Few bands can legitimately say they’ve influenced both Battles and Lamb Of God. Breadwinner is one of them. In the early ’90s, the Virginia group hashed out an off-kilter, technically dizzying deconstruction of instrumental metal that solidified the burgeoning subgenre of math-rock. Breadwinner guitarist Pen Rollings formed his latest outfit, Loincloth, in 2003, but while he left before the band released its debut full-length, Iron Balls Of Steel, the album picks up not far from where Breadwinner left off in 1992—lack of vocals, love of calculus, and all.
The main difference is, Iron Balls has a lot more grit and gristle to it. In the epic 90 seconds of “Underwear Bomb,” guitarist Tannon Penland carves out muscular, synchronized slabs of dissonance that snap sharply into drummer Steve Shelton’s bonelike framework. Even briefer, “Hoof-Hearted” gallops along with a jazz-metal jerkiness that threatens to collapse at any moment—but holds together long enough to stagger across the finish line. Twenty years after Breadwinner’s demise, though, the question is: What’s the point of Iron Balls, seeing as how so many of Rollings’ acolytes have taken his innovations to such evolved extremes? The answer is as blunt as Loincloth’s name: Even the most progressive musicians need to strip down and mark their territory from time to time.