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.
Between the end of the Slayer tour and the first dates of a lengthy European expedition, Kuk says, the group would love to play its first hometown show. "The Uptown Theater would be really cool," he says. "I've never played there. Or even something small, like The Pub [now The Brick], with five or six bands would be a lot of fun." Playing on a small stage wouldn't be a problem for downthesun, whose live show requires few of the funhouse thrills that Slipknot demands.
"It's heavy and intense, but we don't have a huge production," Kuk says. "Not to take anything away from Slipknot or Mudvayne, but we're not an image-type band." However, Satone, who sports a tattooed face and totes a ragged doll on stage, has learned something about the art of spectacle from his former employers.
Despite its mask-free wardrobe, downthesun will always be linked to Slipknot, not only because Crahan played matchmaker for its members, but also because the groups sound similar. Both combine vaguely rebellious sentiments and self-deprecating slogans (We are filth, downthesun declares at one point) with slightly sanitized death-metal crunch. Instead of speeding through solos, these bands fill the spaces between choruses and second or third verses with fully formed miniature songs that complement their surroundings but bear little resemblance to the host songs' pace or melodies.
Local fans might also group downthesun with Puddle of Mudd, a comparison that's not necessarily apt. For one thing, Puddle of Mudd, as any fired-up Niener's crowd will tell you, isn't metal; it's posthumous grunge, down to the rotting-corpse stink. For another, Kuk and Church didn't pile into Slipknot's spacious clown car and pretend there was no room inside for their Canvas cohorts.
"Canvas was never our band," Kuk explains. "It was Paul's band (guitarist Pauly-C), and they were headed in a different direction." Specifically, Canvas planned to stop raging against the machine and learn to love it, ditching the rap-metal sound in a bid for radio acceptance. As of yet, the gambit hasn't paid off, but Kuk has no harsh words for his former band mates. "It's cool," he says without evident irony. "They wanted to try something new, and I hope it works well for them."
In an interview with the Pitch earlier this year (J.J. Hensley's "The Contenders," May 23), Pauly-C said Canvas painted over its metal edges because it no longer believed a group that brought the full-volume ruckus could get discovered in Kansas City . It's an impression downthesun hopes to change, without inspiring the city's metal-minded musicians to follow its career path by playing their first shows in other Midwestern cities.
"Puddle of Mudd's success has focused some attention on the area already, and hopefully we'll be able to help as well," Kuk says. "I hope Kansas City gets the reputation as a music mecca that it deserves. Not just for heavy bands, but for all kinds of music."
Without stepping onto a local stage -- or many stages at all -- downthesun has already shed some light on the Kansas City scene.
Its label, Roadrunner, one of the most recognizable metal labels around, plans to follow up its latest pet project by keeping a close eye on KC. Its press materials mention the group's founders' hometown prominently, if not positively. ("We're from the armpit of America," Kuk states.) And its high-ranking connections ensure that downthesun will enjoy a hero's homecoming: Anything even remotely related to Slipknot should be able to fill a Beaumont-sized venue. That's a benefit the post-big-time Get Up Kids didn't enjoy until sweetening the deal with headliners Green Day and Weezer. Before coming out in droves, local fans still require metal bands to establish themselves nationally. (Just ask Puddle of Mudd's Wes Scantlin how many fans he used to draw at home playing the same songs a few years ago.) But that's becoming easier to do.