Perhaps best known as the voice of Iron Man, a stalwart of the underground world of Doom that has now finished with the far too early death of founder Alfred Morris III, Dee Calhoun proves that he is in no way a man just content to rest on his laurels, instead producing his second solo album and follow up to the excellent ‘Rot Gut’ in the form of ‘Go To The Devil’. Featuring this time the addition of Iron Man bandmate Louis Strachan, Screaming Mad Dee shows that you don’t need a down tuned Gibson SG and a stack of valve powered Marshalls to tell tales of bleakness, instead going down the route trodden by those Country singers who don’t have massive hair and rhinestone coated jeeps and matching AR15s to uncover the darkness that lurks in the shadow cast by the Stars and Stripes.
‘Common Enemy’ starts the journey and sets the structure for the whole album; a single acoustic guitar, a skilfully accompanying bass, the simplest of hand held percussion, and a voice that truly earned the title “Screaming Mad” with its power and range. Frankly, Dee’s voice has the sort of delivery that should be belting out Judas Priest or Lynyrd Skynyrd numbers, and it is a testament to his skill and passion that he holds it in check enough not to drown out the music, instead bringing a heartfelt poignancy to the album. ‘Bedevil Me’ adds a mournful harmonica to the mix that matches the bleak sonic landscape of the song, practically painting a portrait of towns and cities fading away as economies change, an austerity reinforced by ‘Born (One-Horse Town)’ as a young man strives to escape the fate of his home town. 2016’s ‘Hell Or High Water’ tried to capture this fading glory of the Old West on screen, and excellent as it is, it could not match the stark pictures conjured up on this album. Title track ‘Go To The Devil’ for a couple of seconds promises some full on metal madness with a narrated introduction that surely belongs on an Iron Maiden or Dio track, but instead of screaming Stratocasters Mr Calhoun again delivers his own stripped back music, albeit I’ve no doubt his six string riffing could easily be translated into something more massive with the right electrification.
So many aspects of modern US life that are a million miles from Trump’s red hatted and flag waving bombast are put under a musical microscope and examined with a jaded eye on this album, religion getting the treatment on ‘Jesus, The Devil, The Deed’. Whilst the song is in some ways a modern successor to ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’, it is stripped of any glamour, even Jesus having to resort to the bottle to deal with the crushing weight of reality, and the album closes with ‘Dry Heaves & Needles’, a scream against the opioid crisis that is hitting the states, the opening narration being even more terrifying as it is not lifted from some film drama, but rather a news story of a young child who saw their parents overdosing.
‘Go To The Devil’ is far bleaker than ‘Rotgut’, lacking the innocent joys of a new ‘Little Houn’, and is almost unremittingly grim, unflinchingly reflecting the world it was made in. Once again, Dee Calhoun again proves that you don’t need fireworks, corpse paint, or tales of nether-worldly ghouls and demons to be dark, rather he narrates tales of the world as it is like a modern day troubadour, and eminently fits Ave Noctum’s brief to bring “atmospheric music.”