Chris Fogal is a closet shredder. You wouldn't guess that, though, if you only knew him from his time fronting the Gamits. But those who've had the great fortune of working with him in the studio tell tales of Fogal plugging in their guitars to check for tones and then just unleashing a flurry of jaw-dropping riffs. And there are also those times he's donned a wig and channeled Black Sabbath-era Ozzy for Virgil Dickerson's Monsters of Mock shows.
I suspected the dude had latent Hessian tendencies long before any of that. Before Fogal ever exhibited his impressively intricate, Propagandhi-worthy picking style with the Gamits, I caught him at one of those guitarmageddon-type deals at a ProSound. I'd popped into the store after work one afternoon for some strings or whatever, and between fondling/drooling over gear I couldn't afford, I saw this younger cat just rip, playing effortless, fleet-fingered sweeps. I looked a little closer and realized that I knew the guy. In what now seems another lifetime ago, we'd attended the same churchy private school in north Denver. Fogal's sister was in my class, and he was the kid brother. I had absolutely no idea that he'd turn out to be such a talented musician — but I should have known: His sister was an amazing songwriter, not just for an eighth-grader, but period. Fast-forward a decade or so. I was playing in a group with some guys who passed along a demo that ultimately became Come Get Some, the Gamits' first seven-inch. I didn't know then that it was Fogal's new band, but that didn't matter. Like everyone else, I was blown away. The songs were stellar and the guitar playing exceptional.
As I watched and covered the Gamits through many configurations over the years, I often wondered when — and even if — Fogal would ever indulge his earlier metal inclinations. I remained curious after the Gamits disbanded, and became even more intrigued when rumors began circulating that Fogal had formed a straight-up metal band. Finally, late last week, the suspense came to an end when Ian O'Dougherty sent me a link to a few songs from On High, the new act he's playing in with Fogal.
I've only heard two songs so far, but Christ almighty, they're wicked good — too much metal for one hand, in fact. Fogal and his mates — O'Dougherty (Uphollow, Ian Cooke) on guitar, bassist Matty Clark (Sleeper Horse, Grace Like Gravity) and drummer Dave Barker (Drag the River, Love Me Destroyer) — manage to pull the whole thing off with a sense of reverence rather than irony. "Bleed for Everyone" opens with a cool wah-wah wash before exploding into a scorching, full-on, crunch-laden doomfest, with Fogal in vintage Ozzy mode, from that time before Volvo-driving soccer moms everywhere knew his name. "Inheritance of Lies" showcases a bit more of his fretwork and sounds like a turbocharged outtake from Paranoid. (Get a sneak peek of the demos Fogal recorded at his home studio at www.virb.com/onhigh; in two weeks, Virgil Dickerson, through his Suburban Home imprint, will release the EP for download on his site, www.suburbanhomerecords.com.)
After hearing the songs, I have just one question for Fogal: What took him so freaking long?
"I don't know, dude," he says. "It had to be done, though. We were trying to figure out a band, and nothing was working. But as soon as we started writing metal songs, it started coming together really fast, because it was fun, you know? Me and Matty were working together when he was still bartending down here at Illegal Pete's. And when we'd close the restaurant, we'd always turn up whatever metal we were listening to really loud — a lot of old metal like Master of Puppets and all that.
"And then, what were we listening to...oh, the Sword. Have you heard that band the Sword? We were like, 'Man, we should just start a band like this.' I kept sending these guys songs, and they were okay. We were just kind of throwing shit at the wall and seeing what would stick. And finally we were like, 'Yeah, let's do that.' And I was like, 'All right, I'll start writing songs.' And the next thing you know, we had a handful of songs, and everybody was way more stoked on those songs than they were on my other songs. Which became really clear when they were all like, 'That is so badass.' I never got that with any of the other songs. So I was like, 'All right, I'll just stick with this.'"
And that's exactly what he intends to do. The band hits the studio next month to work on its debut, which Dickerson plans to issue on vinyl, and there's talk of some touring after that. Considering how burned out Fogal seemed when the Gamits folded, it's good to hear that he may be ready to get back on the road.
"We'll see," he says. "It's gonna be tough for me and Ian, mainly, because we both have full-time jobs. But if it gets to the point where there's a big enough opportunity there, then of course we would do it. But it's got to sort of outweigh keeping shit under control on the home front, you know?"
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And even if On High — the act's working title of Throne was changed to avoid confusion with similarly monikered acts, and yes, Fogal's already aware of the On High/High on Fire link — doesn't go far, it's already reignited Fogal's creative fire. "I'm actually looking forward to doing other stuff, too, besides this band, which I'm obviously excited about," he confides. "This band has definitely helped get me active again."
Horns to that, bro.
Upbeats and beatdowns: At the Soiled Dove on Friday, November 16, Firefall will unveil its latest platter, an acoustic homage to the Beatles titled Colorado to Liverpool. I have zero interest in hearing anybody taking on the songs of the Fab Four — that's hallowed ground as far as I'm concerned — so I don't see this album getting many more spins from me. Still, Jock Bartley and Steven Weinmeister do a fine job of paying tribute with their crisp vocals and harmonies (especially on cuts like "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" and "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party") and respectfully avoid coloring too much outside the lines. Elsewhere that same night, Random Hero, an act I was turned on to by KBPI's recent best-band contest, stops by the Gothic Theatre, where it will share a bill with Life in Electric, the Crimson Red (featuring ex-members of Ion and Adam's Ruin, last year's best-band winner), Glyphic and Falling Untrue.