Photos by Craig Hlavaty
Because it's been indelibly stereotyped (with some justification) as the soundtrack to working-class wage slaves dropping the hammer on their Z-28s while burning a massive doob, people tend to forget that technically speaking, metal is one of the most difficult styles to pull off in all of popular music - especially since, as often as not, the performers are as hammered out of their skulls as the audience.
Even the average metal set is loaded with musical maneuvering far beyond the capabilities of experienced Guitar Hero button-mashers - triplets, breakneck tempo changes, octave-jumping, complicated harmonics, and so forth. Above-average sets, like those turned in by Brooklyn's Early Man and "Venutians" Valient Thorr at Rudyard's Thursday morning, meanwhile, marry those fretboard-bending feats to the best elements of metal's thundering-hooves mythology.
Don't think for a second the good-sized crowd upstairs - the room was about 80 percent full with dudes sporting Judas Priest T-shirts, sleeveless denim vests and non-ironic facial hair, and women who, though outnumbered three to one, were almost invariably much hotter than their male companions - came to the show to soak up a bunch of music-geek know-how, though. They came to soak up alcohol, spark up some reefer - the first whiff floated by about five minutes after I got upstairs - and generally rock the fuck out.
Promising "We're going to king-size this motherfucker," Early Man delivered churning riffs that brought to mind classic metal imagery: plundering hordes, galloping armies and villages being put to the torch. I could only make out isolated lyrical snatches like "tonight you die," which sounds about right.
Redolent of early-'80s speed-metal titans like Motorhead and Blizzard of Ozz-era Ozzy, it was a deadly competent rendering of what I like to call 'jacuzzi metal' - the guitars sounded like a jacuzzi looks when the jets are turned on full blast, an image matched by the band's pinwheel of hair. Early Man's riffs grew meaner as the set wore on, like somebody wanted to fight somebody (another hoary metal stereotype), but in its own sweaty way, the crowd was as blissed-out as the hippie throngs at a Grateful Dead show. It was one of the biggest contact highs I've ever had.
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The hair really started flying, both onstage and in front of it, when Valient Thorr began its chunky set. There were so many horns in the air it was hard to see the band's diminutive, Tolkeinesque singer, but it wasn't hard to hear him at all. "This song is about setting some kind of goal," he said early on - and if Thorr's goal was rocking the crowd's collective face off, it succeeded admirably.
A bulldozer of deep, thick riffs, Valient Thorr was as reminiscent of classic rockers like Van Halen - pre-synth albums like Fair Warning and Women and Children First especially sprang to mind - as early Metallica, and its set eventually grew so intense the singer had to remove his shirt. (Thankfully, the crowd did not follow suit.) The group's attack grew heavier, with no attendant loss of speed, until it crested with the Ride the Lightning-like thrashfest "No Holds Barred," which, apropos of nothing, he dedicated to the star-crossed Von Erich wrestling dynasty. All night long, the screaming guitars, AK-47-like drums and flying hair made this show a much bigger, more turbulent weather event that "Tropical Storm" Edouard earlier in the week. - Chris Gray