There is nothing quite like the experience of discovering a new band that is obviously destined for great things. For one, it is pretty rare to get in on the ground floor with a band that is this good before their secret is already out. So when you are one of the 10 or 15 people in a room who witness this new band rip open the sky with their musical brilliance for the first time, you should count yourself blessed by the gods of music. Second, while you are filled with the exhilaration of discovery and passion for the new band’s music, it can be very hard to convince people who were not there to take the time to seek the band out to give them a listen.
The reason for this is that there is no “buzz”. You’ve witnessed a band no one’s ever heard of, before they were big; no one cares. More than ever before, “buzz” is a critical element that anyone who wasn’t in that room with you requires before they’ll listen. Only then when the internet is ablaze with tales of the band’s amazing feats in far off cities will people start to take notice of the band that you have been shouting about for weeks, months, sometimes even years. So discovering a band like this; a fully formed, ass-kicking unit in their pre-buzz phase is both amazing and sometimes frustrating. I think out of that frustration is where music snobbery and “I saw them before they…” posing is born. I can see how it can make some people feel bitter and others feel elitist about their discoveries.
I’m not like that. I just want people, as many people as possible, to learn about the new music, embrace it, and support the folks making it. I don’t really care that I saw them first, but when I occasionally do, I am going to shout as loud as I can for as long as I can about this amazing discovery until the “buzz” bullshit catches up with them and people start to listen. Maybe a few of you will hear me and give Meek Is Murder a spin before waiting for them to gain the stamp of “buzz” approval.
Meek Is Murder is a new indie-metal trio from Brooklyn, whose debut full-length has been owning my Ipod ever since the music gods granted me an advance copy of it last month. Their album is called “Algorithms” and so far it is my favorite metal album of the year. “Algorithms” is everything I want in a hard rock album: complex arrangements, primal rhythm, inventive guitar playing, and passionate almost out-of-control vocals jammed packed into short, aural stabs. I have been dying to see what these guys are all about in concert and suddenly, unexpectedly, I got the opportunity to see them in a very unlikely place: the Firehouse Grill in Old Fairfax (which according to Yelp! is CLOSED).*
The opening band was Gradius, a metal four-piece from Fairfax. They played a powerful set of intricate music that I would almost call post-metal due to it’s complexities. It was their howling death metal vocals and shorter song length though that kept them firmly anchored in trad-metal realms. I thought Gradius was the best local metal band that I have seen in some time. The way they traded off vocals between three members was very cool and I really enjoyed it when they would occasionally harmonize their death metal roars. Without a doubt the highlight of Gradius’ set was their drummer, who blasted away at his kit with unusual force and sang lead-howl into a head-set, all while wearing a giant devilish grin.
As good as Gradius’ set was, it never really transcended the rather crappy room they were playing in. The stage was just large enough to hold the drum kit. The three guitar players had to stand on the floor in front of the stage and most of the audience actually watched from the other room due to space limitations. At the end of their set, Gradius encouraged the audience to stick around for the “out-of-town” band called Meek Is Murder. I looked at the audience as Gradius said this, and it actually looked like the crowd needed convincing!
As Meek Is Murder began to load in their gear, it was obvious to me that they were going to be something special. All it took to tip me off was the fact that they were laying down a string of white Christmas lights and setting up strobes. I already suspected from the inspired music on “Algorithms” that Meek Is Murder has a larger aesthetic, and seeing them prepare that dingy room for their set confirmed it. They were going to transform this place from a rundown bar in Fairfax into their own little phantom zone and then suck the audience into it.
Eventually, the room was in complete darkness save for the light coming from the tangled string tossed across the stage. Some people filtered into the dark half of the bar to see what was happening. Someone commented that they’d never seen a band put up Christmas lights in a bar before. And then that’s when Meek Is Murder began to play.
What followed was a violent blur of light and noise. It seemed like they had two floodlights rigged to fire when ever the bass-drum was kicked and then a strobe light going off on a timer to match their rhythm change-ups. All of these lights were firing and reflecting off of a wall-length mirror that went down one side of the room. Meanwhile as the room blinked in and out, from near total darkness to extreme white light brightness, bassist Sam Brodsky threw himself across the floor hammering his instrument and ramming himself into the audience. His hunched back and the neck of his bass were often cast in perfect silhouette against the make-shift light show, making him look like some kind of lumbering creature straight out off Lovecraft.
At the same time lead singer and guitarist Mike Keller whipped his torso around and screamed with a huge, gaping mouth. Even with all the chaos going on around him, it was hard to take eyes off Keller; he performed with an interesting stage presence that felt like a star of the scene in the making. Visually the show was one of the most impressive small room performances I have seen in quite sometime. I felt like I was trapped inside the video from “The Ring” for 45 minutes.
Musically, Meek Is Murder sounded like a bar brawl between Mastodon, Helmet, and Converge. Keller’s vocals employed a hardcore/screamo technique that was completely unsettling coming from his slight frame and gigantic mouth. His guitar alternated between deep-tuned grinding and high-pitched intricacies, often switching gears without warning. Brodsky’s bass playing was spot on as he sent shock waves of deep, deep sound through the darkness. Frank Godla did not lend his body to the thrashing as his band mates had, but instead sat perched behind his drum kit like a conqueror on a throne. The name of Godla’s game here was brute force. Earlier Gradius’ drummer impressed with his power, but Godla took it to another place. He played his drums like King Kong beats his chest. With each mighty beat, it seemed as if he was hammering the stage itself down into the floor.
With their simple yet fantastic light show, their visceral instrumental power, and Mike Keller’s weird charisma; Meek Is Murder managed to take the 25 or so people in the audience out of that dive’s back room and into a noisy, disorienting pocket universe. As I type up this review several days later, I feel like a part of me is still trapped in that other world because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about going back there since. In a way, just like an convict who doesn’t feel quite right stepping outside of prison walls, I have become institutionalized by Meek Is Murder’s sound.
The last band that I felt this strongly about after an early performance was A Place To Bury Strangers.** I remember coming back from the 2004 Pop-Noise Fest in Philadelphia with tales of Ackerman’s amazing new band playing for 3 people, and trying to get any and every fan of guitar music who I could find to check them out. A couple people listened but most didn’t get on board until their debut dropped three years later. I didn’t mind shouting myself hoarse about them then and I don’t mind doing it again for Meek Is Murder. This band is something special and if they don’t come out of SXSW next week with some rave reviews and a mountain of buzz then there is something seriously wrong with the state of American heavy metal.
* I think it has been re-opened and re-named.
** Coincidentally, I think Meek Is Murder opening for A Place To Bury Strangers at a show would be an amazing night of counter-programming.