Live: Metal God Wino

kylesa.jpgKylesa: moving sludge

The Hidden Hand + Kylesa + Under Satan's Sun Club Europa February 13, 2007

Scott "Wino" Weinrich has made his living playing Sabbath-derived epic boogie-metal for nearly as long as I've been alive, and I'm 27, so that should tell you a couple of things: he really loves Black Sabbath, and he's crazy. He's the closest thing America has to a Lemmy: an OG metal badass who hasn't seen fit to make any significant adjustments to his musical style in decades. Every one of his bands (the Obsessed, St. Vitus, Spirit Caravan) has been a slight variation on the same form: a big, slow riff-onslaught. The Hidden Hand, his latest power-trio, has more of a lefty political bent to its lyrics than any of his previous bands, and that should totally matter to you if you're one of the zero people who listen to doom-metal for the lyrics. But Wino is also a bona-fide guitar god, and his glorious, blazing solos and tidal crunch are what makes any band he's in worth a listen. In person, Wino is a fierce and imposing figure, tall and hawkish with an enormous nose, a piercing glare, straight hair down his back, and tattoos (individual tattoos, not sleeves) down his arms. His presence carries enough weight that you barely notice the other people onstage with him: in this case, a drummer wearing too-short running shorts and a bassist who looks just like (my friend Seung figured it out) Howie Mandel except with crazy hair.

When the Hidden Hand finally stepped on the tiny stage last night at Europa, a sprawling Polish dance-club in Greenpoint, they'd only just managed to show up on time. "Drove through a freakin' blizzard, got into an accident, here we are," said Wino, just has he launched into his first salvo. Given that he was playing to maybe sixty people, tops, and the room was mostly empty, I was impressed that they showed up at all. But there's a powerful working-class consistency to what Wino does, a sort of Cal Ripkin, Jr. quality. (Wino lives in the Maryland suburbs of DC, but Baltimore dudes have long been proud to call him our own.) Once you've heard a couple of the Hidden Hand songs, you've basically heard them all, which is why I didn't feel too bad leaving about halfway through their set. They keep their volume at punishing levels and their riffs coming just quickly enough that they never built any sort of psychedelic momentum. Wino sings in a pseudo-Ozzy nasal yowl, and the bass player, who takes the lead on a couple of songs, sings in a pseudo-Wino nasal yowl. And so the Hidden Hand's slag-heap songs are more admirable than they are powerful, a pastiche of old-school metal flourishes from someone who can blast them out in his sleep at this point. Maybe the band never takes Wino outside of his comfort zone, but that comfort zone can still produce some searing stuff.

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Voice review: Todd Kristel on the Hidden Hand's Divine Propaganda

Seniority matters in metal, and maybe that's as it should be, but I would've rather seen the headlining spot go to the Georgia quintet Kylesa. All the people in Kylesa, even the big Wookie-ish guitarist, look like Southern crust-punk kids who discovered Slayer, maybe by way of Corrosion of Conformity, which is pretty much what they are. The band has only been around for a few years, but it's already perfected a delirious, single-minded form of pummeling throb. Solos are rare, and none of the five members ever indulge in any form of showy virtuosity, though all of them appear to be capable enough musicians. Instead, all of them sublimate their efforts into a sort of crashing, rhythmic snarl. Even when they ended their set with a cover of some Pink Floyd song I didn't recognize, it wasn't even remotely prog. A big part of it was the band's two drummers, who made all those roared lyrics and guitar-squalls ripple and heave and pound. It's sludge, but it's sludge that moves. Their newish album Time Will Fuse Its Worth is an evil, blaring slab, and even its closing six-minute drum-solo maintains the sloppy-but-focused swamp-gurgle of the rest of the album, but their live show is really where those songs take on a towering force. Kylesa is sort of what might happen if you subtracted the swords-and-dragons fixation and the jazzy technical wankery from Mastodon, leaving only the titanic scrapes and surges and screams. I was so in the mood for this stuff.

Openers Under Satan's Sun were way more prog, but that was almost endearing coming from a band so obviously green. Two sisters front the band. One sings in a raspy cookie-monster growl; she wears a bullet-belt and does the Bruce Dickinson thing where she plants a foot on the monitor and leans forward like a gargoyle. The other lets out airy, operatic trills; she wore (seriously) a lace body-stocking, and she giggled and pogoed and headbanged. The guys behind them were content to remain anonymous as they scraped out trebly, frilly melodic thrash. There was a song called "Take Back the Night," and I honestly have no idea whether it was about feminine self-empowerment or, like, zombies. Everyone onstage looked a little hesitant and uncertain, and there's an appealing tension in seeing a band reaching for huge, momentous sounds when its members are still getting used to the idea of being onstage. With a little more experience,they're going to have a much easier time inhabiting the larger-than-life images they've already crafted for themselves, but I hope they don't completely lose their shaky humanness; it's the most interesting thing about them.

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