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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?"
"Definitely," Israel adds. "It was like, why would we take all this time working on the intricacies of a song and then just have some dude come in and scream over it?"
Indeed, even Kitezh's early tunes boasted a ridiculous degree of intricacy, and when the band started getting serious after finally nailing down its players, the results were epic: Kitezh's self-titled record, laid down over the course of nine exacting months, feels like a magnum opus, less a specimen of its genre than the potential of what it could be with its best shit turned up to eleven: bombastic, operatic, packed with Thin Lizzy-style dueling-lead interplay and psychotic arpeggios, veering time-signature changes and enveloping waves of full-stack amperage. It's a lot like the Fucking Champs, except with more...of, like, everything. Still, as with the Champs, the songs are never so technical as to be alienating. "We're not just up there wanking — which, I have nothing against bands that go up there and show off their skill," Soto says.
"But I think that's about the whole philosophy that we've always had as far as songwriting goes," Rudy adds, "which is that we don't want to be like, you know, a collage metal band. We want to keep some sort of songwriting sensibility."
And that's a sensibility that works in tandem with the band's more overarching philosophy, which is not, as Soto observes, about technical masturbation. It's about paying tribute, Israel contends: "All you can hope to do is give back to the shit you took from," he says. "You don't just add a bunch of shit. If you play a show and one kid in the audience wants to pick up a guitar, pick up bass, pick up drums — that's all you can hope for."
"And I think all of us feel really blessed," Rudy continues, "that anyone gives a fuck about our band at this point. You know, me and Grant have been doing this a long fucking time, and these guys have been doing this for a long fucking time, and to have anybody care about it is — at the end of the day, all shit aside — that's what you give a fuck about. That people might get the same thing from your music as you get from the music you love. Anything that makes you as excited about music as —"
"The bands," Israel finishes, "that blew your mind when you were twelve."