Shredding for the kids

Local band Psypheria breathes a little life into the old death-metal corpse

Psypheria, in a huddle. OK, lads, repeat after me: <i>Ph’nglui mgwl’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!</i>

Psypheria, in a huddle. OK, lads, repeat after me: Ph’nglui mgwl’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

Live! CD release party Friday, October 25, at On the Y, 670 Fulton Avenue, 21 and over, $8. With Pessimist and Abominous--The Final Godsend.

Death metal is a form of music characterized by guttural vocals, extreme guitar riffs and endless double-bass-drum workouts. “Psypheria” is a word that sounds cool but means nothing.

Psypheria is also a death-metal band.

But, unlike the countless talent-challenged others that somehow garnered record deals through mailroom connections, Psypheria has overcome the obstacles and proven itself worthy of not only local, but also national attention.

More importantly, Psypheria hasn’t succumbed to the three major death-metal pitfalls: It doesn’t have a band logo with multiple upside-down crosses and indecipherable letters; its members can play their instruments and write their own music; and its members are educated beyond the third grade and aren’t afraid to challenge themselves technically within the confines of their songs.

Formed in 1992 by guitarist and principal songwriter John Oster, Psypheria has recorded four demo tapes, a common format in the metal scene, and has had one formal release on the Mad Lion label. More recently, the band was signed by Portugal’s Heretic Sound, which just released the band’s new album, Embrace the Mutation, in the United States.

Of course, even death-metal bands can get their first inspiration from outside the death-metal community. However, it always comes back to metal in the end. “I started playing guitar when I heard some of Hendrix’s stuff, but the current inspiration for Psypheria is Morbid Angel,” said the seldom-enthusiastic Oster. “Their blend of darkness, emotion, brutality and technicality really speaks to me.” Oster also named releases from Myrkskog, Hate Eternal, Vile and the lesser-known German band Necrophagist as inspiring records worth a listen.

By day, Oster is a schoolteacher. In addition to teaching, he sometimes has hosted a “metal lunch hour,” where kids could hang out in his classroom and hear the latest Krisiun or Cannibal Corpse record. “[Psypheria] played last year at a 9/11 benefit concert held at school. The metal lunch hour was at my junior high. I now teach high school,” he said. “Many leave campus for lunch, but I might try to start it up at this school. I’m the advisor for the guitar club, which meets in my room on Friday at lunch. I bring my guitar and a practice amp and shred for the kids. They get a big kick out of it!”

Psypheria is Oster plus Cory Valdez on drums, Lyle Livingston on keyboards, Mike Hurley on guitar and Adam Roberts on bass and vocals. The band plays more dates out of town than in the Sacramento Valley. Because of a lack of local venues, Psypheria has been forced to gig around the Bay Area, even venturing as far as the Milwaukee Metalfest. The band has opened for numerous national acts, including Cradle of Filth, Mortician, and Malevolent Creation.

Recently, Psypheria opened for German thrash bands Kreator and Destruction in San Francisco. Not every show goes as smoothly as planned, and that one didn’t. “The crowd was great, and we played like demons possessed! The only downside was the poor treatment by Kreator’s tour people—a short set, which was further shortened when we used a fog machine,” an agitated Oster mused. “Apparently, the locals were not to use any effects whatsoever, including flashing stage lights.

“How insecure can those bands be?” he added. “Remind me not to buy any more Kreator [or] Destruction CDs!”

In addition to national exposure in metal zines and via tape-trading, Psypheria’s plans for 2002 are ever more grandiose, including a possible international tour. “We have been approached,” Oster said. “I can’t really divulge any details yet. However, it will also include France and hopefully some festivals.”

So, Psypheria’s year is shaping up to be its best ever. Its album-release party is this Friday night, with a short West Coast tour to follow. The festivities will mark the band’s 10th anniversary and the new release by one of Sacramento’s great talents. Enjoy.