Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Down Here You're Gonna All Stay

Greeting and salutations.

After last week’s unexpected detour in my schedule, I’d promised everyone an “all-new” show review in this installment. Not only that, but if you’ll recall from my last full column, I mentioned actually reviewing the headlining act on their own bill. Once again back at the keyboard, I’m pleased to announce that no less than 50% of those promises will be kept! That’s right, an all-new review is just sentences away. Do your best to contain your excitement and keep reading.

Having intended to see this band in their earlier incarnation, I took the opportunity this past week to check in on Speak of the Devil (as they opened for Signal 7). The core of the metal act formerly known as Bludfed, this group emerged following a lineup turnover some months ago, and watching their rebirth has since become a morbid little hobby of mine…not that they’d ever know it, of course. I lusted at the opportunity to watch a local act suffer and survive through the infamous identity crisis. It was my own personal reality television show, with fewer cameras and no badly-written catchphrases. Whether they succeeded or failed, I knew I was going to be entertained.

As loud and as in love with Satan as they’ve ever been, there’s no mistaking the hardcore influence. If you’re near a flat surface with any kind of protruding edge, I’d like to invite you to lift your hand and then quickly slam your fingers straight down against the sharpest point of the edge. If you do it right, you’ll catch the skin behind your fingernails and peel it back to the joint. Were there a microphone in the room when you did this, the stomping, cursing, screaming, and jumping you did after sustaining the injury would closely resemble Speak of the Devil’s musical foundation. To some, this may sound like a ludicrous and unpleasant experience. But consider the attraction of more common, yet similar self-inflicted acts (tattoos, piercings, etc.), and you have yourself an audience.

Separating Speak of the Devil’s contribution from that of their peers can be difficult, especially if you’re only familiar with the genre at some distance, which is part of the reason why, even with tremendous underground success, the music is still resisted in the mainstream. The goal of any real band, and the true key to success, is the creation of a recognizable sound. Even if you’re not familiar enough with music lingo to dissect exactly what you’re hearing, there’s a good bet that even your mother can pick out certain bands when she hears them. Sometimes it is the voice. Or the guitar. A combination of the bass and drums. Or maybe it is the total package. Whatever it is, that’s the nondescript thing musicians are always referring to when they like to talk about their “sound.” So nondescript, in fact, that a large part of musicians don’t even know what it is. Instead, the best thing they can do is tell you who they sound like, and while that earns you admiration in high school, all it really guarantees in the long-term is a potential future in a cover band.

The most difficult thing about listening to hardcore metal is finding a unique element in a particular band’s music that lets you distinguish them from their contemporaries. As talented as they were, Bludfed never really broke the mold of unscrupulous-looking individuals with violent guitar riffs, mile-a-minute drums, and blood-curdling screams, and that is probably why the reformation as Speak of the Devil interested me as much as it did. They seem to be taking steps towards creating a sound that is unique among the stable of Roanoke’s metal scene, setting themselves apart in two major ways. For one, their new vocalist screams in a higher register than most, letting loose with the terrifying wail of a banshee rather than the low growl that sounds as though you’re gargling spit in your mouth two inches away from the microphone. The other change comes in their newer guitar/drum dynamic. All throughout the late 90’s, bands regurgitated the simplistic chunk of the previous decade, and tuned it down to create the “low and slow” sound that, when paired with hip-hop influenced drumming, formed what we commonly call nu-metal. Speak of the Devil evolve beyond that by preserving the “low and slow” chug, but employing the big beats heard in classic hard rock, offering the progressive song structure of legendary metal and a fresh perspective on what it means to be “heavy” in the modern era. Imagine if the band you heard on “Master of Puppets” had never teamed up with the same guy who produced Bon Jovi. Now you follow…

Still rough around the edges, the next few months are crucial for Speak of the Devil as they shape their stage show and write the music that will complete the soundtrack to this evil ritual they’re performing. In the meantime, watching them take shape is an exercise in musical voyeurism that I highly recommend. After all, whether they succeed or fail, you’re going to be entertained.

More uninvited opinions and silver-tongued cheap shots next week, folks. Schedule permitting, I should be able to crash a show, but I also have quite a bit of mail that is beginning to pile up. Thanks for reading, thanks for all the messages, and don’t be afraid to keep me up to date on what your band (or your favorite band) is doing. I promise to be nice. Well, not really, but write me anyway. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom