In Like a Lion

In Black Lamb's eyes, hard rock was never broken. Why fix it?

Rock-and-rollers once distressed Middle America with a few pelvic thrusts and a smattering of suggestive lyrics. This phenomenon evolved into a penchant to outdo the competition with the most outlandish psychosexual and/or Satanic imagery available. Then punk, metal, thrash, hardcore and countless other genres and subgenres took turns pushing the speed and cacophony toward infinity. In the 21st century, hard rock's shock value is so faded that you almost expectto see a naked, bleeding vocalist on stage.

For Denver's Black Lamb, fashion, image and nü-ness take a back seat to rock's tried-and-true tools: the bear-trap riff, the throbbing slabs of bass and the relentless backbeat. Led by a feral frontman with a hearty appetite for all things decadent, the band eschews the scare-the-suburban-mom tactics and instead focuses on building a brick wall of grimace and guitars.

"We're trying to bring back the guitar rock, the fucking power of '70s rock, " says guitarist Bill Stewart, "instead of this watered-down KBPI shit you've got all over the place. And we like a little Southern in our fried chicken."

Back in Black: Most of Black Lamb and a fan, doing his best impersonation of singer Brian Hagman.
John Johnston
Back in Black: Most of Black Lamb and a fan, doing his best impersonation of singer Brian Hagman.

"I guess we would describe our music as 'Commerce City soul music,'" says bassist Andy Pfeiffer, referring to the town where Black Lamb's practice space -- and Pfeiffer's residence -- is located. "That's really what it's all about -- just heavy blues, soul, rock and roll."

"We wanted to jump on the hipness of Commerce City," adds guitarist Ben Ryan.

Whatever you call it, Black Lamb's music is heavy -- and groovy. It's snarling, chugging, swerving, pedal-to-the-metal rock that often careers out of control but never quite wrecks the car. On stage, Stewart and Ryan provide the atomic hooks and solos, which are anchored by Pfeiffer's subtly funky rhythms and drummer Bryon Black's beats; Brian Hagman's feverish bellow crowns the sound. It's down and dirty, unadulterated and unpretentious: To paraphrase Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister, heavy metal, punk rock, stoner rock -- fuck it, this is rock and roll.

Technically, Black Lamb is Ryan's baby. The quiet, precise guitarist got things going in 2000 after a series of stints with short-lived acts that "always seemed to fizzle out for one reason or another," including the Arvada-based Agents of Chaos. When he decided to get serious about a new project, he got in touch with Stewart and Hagman, who had shared the stage in Wretched Refuse, another punk outfit from the north suburbs.

"We're alumni from a little Arvada scene we had going back in the early '90s," Hagman explains. "When Ben started the band, he called in different people he knew to come in to jam. All of us are veteran players in town, so we all just know each other from bands around town, from detox -- whatever."

Black Lamb was originally known as the Lambs, but a Scandinavian judge forced a moniker change early on. "We got a cease-and-desist from another band called the Lambs in Sweden," Ryan says. A name is a name, the players agreed, choosing to rebrand in lieu of navigating the Swedish judicial system.

Black Lamb "really came together" when Pfeiffer joined, Ryan recalls. A onetime member of local rap/metal fusers Blister 66, Pfeiffer brought a deft touch on the low notes and a sizable helping of Skynyrd-style boogie. After working with two previous drummers, Black Lamb found Black, whose first involvement with the band was as a fan. Black played guitar in the now-defunct Denver alt-rock act 40th Day in the early '90s; currently a double-duty drummer, he pounds the skins for Jet Black Joy as well as for Black Lamb.

"The first time I heard Black Lamb play, I was like, 'Holy fuck, man, that's some kick-ass shit!'" says Black. "I always wanted to play with them, because the music had that special kind of funky beat that I like, that special groove."

The members of Black Lamb all see their music as an antidote to the amphetamine chaos of thrash and hardcore. While punk was an answer to the art-rock sprawl of the early '70s, Black Lamb offers doses of pre-punk hard rock that Sid Vicious would have been too doped up to play. In the quintet's eyes, a little virtuosity never hurt anyone.

"I think all of us weren't as proficient of players when we started, and that's why we gravitated toward something more immediate, like punk," Hagman says, referring to his Wretched Refuse days. "Now that we're getting to a higher level as players, it's awesome to be able to play like some of the people we grew up listening to" -- bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath and their motley peers.

"It's kind of like forgetting everything you ever learned and just start playing it all over again," says Pfeiffer. "One thing about Black Lamb is, we're kind of doing an old-school sound, so a lot of the older generation really enjoys us, and we've got the energy, so the young kids really like us."

"We're hippin' some people to something they might have overlooked when they were growing up," adds Hagman, relating a story that drives the point home. After a gig at Archer's in Fort Collins, he remembers, "We didn't think the manager was going to like us at all, but he was like, 'Oh, man, you remind me of when I was going to see Uriah Heep!' I said, 'If you just told me we reminded you of Uriah Heep, then I can die a happy man.'"

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