(By Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Lead Journalist/Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
We are going to deviate from the usual Oldschool Sunday fare and dedicate today’s segment to one of the greatest embodiments of traditional doom, of Maryland true doom, Al Morris III.
The first devastating loss of 2018’s underground musical realm came this past week when Al passed away on January 10th. He had been battling diabetes-related health issues, leading to the amputation of his left leg recently, and passed on nearly two months shy of his 61st birthday (March 9).
Anyone and everyone that ever knew or met Al came to the instant realization of how humble and gracious this man was. He was a soft-spoken musical innovator that, despite his planet-wide influence on heavy music, never seemed mindful or concerned with his legendary status.
Al’s rise to global recognition really began during the Seventies, but it would be the following decade where his impact would be undeniably established. Al, using his full name Alfred Morris, first began providing us with recorded material via the late 70s project he was part of, Force.
Force contributed an official Demo, EP, and S/T full-length album (along with being part of Splits and Compilations) when all was said and done. Although the band never publicly disbanded, the band somehow morphed into another entity, Rat Salad. This was rather short-lived and only released a one-off Split titled Double Dose Of Doom and there seems to some controversy related to it, the label Doom Force Records and it’s owner. We won’t go into that.
By this time, Al had become a well-known musician within the Maryland music scene. Himself influenced by the likes of Tony Iommi, Al’s playing was an enthralling style of downtuned heaviness that he augmented with his own spins using effects and, of course, creativity and talent.
In 1988, Al started a Black Sabbath tribute / cover band named Iron Man, but it was not long before they began to craft their own original material. What they created was powerfully evocative, guitar-propelled doom. In 1993, they released their début album, Black Knight, following a 1988 Demo.
From there, Iron Man would release monumentally significant albums, including The Passage (1994), Generation Void (1999) and I Have Returned (2009). The band also issued a number of EPs, those were 2007’s Submission, 2011’s Dominance and 2012’s Att hålla dig över. Al was the ever-present component to each release despite changes in the Iron Man band roster and labels. His songwriting and playing were the heart and soul of Iron Man and he always surrounded himself with some equally incredible musicians.
Perhaps the most prolific line up and album release both came with Iron Man‘s 2013 masterpiece for Rise Above Records, South Of The Earth. With vocalist “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun, bassist Louis Strachan, and drummer Mot Waldmann by his side, Al was the glue that served to unite them all for an amazing record.
Singer Dee Calhoun recently offered some insights as to his joining Iron Man at that time commenting:
“A legend was lost today. A father. A friend. A consummate professional, a true gentleman and gentle soul.
When Al expressed an interest in my joining Iron Man, I was hopeful, but didn’t let myself get too excited. “Snowball’s chance in hell” was what was soaring through my mind, and when I went to the audition, I just decided to have fun and relished the fact that I was getting to jam with Al Morris for an evening. After a set of Iron Man songs, as well as an impromptu jam of JP’s “Victim of Changes,” I was offered the gig. It was the beginning of something very, very cool.
Every time I visited Al, our talks always made their way around to the future of Iron Man. New songs, new album, you name it. While I could see the writing on the wall, and suspect that he did as well, Al’s love of music, this band, and the fans never wavered.
Dee went on to share how this opportunity was the staging area for his own artistic endeavors saying:
“Without Al, none of the creative endeavors I’m currently taking part in would have been possible. He put me on a larger stage, made me recognizable, and supported and encouraged the things I did outside of Iron Man. I can say without hesitation or shame that my solo career would never have grown the legs it has if Al hadn’t tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to sing for his band. For that, I am eternally grateful.
As a musician, I was blessed to have Al as a bandmate. It was pure joy for the fan in me to stand on that stage and hear that monstrous tone roaring over my left shoulder. As a person, I was even more blessed to have Al as a friend. I will cherish the time we spent discussing life as much as I will cherish the great music we made together.
Al, rest easy my dear friend. I love, miss, and thank you so damn much.“
I and many, many countless others share Dee’s closing sentiment, we have all lost a spectacular musician and well-beloved person. I reflect back on seeing Iron Man my one and only time at the inaugural Maryland Doom Festival and can only say how stunning the band was live. More so, I was able to meet Al in person and briefly exchange a few words with him, something that ranks way up there in my own myriad personal musical experiences.
The loss of Al Morris III will have long-lasting effects on all aspects and avenues, be it in the musical world or outside of it. As we all think about this and endure the process of coming to terms with his exit from this plane, a GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help with covering funeral expenses. Please donate anything you are inclined to at this location.
Al was a proud individual, not in his own accomplishments or personage, but in what he was able to help contribute to the world of heavy music. He clearly loved his fans and it is more than evident that they loved Al right back just as much, if not more. He will be missed.
Rest In Power, Al Morris III 1957-2018.