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It's basically the metal we wish would have happened after '86," says Tauntaun guitarist Ian O'Dougherty of his band's music. "After '86, metal went in crazy ways, everywhere, and we didn't like anywhere that it went. This is the record that we thought should have come then. If we were playing then, this is the record we would have made."
Tauntaun's self-titled debut could easily serve as the third element of an unholy trinity with Metallica's Master of Puppets and Slayer's Reign in Blood. With its relentless rhythm section, blistering lead lines and gruff, powerful vocals, it embodies an admirably straightforward approach to a genre that has become burdened with gimmicks and pushed to ridiculous extremes in recent times.
"That was one of our goals from the beginning: We wouldn't be influenced by anything post-'86," O'Dougherty says. "I think we kept that, with all early metal influences. There were several times when we had a part we took away because it was too modern-sounding. I actually wrote three songs for the project, and we didn't use any of them because they were all too modern-sounding. But we try to keep them all between '77 and '86. We really have no connection to the modern metal scene at all."
While the guys may have no connection to modern metal, they definitely have deep roots in the Denver scene: Frontman and guitarist Chris Fogal was the leader of the Gamits; O'Dougherty has worked with Ian Cooke, Voices Underwater and Uphollow, among others; drummer Dave Barker is a veteran of Pinhead Circus, Love Me Destroyer and Drag the River and is Rocky Votolato's touring drummer; and bassist Matty Clark was a member of Grace Like Gravity and the recently disbanded Sleeper Horse.
The members first came together in 2006, with a very different musical direction. "It was not metal. It was an extension of what the Gamits were going for, sort of," O'Dougherty remembers. "It was sort of a post-punk pop thing — I don't know what. It was okay. We had like five or six songs, and we practiced a lot in the summer of '06. It just didn't really go anywhere; it didn't really excite anyone. We just sort of stopped that."
Spurred by the sorry state of modern metal as they saw it, the four found inspiration buried deep in their collective adolescence. "That was the thing all four of us had in common between us — listening to metal as our first genre, when we first started listening to music," O'Dougherty recalls. "We shouldn't be trying to play pop punk, we should be playing metal. And write it with pop structures, with pop ideas."
United by a shared love of classic metal, things just seemed to just fall into place for these seasoned players. "We never had to practice. We were all good by this point, you know? If we weren't by this point, we might as well stop, right?" O'Dougherty asks, laughing. "So we could all play, and we would send each other MP3s through e-mail, learn the song individually, get together and play it. That really made it inspiring. We wrote, like, eight songs right away; the first couple of weeks, we just wrote all these songs. And again, didn't really rehearse them so much, just got together and played them, because we knew what we wanted. We said it in the beginning, too, that this was the easiest it had ever been to be in a band. And we were good — right away, we could play. We didn't have to work at it."
A few months later, in February 2008, the group set about recording the album. From February through April, pieces were recorded in a variety of locations using Fogal's mobile recording rig. With a studio owner in the lineup, recording the album themselves was pretty much a no-brainer, and it followed easily from there that they would release the disc on Fogal's label, Black in Bluhm.
"We all grew up in the DIY, punk-rock kind of world, and that's what we did," O'Dougherty remembers. "We recorded our own albums and put out our own seven-inches, booked our own tours, silkscreened our own shirts and did everything ourselves. We wanted to keep up with that and do everything ourselves.
"After all those years of DIY, the part that remains is, it's easier to do it yourself," he continues. "Then you own your product, you make the money from it. If it's wrong, it's your fault. If it's right, it's because of you." This approach also allowed them to make some calls that wouldn't fly at even the most liberal of labels, like eschewing a CD release altogether, a fitting decision given the band's rejection of influences past 1986.
"Since we didn't like any of the new stuff that's happening with metal, it was nice to just ignore it," O'Dougherty proclaims. "That's sort of our aesthetic with the band, too, and why we're doing a record release instead of a CD release. Our music exists pre-CD. We're not releasing it on CD at all. (Digital fans, rest easy: The band is releasing the album as a download, a minor concession to the modern era.)