Little did "Around Hear" know that an area duo had already followed POM's formula to the letter, hooking up with a modern metal icon, breaking away from an established Kansas City act and filling out the lineup with said icon's cronies, including a former roadie. But we can be forgiven for missing downthesun's ascent, because the sextet hasn't played at home. The closest it's come to our city limits is Council Bluffs, Iowa, where it played August 11, opening for Slayer in just its sixth-ever show. Playing its first live gigs as the opening act for the most unforgiving fanbase this side of soccer hooligans, downthesun is redefining baptism by fire. But bassist Kuk (rhymes with smooch, not suck) says he hasn't been burned.
"Everyone's been cool so far," Kuk says between sighs of relief. "But I hear it's a lot rougher on the East Coast." Kuk will find out soon enough, when Slayer's death chariot stops at New York's Roseland Ballroom Wednesday, August 14, and Thursday, August 15, dragging downthesun behind its flaming steers.
Usually, only manufactured pop sensations or bands fronted by movie stars (Jared Leto's 30 Seconds to Mars, opening for Incubus at Verizon on September 10) get to skip club duty and go directly to sizable stages. But Canvas, the group that spawned Kuk and sample operator Church, had no such luck.
Like most area hard-rock outfits, Canvas played the battle-of-the-bands circuit, striving to win early evening showcases hours before performances by top-drawing acts such as Marilyn Manson. Canvas didn't always prevail at the America's Pub-hosted events (and Kuk remains skeptical about the judging), but its persistence and raw rap-metal energy earned it a slot warming up for Slipknot. There, Kuk and Church struck up a friendship with the costumed clan's most manic member, Shawn "Clown" Crahan. Crahan introduced the pair to drummer Dan Spain and singer Satone, a former "Clown tech" itching to make his own messes.
But it's pretty tough to form a metal band without a guitarist. In Kuk's eyes, though, finding that and other missing parts fulfilled a mystical equation. "There are six of us in this band, three charged positive and three charged negative," he reveals. "To have complete truth, you have to have both."
On the group's self-titled debut, due in stores October 1, negative charges abound. Samples recoil from bludgeoning bass lines with a synthesized shiver; riffs and rhythms recklessly change directions, veer to sudden stops and then speed uncontrollably like drug-addled drivers; unholy tormenters and torturees trade snarls and shrieks in every pained pitch imaginable. Positive energy emanates only from Aaron Peltz, the gruff vocalist whose interaction with Satone drives the group. "Aaron's pure," Kuk explains, "and Satone's complete debauchery."
On "Lucas Toole," an earnest investigator (Peltz) pursues a pair of serial killers voiced by Satone. Mellow during Peltz's verses, the song thrashes through its chorus as Satone taunts his pursuers, his voice an evil echo of the earnest melody. This sort of yin and yang appears on every track, with calm arrangements suddenly erupting into scorched-throat screams.
Such uncompromising aggression should please metal purists while minimizing mainstream exposure, though downthesun's tour mates might have some advice about building a furiously faithful following without radio play. "We didn't sit down and write any songs with the idea of making a hit single," says Kuk. Nonetheless, rock radio stations in the Midwest have latched onto "Medicated," a chest-rattling mammoth stomp with few accessible moments, so downthesun plans to shoot a video for the track in September.