gamut (2006-25)

Revelation 13:18: “Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six.”

Was this the rapture? I’d heard stories that women were inducing labor, so their little Damians could be born on June 6, 2006. They must know that everything’s a mess, always has been. Why not give birth to the antichrist? War is in the news everyday. Children die young. Our favorite starlets get old, and ugly. Valium mothers go mad. Saints become alcoholics. Gas prices rise. Bums ask for money. Literature tells lies. The world’s insane. And no synthetic, doctor-prescribed pill is going to fix it. Nothing’s real, we say to calm ourselves. This life’s an illusion. No sweaty preacher, doped-out oracle or illiterate prophet is going to change any of it. I had a bottle of whiskey, wrapped in a brown paper bag.

The captain will lead a great troop Near the enemy on the mountain Surrounded by fire he finds his path (Nostradamus VII.28)

I sat next to Mitchel Garza in a cozy kitchen in Fort Sanders. He’s the frontman of local thrash blues outfit Lobster Lobster Lobster. “Maggie would kill me if I drank right now,” he said, referring to his girlfriend Maggie Brannon of The Dirty Knees, a group full of more local dirty rockers. On the floor, a record player was spinning old, fuzzy rock tunes, the kind of wholesome rock that seems tame by today’s standards. But, at one time, evangelists all over the country were saying that these simple, happy, youthful tunes announced the Fall of Man. Now, all I could do was fiddle with an unopened bottle of rotgut whiskey while listening to ancient rock, waiting to drive to Cookeville, to tow the instruments of dirty rawk to please a pantheon of misfit deities. I wanted to put my teeth on the speakers and sacrifice my eardrums and higher cognitive abilities. I wanted to go evil, to be a part of something that would wig-out my elders.

In Cookeville, a little over an hour away at a rundown strip mall, was the Unholy 6-6-6 Fest, where a bizarre collection of death metal, thrash jazz and fetid rock came together for a weird, cultic jam session. There weren’t any rules. It just seemed to come together, like a demonic miracle. “There were a lot of bands booked,” said Andy Kohler, the 666 event organizer and drummer for sludge metal powerhouse Sadville. “It was put together pretty sloppily.”

In places and times, flesh will give way / Communal law will oppose this / The old support it, then removed from the milieu / Love of everything in common is set aside (IV.32)

There was a faded, orange awning above the door. There, scribbled in permanent marker, was “Mice Pace.” I didn’t think it looked particularly evil, not on the outside. It’s an empty section of a strip mall, a long forgotten piece of commercialism that’s falling into disrepair. Next door is an ice cream parlor, way past its heyday. And, across the street, a convenience store, with fully stocked beer-cooler, which was soon bombarded by a steady flow of Whisk-Hutzel refugees.

The Mice Pace door was propped open, leading us towards a dark, concrete room. I could see a toilet in the back closet, but enough equipment had been puzzled back there to render it useless. About 30 people stood around, not doing much, terribly sober.

“I saw this cock-rock band in Jamestown once, candles everywhere,” a voice said. “They thought they were Judas Priest or something.” Then, out of the darkness, it began with a slow, creepy guitar, backed by a low, grumbling bass. This was the kind of music that should’ve been used during the opening credits of every ’70s horror movie. The band was Fissure, a Cookeville crew, Mice Pace veterans. It sounded like sophisticated evil, straight out of a Transylvanian bloodlust-romance. This is what I had expected to hear, something from a Finnish black metal songbook. But, this wasn’t Cradle of Filth. The Emperor wasn’t bleeding onstage. This was more than simple Lords of Chaos would allow.

In a little while temples of colors / Of white and black intermixed / Red and yellow withdraw from them / Blood, land, plague, famine, fire, destroy them (VI.10)

Big Bad Oven’s Josh Wright sang “Warm California Sun” in a manic tenor, hyper-agitated by his heavily distorted lap guitar, so that the classic Beach Boys sound became layered with electric fuzz, cadenced by Will Fist’s possessed, banshee drumming. “This is an easy dance if you’re all fucked up,” Fist said. “I’m all Red-Bulled up, so maybe I can do it. It’s called the Donkey.”

