Satan would be proud

Kenny Hoffman of KnifeThruHead.

Kenny Hoffman of KnifeThruHead.

Some musical trends can grow large enough to define the particular genres that spawned them. But the same trends also can limit the scope and creativity of musicians who work in those genres. Metal seems particularly problematic in this regard. Certainly, grinding guitars and dark vocals are what pinpoint metal as a genre, and those attributes are a large part of metal’s appeal. But those same guitars and vocals quickly can become cookie-cutter—or, if you prefer, cookie-monster— and absurd.

It therefore stands to reason that there are two approaches to such a genre: A band can embrace the absurdities of metal—the cookie-monster vocals, the chunk-chunk-chunk guitar, double kick drums and Satanic-demons-are-possessing-me lyrics—or the band can take the same ingredients and try to create something new from them.

Both sides of this coin were shown onstage at The Distillery last weekend during an evening of metal mayhem, the likes of which seldom are seen in Midtown Sacramento. On a bill that also included the more traditionally metal Shrine of Scars and the New Plague, the evening’s opening and closing acts (Condition and KnifeThruHead) were masterful examples of how genres can be warped to fit the minds of the performers.

Condition’s opening set took the stereotypes of the metal genre and gave them something of a spin. Though it is true that Ross Hoyt’s vocals retained that angry cookie-monster growl (which, frankly, I find more funny than evil), the band’s music was complex and featured longish, almost ambient moments. Particularly interesting was an interlude that featured Hoyt’s modulated guitar ringing like a bell—hardly a sound one initially would associate with metal. Drummer Dave Phillips and bassist Bryan Stevens provided a foundation for the music, keeping up with the changes despite a few technical difficulties (Stevens lost his bass strap during the second song and had to cradle his bass for much of the set). The overall result was a textured metal that was heavily reminiscent of San Francisco’s Neurosis (or, if that’s too obscure, think of a metal version of Pink Floyd).

Taking a different train was KnifeThruHead, a band that is something of a heavy-metal striptease. Featuring members of current bands and former members of various other area bands (including Uberkunst and Las Pesadillas), KnifeThruHead is remarkable in its embrace of the maniacal absurdities of the metal genre. First, its lineup included a saxophone player in drag, giving the whole set a Satanic big-band sound (very weird and very cool). Second, the band members performed mostly in Speedos (given the placement of their instruments, the effect was that they were essentially playing in their birthday suits). The overall vibe was like watching a weird circus of mentally impaired Metallica fans who somehow stormed the stage, stole the instruments and put on their own show. Either way, Satan would be proud.