To the Extreme 

The Hi-Tone offers up a perfect storm of underground metal.

One reliable factor about shows of the "extreme metal" variety is that they come as a package. Unlike indie rock or Americana bands, extreme metal bands will plays gigs with at least three other groups on the ticket. That's a lot of metal, and there exists no genre of music that harbors the number of sub- and micro-genres that metal does. To the untrained ear or to music fans who dislike the more intense corner of metal, Dying Fetus, Skeletonwitch, Demiricous, and the Absence — performing at the Hi-Tone Café Wednesday — might sound indistinguishable. This is not so. They each mine a particular style of unconventional metal.

Dying Fetus has stared at the glass ceiling since their formation in 1991. There's only so far you can go with a name like that. Regardless, the band has grown a loyal following. Combining old-school American death metal with the noisier end of hardcore, they boast the arms-crossed, tough-as-nails promo photos and testosterone-heavy dynamics that mark a certain school of extreme metal.

The stars of the evening will undoubtedly be Skeletonwitch. Not only do they have one of the best names in metal, their unique amalgam of styles spans the past 30 years of above- and underground metal. While their output has been limited, what they have released so far — including Beyond the Permafrost (on eclectic extreme-metal safe house Prosthetic Records) — points to an interesting formula and future.

Let's start with the melodic but breakneck duel guitar riffing and leads that bring to mind early Iron Maiden and, more specifically, Diamond Head's classic Lightning to the Nations album from 1980. This sound begat the explosion of thrash metal that would start taking over the West Coast in the mid-'80s (Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Death Angel, Megadeth), and one can hear a lot of that in Skeletonwitch's attack. The quintet does its '80s metal homework (which has nothing to do with big hair or the Sunset Strip) and keeps its grades up into the '90s.

There are several attributes that put Skeletonwitch under the banner of extreme metal. Another umbrella term with a multitude of strains, extreme metal more often than not refers to the metal that resembles grindcore, death metal, black metal, or noisy experimental metal.

Skeletonwitch first made a major footprint on the underground in the late '80s. Vocalist Chance Garnette can do the low-end troll grunt of death metal and immediately switch over to the high-pitched screech normally associated with Northern European black metal. He's also the only member of Skeletonwitch without a nickname, the others being his brother Nate "N8 Feet Under" Garnette on guitars, Scott "Scunty D" Hedrick on guitars, Eric "Harry" Harris on bass, and Derrick "Mullet Chad" Nau on drums.

I don't quite understand the meaning of "N8 Feet Under" or "Scunty D," but I understand where their harmonious guitar relationship comes from. It comes from a love and combination of Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Helloween, Slayer, and the groundbreaking early-'90s melodic and technical prowess of Carcass and At the Gates. It results in riffs and solos that are fast, loud, furious, and put together like an engine, but they're also unbelievably catchy.

The challenging nature of Garnette's vocals is in slight contrast to the tunefulness of Beyond the Permafrost. Regardless, if you are at all curious as to what constitutes real metal, this is the band to check out. With an old-school thrash-metal logo, cover artwork by up-and-coming artist John Baizley (who is also in Southern metal saviors Baroness), and song titles like "Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery," "Baptized in Flames," and "Remains of the Defeated," the package and presentation live up to the sound. I just can't argue with an album cover that features a human skull with deer antlers piled high with snow. Live, the band is a beast (I had the pleasure of seeing them jump on a bill at Murphy's last year), moving all over the stage — something that metal bands have an unfortunate tendency to avoid.

Also on the bill at the Hi-Tone is another combo that bows to the history of metal. Demiricous execute nothing new, though if their latest album, Two (Poverty), is any indication, they worship at the altar of Def Jam-era Slayer (Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, and Seasons in the Abyss), which I'll take any day over the dimwitted Hot Topic/Warped Tour "metal" of bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Atreyu. Rounding out the evening's lineup is the similarly minded revivalist thrash metal of the Absence, a band that, along with Demiricous, calls the venerable Metal Blade Records home.

So, as readers may have ascertained, this will not be a night for the weak-hearted or hearing-sensitive. For the most part, it is a snapshot of the extreme-metal underground as it stands in 2007. Too bad it's missing Halloween by two weeks. That would have been the perfect storm of heavy-metal experiences.

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