Nothing fit. Goddamn City came on stage with their three basses turned up to 11, kind of like a screaming, countrified Spinal Tap. The Dirty Knees gave us a sampling of their simple-and-playful tunes. They sang, “We are Dirty Knees if you please / We are Dirty Knees if you don’t please,” a throwback reference to one of our innocent childhood favorites, Disney’s Aristocats .

Then, quite unexpectedly, the tone went evil once again. “This song is perfect for the occasion,” Maggie Brannon said. “It’s called ‘In League with Satan.’ It’s by Venom.” It was a raucous, unornamented speed metal attempt. When finished, The Dirty Knees seemed apologetic. “Sorry Venom,” they said. But, out of the crowd came a resounding No! Venom should apologize to you!

There was no overriding ethos, no logic either. Everything blended together with the crowd’s fanatic yawps. There was sweat everywhere. The smell of BO was more like a locker room than a concert hall. When The Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight took over, nothing seemed predictable. Ben Oyler screamed at the crowd, urging them closer with high-pitched roars, calculated mania. This wasn’t free-form nü-angst. He’d practiced. Guitarist William Mahaffey surrounded himself with a Star Trek ian amount of thrash pedals and other sundry space-age bells and whistles, elongating the strung-out sheets of sound, stretching and pounding them into submission, with help from drummer Chris Rusk, thrashing his way through each arrangement with surgeon, Jedi precision. Then, laid prostrate in front of his microphone, Manjit Bhatti screamed into the butt-end of his sax, while pounding the keys at haphazard, fueled by enough electricity to power a small village.

The end product was a sound that would’ve been alien even to Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk.

The fervor reached crescendo when Sadville plugged in. Travis Flatt’s lunic stage presence, combined with the sheer metal virtuosic backbone of his band, took us into the deepest, darkest regions of hell, where Judas Iscariot, Jim Morrison and Satan himself dance together in an odd, oscillating, stumbling Viennese Waltz, beautiful in its unpredictability. It was loud. And we took it in, closing our eyes and bobbing left and right.

The learned enemy will be confused / Disease in his camp, defeated by ambush (VI.99)

A light appeared, pulling everyone out of the trance, crushing our short-lived spiritual communion with the forces of evil. “Wrap it up,” the voice said. “Too loud!” It was a policeman, a bleak reminder that we still lived in Realityland, and no matter how loud the music would get that night, no matter how far we might have slipped into the primitive, we would always come back to reality. “You all need to get some of that foam,” he said, trying to wax sensibility. “Some of that stuff to put up on the walls to keep the sound in.”

There was a brief pause after the officer left. He told us not to make him come back that night. “I wish y’all could’ve played ‘The Forbidden Dance of Decay,’” someone said, softly.

And, only minutes after the Law stepped out of hell, Sadville was on its feet, playing their sludge metal masterpiece. “The whole song is the story of a guy who, on a full moon, realizes that he’s turning into a werewolf,” Kohler said. “And he’s explaining to his girlfriend that he’s a werewolf, so he doesn’t fuck her up, or whatever. The end is her explaining to her lover that she doesn’t want him to leave her.”

A good metal show needs to reek with body odor at the end of the night, to give birth to a lingering reminder of its rank, seething madness. After all, this isn’t folk music. It’s death metal. And the stench is an unavoidable reminder of primeval humanity, our flesh-and-blood, earthbound squalor.

A great stench issues from Lausanna / Such that no one knows its source / They will exile all foreigners / Fire in the heavens, strangers defeated  (VIII.10)

The rank odors subliminated, out of hell, up towards the heavens. Primitive, devil-throat grunts blasted out of the Mice Pace, appeasing the gods, letting them know that we’re still here, still barking the unpleasant, cathartic moans that have forever announced our existence. These voices always say, in unison: “We’re human.”

But there was no rapture. No lightning bolts, earthquakes or pestilence. It was just a concert and, after the noise faded, it was just an old, crummy strip mall once again. Maybe we had the wrong year. Maybe next year. Thus sayeth Nostradamus:

The year of the great seventh number passed / An apparition at a time of ritual sacrifice Not far from the age of the millennium / When the buried go out from their tombs (X.74)