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In February 2006, Cole Rudy was pulling an epic guitar-god move at the Climax Lounge during an opening set for To Be Eaten, with his leg up on the monitor — head tossed back and everything — when the thing came loose and crumpled him like a cheap suit. "I heard my bones snap like a two-by-four," he remembers. "It was fucking loud."
That was just the beginning of a run of incredibly hard luck for what was then Elucidarius, one of Denver's most promising hardcore acts. Anchored by the virtuosic interplay between Rudy and fellow guitarist Grant Israel, that band left a near-mythical imprint on the scene before lineup problems and ceaseless setbacks — hardly a month after Rudy broke his leg, for example, their engineer got robbed and they lost the masters for an entire record — eventually dissolved it. "That was a weird way that ended," Israel recalls, "because we had so much momentum."
"For me," says Rudy, "it always hurt that that band didn't make it. But we were all really young, man, and none of us had our shit together."
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"Too much talent," Israel sums up, "not enough —"
"— organization," Rudy finishes.
But it wasn't the end. Nearly half a decade later, in Kitezh, the two still shred in tandem the way they finish each other's sentences — almost intuitively, so in tune with each other, it's impossible to even distinguish who's playing what, a long-bonded collaboration that reaches back even further, to when they were both second-year guitar-performance students at the University of Colorado Denver's College of Arts and Media. "It started out me and Grant were in fucking Paul Musso's class together, and we were the only ones that smoked cigarettes, remember?" says Rudy, gesturing across the table to Israel, who acknowledges this with a nod. "And every time we'd go down and smoke, fucking Grant would be like 'music, music, music.' I mean, when I met Grant, I listened to, like, Alkaline Trio and ska music, and that was about it."
Israel laughs. "Yeah, we were both jazz students," adds Israel, "but that was like Dillinger, At the Drive-In, Botch. The Fucking Champs."
"The Fucking Champs," Rudy agrees. They're like one of my all-time favorite, most influential bands in how I think about guitar."
Indeed, the Fucking Champs would prove a key inspiration in the Cole-Israel project that eventually rose from the ashes of Elucidarius. After the breakup, Rudy took on lead-guitar duties for the avant-grind-pop act Wetlands, and while Israel eventually joined that band on bass, the two were already talking about another metal guitar collaboration, an idea that before too long evolved into a band named Barnacle, later changed to Kitezh. And even though the beginnings of that band weren't much more than a private joke — basically it was Rudy and Israel instrumentally goofing on metal's more hilarious excesses — it was serious enough that the two ran into trouble almost immediately just trying to find bandmates who could hang. For that, they ended up enlisting the help of a longtime pillar of the scene, Cephalic Carnage.
Rudy and Israel had gone to school with current Cephalic Carnage guitarist Brian Hopp, who was shacking up with Isidro "Spider" Soto III, a talented drummer who had just come off the similarly disappointing breakup of Ascaris. "So Brian was like, 'You should probably talk to those guys and see if they want to jam, because they might want to play in a metal project,'" Soto remembers. "So we just tried it out. In the beginning, I don't think anyone even cared too much." Still, Soto found himself challenged — to the point where, during one set, he had to actually stop a song. "I literally could not even keep up," he recalls.
But the three began playing shows almost immediately, and despite several auditions, they ended up playing without a bassist for almost two years. Cephalic bassist Nick Schendzielos ended up being the only musician they could find with enough technical savvy to contend with the punishing pace, but his main band's rigorous touring schedule ultimately kept him from being able to commit fully to Kitezh. Still, he did introduce them to fill-in and then replacement bassist Igor Panasewicz, who had an experience similar to Soto's. "I had not been challenged with my instrument for a long time," Panasewicz remembers. "I mean, I hadn't practiced in years, and this is really the first time that I've had to do so. I've always been the guy in the band who was like, 'No, man, you're playing the scale wrong.' That doesn't happen in this band; it's the opposite. I get challenged, which is really nice."
The lineup thus solidified, the only typical band component Kitezh still lacked was a vocalist — and that's the way, the guys say, it's going to stay. "We're just over metal vocals, man," Rudy says.
"I wouldn't say 'over it'," Soto counters. "I just think at some point the songs were written and we were not thinking about vocals. We were thinking about what we were going to say through the guitars and the drums. I think it wasn't that we couldn't do it; it was more like, who gives a shit?"