Houston is blessed with a whole shitload of heavy-metal bands. But there may be only one these days that features the harmonic percussion sounds of a Hammond B-3 organ. That band would be Blues Funeral. Their proggy, throwback approach to heaviness is an original tribute to the proto-crunch of ’70s longhairs like Deep Purple, and Blues Funeral is clearly having a blast doing them justice.
Two years ago, three-quarters of the band were playing together in local doom-metal fixture Sanctus Bellum. When that group stalled in 2014, guitarists Jan Kimmel and Maurice Eggenschwiler took a page out of Spinal Tap’s book and began dreaming of jazzier odysseys. Their new project would steer well clear of camp and parody, however. These guys take their appreciation of heavy late-’60s, early-’70s exploration very much to heart.
“We just decided, well, if we’re going to have a little bit of spare time on our hands, let’s dive into this thing that we’ve been talking about for a while,” says Eggenschwiler. “So the idea was to bring in a lot of sort of Deep Purple, Uriah Heap, Atomic Rooster, Wishbone Ash-type influences into something that still kind of held onto our metal roots.
“There’s something about music that was written between 1967 and about 1972 that has a tremendous amount of groove, a tremendous amount of inventiveness,” he adds. “And it was also a way for us to be able to explore musical aspects of our personalities that really wouldn’t have fit in Sanctus Bellum.”
In order to strike the proper tone, the pair knew right from the beginning they wanted that classic rock organ sound to be featured high in the mix. Though Jan Kimmel is the proud owner of a genuine Hammond, lugging one around to gigs has never been an appealing prospect for any musician. A Nord Electro 3 keyboard makes for a pitch-perfect substitute in Blues Funeral’s live shows and on their debut album, The Search.
And make no mistake, Kimmel’s electrified organ licks are all over the new disc, which drops this Saturday. But the musicianship on display hardly ends there. Wailing, fogged-out guitar solos, stomping riffage and vocal harmonies supplied by both Kimmel and Eggenschwiler abound, and the band’s throwback groove is held down sublimely by their Sanctus Vellum compadre, drummer Cory Cousins, and jazz-influenced bassist Gabriel Katz.
There’s a glut of retro-rock being practiced all over the world at the moment, but Blues Funeral nevertheless manages to stand out. Part of it is that funky-ass organ, naturally, but the musicians’ talent and dedication would shine through clearly no matter what weird, vintage instruments they’d chosen. Part of the appeal of their music may lie in the decision to pay homage to an era of rock and roll that can easily feel forgotten nowadays. Blues Funeral is different from the rest of the “oldies” metal out there. Nobody else is doing what they’re doing — at least, not many.
Novelty, though, has never been Blues Funeral’s primary motivation, Eggenschwiler says.
“This is definitely a love letter to the ’60s and ’70s, but it was really just born of a personal desire to fulfill that idea,” the guitarist says. “We weren’t necessarily just sitting around thinking, ‘No one’s doing this. Let’s do it,’ but that is a happy byproduct of what we’ve done.
“I think there’s a lot of compartmentalization, if you will, about how the Houston scene listens to metal,” Eggenschwiler continues. “There’s a very strong and tight-knit black-metal community; there’s a strong thrash community. There’s a strong doom community. Everybody kind of looks at their music that way. A lot of these people respond to different elements of our music that aren’t at home within their own subgenre. With us, I think there’s a certain underlying heaviness to the music that’s played that everybody responds to. But I think it’s some of the complexity in the songwriting, and especially more jazzy and progressive chord extensions that we use, that a lot of people have told me that they find really interesting and different from things that they’re seeing in the Houston scene right now — which is cool to hear.”
Local diehards and curious onlookers will get their first chance to snap up The Search tomorrow at Rudyard’s, where Blues Funeral will headline the annual Barkerpalooza concert at Rudyard’s.
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“We’re definitely throwing in a few surprises,” says Eggenschwiler of his band’s set. “We’re playing two new ones that aren’t on the record, and for 'The Search,' the title track, we’re planning on doing an extended, 15-minute version of the song that’s going to include some things that no one’s ever seen before, so we’re pretty excited about it.”
Blues Funeral has already played some cool gigs around town over the past couple of years, opening for Night Demon, Royal Thunder and Marty Friedman and appearing at the End of the World Fest. Eggenschwiler says that he and his bandmates all look forward to seeing how far all that harmonized heaviness can take them.
“I think the goal, ultimately, is to continue to play shows opening for bands that have inspired us and we kind of look to in the current day and age of metal as folks that are carrying the torch,” he says. “But also, eventually, I’d love to go and take it abroad and do something in Europe. We’d really like to do either a desert fest or a Freak Valley and do something on that level.”
Blues Funeral headlines Barkerpalooza at Rudyard’s British Pub on Saturday, showcasing songs from their debut independent release, The Search. With Vehement Burn and Ganesha. $8. Doors open at 8 p.m.