Last Night: Dysrhythmia at Walters

Dysrhythmia, Cavernous, Ssserpentsss Walters Houston November 6, 2012

While much of the city huddled around their television sets Tuesday night to watch democracy unfold, a dedicated few Houstonians chose instead to ignore the pundits and the pageantry in favor of drowning out the nation's political machinations in a sea of distorted noise.

The turnout at Walters for Brooklyn prog-metallers Dysrhythmia was undeniably small. Election or no, Tuesday was still a weeknight, and the performances wouldn't finish up until 1 a.m. For the music fans in attendance, however, the show provided a welcome retreat from speeches, analysis and prognostication on an evening largely set aside for such things. Hell, even microphones were in short supply.

The only band that needed one, as it turned out, was Austin's Ssserpentsss, which opened the show with a torrent of savage, Sabbathy grooves. Singer Doug Hart's sopping-wet, unintelligible vocals floated atop a storm of distortion as the group shifted back and forth between heavy, stony riffs reminiscent of the Sword and dirtier, wilder rock closer in sound to the MC5.

It was a loose, energetic opening set, highlighted by thrashing so violent by bassist Lyrch that I feared he might injure himself. Things tightened up considerably when local instrumental act Cavernous took the stage next. The well-rehearsed band immediately locked deeply into the pocket, snapping off syncopated grooves over a fine selection of odd time signatures.

As drummer Marshall Black pummeled his kit with precision, guitarists Harrison Jacob and Mikey Malet showed off some slick six-string interplay, creating hypnotic melodies as their instruments entwined. The group's songs left plenty of room for punishing metal, however, with intricate guitar leads devolving seamlessly into heavy, double-bass breakdowns. The crowd dug it.

"Thank you for ignoring the election and not playing Halo 4 to come see us," Jacob said. "It means a lot."

If Cavernous crackled on Tuesday night (they did), Dysrhythmia practically levitated. The band is famed for its musical complexity, and it's easy to see why it's chosen to forgo vocals: There simply isn't any room in the songs. Dysrhythmia tunes sound as though they were written out on a TI-84 graphing calculator before being translated into sound by three dudes who must never stop practicing, even to take a piss.

On Tuesday, the group trotted out its latest album, this year's Test of Submission, and judging by their focus onstage, the band members were giving about as much thought to the President of the United States as they were to the President of Uranus. All of their mental capacity was instead put to use making their fingers work fast enough to reproduce the album tracks.

While bassist Colin Marston made an impressive show of creating sonic fractals on his six-string axe, it was hard not to focus on drummer Jeff Eber. The man's hands were often a blur as he bashed out more patterns on five drums than Neil Peart could manage on 30.

Time signatures seemed to last a measure or two at most before being discarded or twisted into interesting new shapes. It was bewildering at times, though guitarist Kevin Hufnagel did manage to insert snatches of melody into his interplay with Marston, buried deep under heavy squalls of distortion.

Though certainly dynamic, the band's sound was never delicate. Each musician furiously attacked an army of notes as if they were alien insects from Galaga. As ever-shifting passages morphed from spacey to hellish and around the bend, Eber's drumsticks became noticeably chewed-up from the pounding. I can only imagine what was happening to Hufnagel and Marston's fingers, which were traveling at similar speeds and with equal malice.

Sure, Green Party candidate Jill Stein might have received support from more Houstonians on election day than Dysrhythmia did, but she probably sold fewer T-shirts. With any luck, local voters won't have to wait another four years to see the band again. Dysrhythmia might not have much to say on the issues, but their relentless shredding said plenty on Tuesday.

Personal Bias: So, who won the election?

The Crowd: Small. Politically disengaged.

Random Notebook Dump: The only thing tighter than Dysrhythmia's playing might have been Colin Marston's jeans.

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