Wednesday, May 17, 2006

As Far Away As Eden

Greetings and salutations.

This Phantom thing is b*lls*** bro. You’ve talked trash about some of my friend’s bands and then you come out and act all nice to some band that because it acts stupid you think they are cool. You can print this and talk shit all you can but just diggin for what you like is lame and so are you. [Band who’s name I edited out so they aren’t embarrassed by a stupid fan] f***** rules!

This has been the theme of most of the mail I’ve received over the last two weeks, and I love it. Not because I enjoy weeding through poorly written whines, but because as long as there are people out there who miss the point this much, I will always have a nerve to get on, and subsequently, a job. After months of hearing complaints that my brand of criticism is a negative influence on the “flourishing” Roanoke music scene, my mailbox has been besieged with blasts from people like the author above, who’ve mistaken neutrality for positivity and decided that I owe Chinese Fire Drill a tongue lashing. I’m not sure for what exactly, and apparently none of the people who wrote these letters are either. Instead, there are about a dozen or so folks who felt I’ve should’ve just insulted the band purely on principal, or as one woman put it, “to keep things fair.” It’s not in my nature to try and inspire, and when dealing with a band that would only turn negative comments into free publicity anyway, the most undermining course of action is clear: just be fair. It seems, however, that I’ve disappointed my fan base. So, to satisfy those people, I offer the following:

Moving on, this week’s show review finds us in the path of Steeltame, another of Roanoke’s proud representatives of the heavy metal underground; another furious act looking to forge an identity out of a formula. Just as I did in my review of Speak of the Devil (that you’ve read, of course), I have to observe the difficulty of being unique in this genre, especially in a world where as soon you do it, it’s been “done.” Unable to keep up with that kind of pacing creatively, artists of the world often look back instead of forward, systematically mining for fresh perspectives on old ideas. Then you get what we have here today – a band in the modern era attempting to set itself apart by embracing an older look and sound.

Once you get past the stomach-churning notion that music from the 1980’s (and even early 90’s) is now considered by these kids to be “classic,” you find that, at their best, Steeltame remind you of a Ride the Lightning-era Metallica tribute band (which may or may not be an insult, especially if you consider the alternatives). The pieces are all there: A wiry lead guitarist with a flair for exotic melodies and fingers just fast enough to impress. A drummer firing off beats with all the sporadic fright of a kid stuttering on the trigger of an automatic weapon. A bassist with a guitarist’s musical sensibilities, and penchant for complimenting the drummer’s stomping feet. And then there’s the guitarist/front man. As if he studied under the tutelage of James Hetfield his entire life (save for that one day when Zakk Wylde substituted and taught him false harmonics), he cranks out one Sabbath-inspired guitar riff after another, preaching doom from the stage with a sadistic snarl and visible “I might have rabies” tremors that I haven’t seen since Beavis stopped getting air time.

Fortunately, his position as some sort of hateful prophet does more for the band than just give me something to make jokes about. In Roanoke’s landscape of screamo metal, a singing vocalist is a major part of their identity, and in this case, a fun thing to actually watch. For the time he is on stage, his fidgeting tendencies and wild-eyed vigor are a perfect fit for his demolishing rhythms. Drenched in sweat and seemingly moments away from complete meltdown, he has all the undeniable charisma of a ticking time bomb. You find yourself unable to look away, staring almost in awe as he becomes increasingly more frenetic and spiteful with every song. You can’t help but wonder when the guy might just snap and start bludgeoning people with his Les Paul.

Slowing and swelling the pace throughout each song, the material itself is text book metal/thrash. The two guitarists incorporate rhythmic interplay between them, harmonize frequently, and break it all down quite often. The drummer uses both feet liberally and fills the space with zero groove – it’s straight ahead grind. The bassist lives somewhere in between, either holding some melody while the guitars run through finger exercises or beating along with them to add more low end. As with most of the bands from that circle that I encounter, debating their mass appeal is fairly pointless. They have their audience.

While Steeltame aren’t terribly original, they are original enough to stand out, and that’s a step further than some have gotten. They’ll benefit as live performance experience helps them unclutter many of their current songs. As is often the case with singing guitarists, his voice and his right hand are locked together as he goes through the song, monopolizing the core of every tune along a single theme, then shifting back and forth as the drummer fires up. Once relaxation comes in, it will open up the songs and help distinguish one collection of frenzied sounds from the others in their catalog. Or, to put it in simpler terms: it’ll take them towards having more songs their audience will remember – at least until they sustain a concussion in the pit.

That’s all for this week. As promised, I’ve counted up the votes for the 16 bands in our fictional street fight. In no particular order, those bands are:

Illbotz - Pop Rivets - Aggressor State - Drivn - Half Moon - The Cheap Seats - Fire At Will - Savior Bullets - Burning Bridges - Chinese Fire Drill - Madrone - Discordian Society - Cobalt Media - Dark Ruin - The Worx - Crobar Cane

In all, almost 40 different bands were nominated (some even I hadn’t heard of…), and these 16 emerged with the most votes. Some were from fans who liked the thought of their favorite band brandishing weapons, and others were from folks who thought it’d be funny to see who got the axe. It is all in fun, but there will be some prize for the band that emerges victorious. Starting next week, I’ll include two new matchups at the end of each column, and invite my readers to email me and vote for the who they think should win. We’ll fill the brackets out until it comes down to two acts, and who knows…we may even let them settle it in a live double headliner on my tab. Or we’ll give them sticks and see who comes back alive. In any case, someone’s losing an eye. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom