CD Tradepost isn't exactly the headquarters of heavy metal. But recently, one lucky chain store in Lawrence sprouted a pretty wicked metal section under the guidance of former employee Adam Mitchell — a drummer known to his friends as the "Elfin Hammerlord" on account of his resemblance to a Lord of the Rings character.
One customer — a quiet guitarist named Ty Scott — took a particular interest in Mitchell's pet project.
"Ty was the dreaded customer for me because he would bring 20 CDs to the counter and want to listen to all of them," Mitchell recalls. "It was cool, though, because it was metal."
Scott recognized Mitchell from a show he had witnessed eight years ago. Mitchell's band, the Esoteric, was opening for Nile, and the 17-year-old drummer nearly blew the headliner off the stage.
"He was so friggin' amazing," Scott recalls. "Eventually, I asked him if he was the guy from the Esoteric. Then I found out he wasn't even playing with a metal band, which was kind of shocking."
The two musicians made plans to jam, and their shared Slayer love soon begat a shredilicious collection of demos.
"We wanted to do a project that was thrash but with more modern elements, especially in the drumming," Scott says.
Mitchell passed along the instrumental demos to Esoteric singer Stevie Cruz, who was coming to terms with the imminent dissolution of his longtime band, a well-respected contestant on the metalcore circuit.
"We were trying to get Stevie onboard, no pressure," Scott says. "We didn't know if we could pull it off."
As it turned out, Cruz was impressed.
"When I met Ty, I was like, 'Holy shit — where did you find this guy?'" Cruz recalls. "I couldn't believe he'd been around this long and no one had heard him play. He's a shredmaster general, but he doesn't come off that way."
Cruz heard something in those early demos that resonated with his affection for '80s Bay Area thrash bands such as Megadeth and Metallica. Anyone who has ever witnessed his "Metal School" DJ nights can testify to his encyclopedic knowledge of that era's foremost shredders.
According to Cruz, that era of metal is desperately in need of some rediscovering.
"People don't have fun at hardcore shows anymore — it's just about being seen and hanging out," he says, citing his experiences on Esoteric tours. "I definitely would like to see more headbanging and old-school circle pits where everybody is running around with smiles on their faces."
That sentiment echoes the metal worldview of Scott, who is also dead serious about not being too serious.
"All the bands today are so dreary," he says. "We're definitely not glam, but I think we have an element of Motley Crue."
Dubbing themselves Hammerlord, the three musicians rounded out their woodshedding lineup with guitarist J.P. Gaughan (formerly of Evermourn) and bassist Terry Taylor. The group performed its first gig in May, following the Dethklok show at Liberty Hall.
Already, Hammerlord has nearly completed a debut album with producer and engineer Eric Graves (an Esoteric alumnus). The early returns posted on the band's MySpace page forecast an album that's a far cry from the techy prog-metal of the Esoteric.
"I definitely don't want to do an Esoteric again, but I'm totally stoked about what we did," Cruz says. Hammerlord, he says, "will instantly be associated with that scene because of the dudes in this band." But, he adds, "We'd love to tear it down and say the hell with it and bring back playing music because it's fun."
More likely, Hammerlord will curry favor with fans of Dethklok, Andrew WK and other acts that take goofing around very seriously.
"It's over-the-top for sure, but we're not joking," Scott explains.
The band's throwback mentality also dictates an approach that's unorthodox in modern metal: Playing in standard tuning.
"Bands are all about tuning down because they think it makes them sound heavy," says Taylor, whose former band, the Blinding Light, tuned its modified instruments down to B-flat — six steps lower than standard. "People are forgetting that it's the music that should sound heavy."
Scott concurs: "I think after the initial hit, down-tuning sounds muddy," he says. "Whereas, to me, standard tuning is easier to listen to for long periods of time. The fact that we write in standard is sort of a nod to Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax."
Mitchell recorded his drum tracks live, without the aid of ProTools edits, a choice that speaks volumes about his mastery of lightning-fast blast beats. He learned a few of his tricks from Origin drummer John Longstreth.
"As far as speed and precision, he's one of the greatest drummers alive," Mitchell says. "He's told me I've taught him a few things as well."
Hark — the Hammerlord cometh.