For an up-and-coming metal band, standing out from the shaggy, head-banging pack is top priority. Local thrashers Legion rose to the top of the city’s lively speed-metal scene over the past four years by whipping up gnarly pits with their nuclear, throwback metalli-riffs, but no matter how fast and hard they shredded, standing out was still a problem.
At issue? Well… that name.
“We had actually been kicking around the idea of changing the name for a couple of years,” says guitarist and vocalist Drew Habryl, the group’s hard-chugging mastermind. “We knew that there were a lot of other bands around with that name. Then, earlier this year, we starting seeing this article posted around from MetalInjection.com about the most popular band names in the world. Legion was No. 2!
“There were, like, 32 other bands with that name,” Habryl continues, laughing at the memory. “We really started hearing about it from everybody after that, and the gravity of it all set in on us. We had new members in the band and we were starting to write new music that was a little different, so we were like, ‘Alright, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it now.’ We did a little searching around, and we landed on the name Mastema. It stuck.”
And hey, why wouldn’t it? It’s no secret that all the best thrash metal bands — from Motorhead to Municipal Waste — have names that start with ‘M.’ Befitting a group so enamored with classic aggression, Habryl says that the moniker Mastema was pulled from one of the speedy genre’s most reliable sources of inspiration: the Bible.
“I think Mastema is the name of like, an archangel or something like that,” Habryl says. “We obviously didn’t name the band because of the story of this archangel Mastema — we didn’t really want any religious ties to it. We just thought it was a cool, strong name for a band.”
Legion put out a debut album, State of Decay, in 2013, but fans will get their first crack at Mastema on wax tomorrow night at Fitzgerald’s. The group’s new four-song EP, Awake In the Grave, is the first disc to feature current lead guitarist Vinay Joseph and drummer Jon Gonzales, and it was mixed and mastered by none other than David Sanchez, singer for prominent Denver speed freaks Havok.
“We have played with Havok as Legion a couple of times, and we just sort of hit it off,” Habryl says. “We’re similar bands, and around the same age. David, especially, always really dug us. He even mentioned us in an interview as one of his favorite up-and-coming thrash bands, so that was really awesome.
“He wanted us to come up to Colorado and record with him there while he had some time off from touring,” Habryl continues. “That didn’t end up working out, but we said, ‘Hey, we’re going to record it down here, but would you still be interested in at least mixing and mastering it?’ And he was totally down with that. The recordings turned out great, and I can’t thank that guy enough. He really gave us a step up, production-wise.”
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Sanchez’s production work highlights all the good stuff headbangers look for in a thrash record: snarling vocals, wicked downpicking and thunderous double-bass. The EP’s title track finds Habryl trying out some new lyrical themes, too, breaking away from real-world problems to confront the horrific fantasy of waking up from a mind-bending drug trip only to find yourself drawing breath six feet under.
“That was a different one for me,” Habryl says. “I think these new songs are a little darker and a little more forward-thinking. We knew we couldn’t just change the name and not have new music to release, so the whole idea of the EP is to show where we’re going and what we’re going to sound like in the future. Of course, we’re always going to try to push it forward, but this is a good indicator of what we’re going to do next.”
And Mastema has high hopes for what comes next: a full-length album, out-of-state tours, maybe even a bigger record label with better distribution. To achieve those dreams, they’ll have to keep stretching, pushing and shredding until they’re thrashing hard enough to leave all the other metal Legions behind. For a band ready to plunge forward in a genre once though dead and buried in the ‘90s, Awake In the Grave sounds like a good start.
Mastema unveils their new EP Saturday at Fitzgerald’s, 2706 White Oak, with special guests Blast Perversion, K.T.C.M. and Virulent. Doors open at 7 p.m.; $8.