and early Aughts. Strange fit, but it amounted to a low risk for Tee Pee. Production costs had been picked up by Allison for release on Tarpey's label Cyclopean Records.
Despite a disconnect between Iron Age and the kind of music Tee Pee fans expected, the association allowed the locals to spread the word outside of both Texas and the hardcore scene.
WA: We like the label and the bands they were putting out, and that whole general vibe. There were certain aspects of The Sleeping Eye that we felt we were putting into it that carried some of those same vibes with it, but obviously we were playing a different kind of music. That was also a point in time when metal labels were looking more closely at bands from a hardcore side, which is probably what they thought they were getting with us.
[Before that], people couldn't see past it, even though there's very little about us that was really hardcore. We've been up against that our entire existence. So with Tee Pee, it felt nice to get on the other side of the same three or four hardcore labels that already knew about us, because what we did was a little more expansive.
Did Tee Pee's general audience care about it? Some did and some didn't, but not in the way that moved the needle for us or them. But it's cool. When the record came out, we got to tour with Baroness for a little bit, and I think they're a great band. They were hitting a peak at that point. We toured with Skeletonwitch, which was a perfect fit for what we were doing. That kind of stuff was cool.
AC: Things that exist in their own space last. Did you have any idea The Sleeping Eye would hold up?
WA: I have no idea what we thought. It was literally something that had to happen. We were always just wholly compelled by our own vision of what we needed to put out there. It is nice that it makes more sense now than before. It made sense to us, and now it makes sense to a few more people. I really appreciate that. Everybody's only getting stronger, which is a good thing. In 10 years, we'll be as big as Mastodon [laughs].