Appreciation of the art of self-promotion: Many new-metal groups' bios prefer humorless accounts of auditions and chance pairings of musicians from struggling bands, peppered with aggro adjectives, such as "crushing" and "kick-ass." Contrast such blah reading material with Kansas City black-metal act Descension's description of how the band welcomed a new member into its fold: "Draxon and Anshar were tired of trying to find a mortal to join the ranks, so they summoned forth the demon Astoroth from the wretched pit and with their own blood drew a contract that he would indeed join them in their unholy crusade." Similarly, the groups' descriptions of their music transcend anything mere music critics or record-label publicists could muster. Descension's illustration of its bass player's prowess is pure poetry: "Knightstorm IX brings the feeble to their knees when he crashes the thunderous strings of his mighty four-stringed battle-ax and forces Christians to sob and cower with the sheer devastation of the tone." Note the artistry of the stage names: Draxon, Astoroth, and Knightstorm IX are all infinitely more inspiring than, say, Jonathan or Fred. (For more spooky reading, log onto Descension's Web site: www.zombiebloodbath.com/ descension.html.)
Theatrical performances: There's really nothing like a genuine, makeup-smeared, stage-blood-dripping metal show, especially one that incorporates mannequins and various other props supplied by one of the city's cult heroes. Todd Sheets (a.k.a. guitarist Astoroth), the producer/ director behind such gore-splattered fare as Zombie Bloodbath and Violent New Breed, transforms the stage into what could pass for sets in his films. On September 29, the group's first headlining gig (at El Torreon) culminated with the crucifixion of a nun. Economy-size vats of stage blood, smoke machines, snow machines, and "anything and everything Todd can get his hands on from his movies" plays a part in Descension's stage show, Knightstorm IX reports. Given that Sheets' movies have featured everything from vampires to a gutted victim who was stuffed with straw and burlap and planted in a field as a human scarecrow, the horrific possibilities are endless.
Real singing: Well, "singing" might be an inaccurate term for the lions' roars that emerge from deep within Overture's Ian Andrews and Zack Kauffman, but it sure ain't rapping (which should be of consolation to the old-school contingent that cringes at Ozzy Osbourne's collaborations with Busta Rhymes and the Wu-Tang Clan). However, unlike some metal vocalists who sound like Cerberus barking in code to warn Satan of an intruder, Overture's frontmen clearly enunciate such phrases as "Skeletonize the carrion land" and "We are all squirming larvae." Darkside's Steve Bentley is a singer in the traditional sense, pairing Ozzy's anguished wail with Megadeth's Dave Mustaine's defiant snarl. However, backup vocalist Randy Hickey's gruff emissions sound as if they're coming from beyond the grave. His ungodly repetition of the numbers "867-5309" during the group's rocking cover of "Jenny" sounds as frightening as a possessed child's redundant spewing of "666" during any Exorcist ripoff. Lawrence's Origin features three singers, each of whom takes a vocal pitch and bends it to the dark side -- the sinister soprano of an angel gone bad, the midrange eruptions of a man who sounds as if he's belching fire as he delivers his lines, and the metallic bass of someone whose vocal chords seemingly have been encased in lead. Descension's Anshar favors an upper-octave screech, like most of his black-metal brethren, but he's started to experiment with foreboding lower-pitched vocals. Again, his band says it best: "His words penetrate the soul like a thousand wasps as they sting the flesh."