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It's the night before Independence Day, and the moon is seemingly radiating heat. In the maze of strip malls that is South Parker Road, illuminated by the occasional premature firework, Heimmie's Pub looks the part of a prototypical suburban dive, at least from the exterior. Take a few steps toward the entrance, though, and the similarity begins to evaporate: Once you're within earshot, the sounds don't match the visuals. In place of a jukebox set exclusively to honky tonk and butt rock, strains of frenzied metal guitar seep into the air. Inside, the young, on-the-fringe crowd demolishes any remaining preconceptions.
Pappy's Pub, 2648 South Parker Road, Aurora
The July 3 event at Heimmie's is running behind schedule, in more ways than one. At half past midnight, the third band to take the stage, Child Proof, wraps up its set. The crowd begins the standard milling-about procedure as the players in the headlining act, Denver metal standout Throat Culture, ready their equipment. The night was intended to be a release party for Throat Culture's semi-quarterly, eponymous magazine (subtitled "Denver's Abrasive Music Rag"), but a glitch at the printer translates to nary a freshly shipped bundle. Post-soundcheck, the announcement that the mag is late results in a few grumbles and boos, but they are quickly eclipsed by the roar from the band's amplifiers: a demonic keyboard intro followed by the rush of full-throttle hardcore guitar.
As sounds from worlds more electronic than metallic start to hit the hundred or so people in attendance, it becomes clear that Throat Culture's audience, although starting to orbit in pre-mosh mode, is not exclusively metal-centric. Short hair abounds, as do styles from skate-punk to gothic. A U2 T-shirt is worn alongside those of Mercyful Fate and Slayer. An Ol' Dirty Bastard poster hangs on the wall.
This ain't your older brother's heavy metal.
The first incarnation of Throat Culture took shape in 1996 with two singers and zero bassists; it was a four-piece thrash experiment that included two current members, singer Chris Vigil and drummer Rod Brown. Bassist Cassie Begay came on board in 1997, and the band started picking up a little steam, playing gigs at such local rock standbys as Cricket on the Hill and the Iliff Park Saloon. Last spring, several guitarists later, Nick Jackson, formerly of local death-metal outfit Flesh Flood, hooked up with the band.
Since that point, "things have been snowballing for us," says Vigil from the couch at Throat Culture's East Colfax practice space. He's referring to a dense slate of local shows, including opening slots for national acts like Anthrax (on July 7) and the Genitorturers and Type O Negative last year, as well as the release of an eight-song self-titled CD last year. "I think the last year and a half is the hardest we've worked as a band," he says. "Everything before that was just getting to that point."
"We've got our sound," echoes Brown. "I really believe that we do."
That discovery might have happened last August, when Throat Culture took a stylistic leap by inviting keyboardist Brian Fisher to jump into the fray. Vigil had initially thought that something synthesized would help Throat Culture flesh out its sound, but skinsman Brown had a different outlook. "I was completely against having a keyboard from the beginning," he says.
Like Vigil, Jackson was all for a five-piece, so he brought his friend Fisher to the band's attention, asking, "Why not expand a little bit more?" The pro-keyboard faction won out, and the enhanced Throat Culture sound quickly made a convert out of Brown. "I think [the keyboard] is what now sets us apart from all these other, heavier local bands," says a confident Jackson. "It just deepens it."
Vigil sums up the move, saying, "Whether it's a dance beat or a dark, eerie sound, we just want to be able to have that tool."
Past experiences had soured Fisher on playing in a band, leading him to independently create electronic music prior to giving multiple-player rock and roll another shot with Throat Culture. This time around, the band experience is better: Fisher sees his goth-, ambient- and techno-inspired keyboards as a launching pad for Throat Culture to tinker with genre. "With guitar effects, you can do different sounds," he notes, "but with keyboards you can build an atmosphere, throw in beats or throw in samples. You're not limited by it." Melding techno and thrash metal isn't much of a stretch, Brown adds, because everybody in the band loves "aggressive music," be it metal or classical.
In Throat Culture's collective mind, the "heavy metal" label can be a burden. Says Fisher: "When anybody thinks of heavy metal, they're going to think Ozzy, or think of something like a hair band, but heavy metal's always been an experimental, loud, abrasive kind of music. Not real nice, not real cozy. There's no way around the fact that, yeah, we are a metal band...[but] I don't think I've ever told anybody, 'Yeah, we're a metal band.'"
"It's such a huge label," adds Jackson. "Heavy metal can be anything from Ozzy to..."
"Limp Bizkit!" offers Vigil, visibly amusing his cohorts, who are all in their mid-twenties and devout fans of late-'80s and early-'90s speed metal. While Vigil's exclamation is half-facetious, Fred Durst and Kid Rock just might be the current standard-bearers for the genre, at least in the eyes of the average seventeen-year-old Y2K metalhead -- if there is such a thing. Nonetheless, the rap-metal phenomenon is not a boat aboard which Throat Culture has intentions of jumping anytime soon.
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