Immortal Beloved

In its three years of existence, the Fort Collins-based Immortal Dominion has received about as much attention from the mainstream media as Tom Selleck might from ticketholders at your average Indigo Girls concert. But that doesn't mean that the group's members--guitarist/vocalist Ray Smith, guitarist Brian Villers, drummer Ben Huntwork and bassist Steve Sherwood --have decided that sucking up is the ticket to success. For example, the players are upset that Denver's rockingest radio outlet, KBPI-FM/106.7, has not broadcast anything from their new CD, a self-produced and sternum-rattling affair entitled Birth. And they don't care who knows it.

"They won't play them because they don't play any local music anymore," Sherwood says. "And I think it's bullshit." He subsequently calls KBPI personality K.O. "a wuss," adding, "Just because it's a big corporation and they're going to fire you if you play anything that's not on a major label" is no excuse for ignoring the disc.

Given this lack of diplomacy, it's unlikely that Sherwood and his mates will soon be ruling the local airwaves. Then again, the act's refusal to kowtow to fashion is a large part of its charm. In an alternative rock universe that seems reluctant to embrace anything more threatening than the increasingly cartoonish Pearl Jam, Immortal Dominion is epitomized by a single word--hard. "I guess whenever we try to describe what we do to someone, we call it a power-groove death-metal style," Villers allows.

"It's definitely metal," Sherwood concurs. "No glam shit."
"We're a lot heavier than most of the bands up here," Huntwork says.
By the same token, Immortal Dominion is not entirely one-dimensional. The performers listen to plenty of Fear Factory and Morbid Angel, but they enjoy Ween and They Might Be Giants, too. Their sets even betray a fondness for jazz and rap. "A lot of the heavier bands that we run into are usually more straightforward death-metal than we are," Sherwood admits.

Not that Immortal Dominion's material would be considered safe. Thanks to songs with titles such as "Canyon Curse" and "Demon Voices," Huntwork notes that "a lot of people think we're satanists." The Immortals neither confirm nor deny this supposition, but Smith, the band's primary lyricist, insists that his words are actually about "a lot of different spiritual things, like letting off stress or looking inside yourself to find the good things in life."

"Brighter Days," which is so accessible that it almost sounds out of place in Immortal Dominion's repertoire, and "Animated Adrenaline" bear out Smith's comments. Still, about the closest thing to a warm-and-fuzzy on Birth is the following couplet from "I Won't Kill You": "I won't kill you/If you won't kill me."

Smith, a quiet, intense young fellow who manages to look sinister even with a serious head cold and a three-day stubble that partially obscures the warrior symbol tattooed across the back of his skull, delivers such messages in a manner that sets mosh pits to spinning. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of the band's disciples, many of whom are under 21, has made it difficult for Immortal Dominion to get bookings. According to Villers, "Nobody in town will let us play an all-ages show," with the exception of a single Fort Collins club, Nightingale's. As a result, the band's appearances there have become events. A recent show found the house packed with young revelers from as far away as Wyoming, and from the moment Smith unleashed a scream marking the start of the gig, the dance floor was filled with a mob that was mostly male and largely shirtless--the pluperfect picture of cornfed and crew-cut white-teen rebellion.

Sherwood acknowledges that such crowds can pose security risks, thereby making the Immortals even less popular with club managers than they might otherwise be. "Fort Collins is a college town," he points out. "So I think a lot of bar owners and stuff are probably like, 'Why should we do something that's risky, different or all-ages-oriented versus the typical let's-go-get-drunk-and-listen-to-Zuba college crowd?'"

The musicians' relatives have been more receptive to their work, but not by much. A question about parental backing is greeted with one of the longest pauses in the history of rock journalism. "My family is pretty supportive," Huntwork finally answers. "But they don't want to hear it." Not that Sherwood blames them. "I don't think I'll be sending my grandma a CD right away," he says, "because I don't want to put her over the edge."

That's Grandma's loss, since Birth is an extremely solid effort. The album's tunes contain more minor chords than Dee Dee Ramone has played in his entire life, and even though Smith's slashing lead licks are not as varied as one might like, they are dispensed sparingly enough to keep them sounding relatively fresh.

No doubt Birth's quality has helped the group sell several hundred copies of the recording in the brief time since its release. But surprisingly, clever retailing has also played a part. The four have handed out 500 promo CDs, helping to generate a following that convinced Fort Collins's college station, KCSU-FM, to give it some plays. A proposed tour through Utah and California could further broaden the Immortal Dominion fan base.

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