The musically meek seem to have inherited the earth, and the members of Warband are none too happy about it. The impetus for the formation of the local metal power trio came from frustration with some weaker strains of what passes for metal these days.
"I saw some metal bands playing out and thought, ‘This is bullshit—I'm calling some people tomorrow to start a band,'" says bassist Josh Wright, sitting in Warband's basement practice space on Central Avenue. "And I happened to see Wes [Caylor] right after that and asked him if he was interested."
Caylor (who phoned drummer Carey Balch during our interview to say he wouldn't be able to make it) was the ideal person to run into for someone itching to start a back-to-basics metal band. Veteran of thrash metal unit Haggus, Caylor is a wickedly fast guitarist who seems to have internalized all the riffs and solos of the metal canon up to the mid-'80s.
Balch, of New Brutlism and other heavy-leaning outfits, was an obvious choice for drummer. Though both he and Wright played in bands that borrow a lot from the genre, neither had been in an actual metal band before now.
"It's something I always had on my mind but didn't feel like I was capable of doing," Balch says. "I've talked about it over the years, but never knew how it would go over. I only agreed to do it because I knew Wes and Josh were serious about it."
Drawing from the music they listened to as teenagers—early-'80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal, first-generation thrash, and, of course, Black Sabbath—Warband plays a fast, precise, and stripped-down style of metal. Given the template they were working from, and the familiarity each had with the genre, the trio was able to crank out a set's worth of songs in a fairly brief time, assembling in August 2008 and playing their first show two months later.
"Wes has a knack for fist-pumping riffs," Wright says. "You just feel the loudness and let it wash over you."
The loudness has washed over enthused crowds at Pilot Light throughout the past year, each show attracting more heads than the last as word of their no-frills, old-school-style metal spread. When we spoke, they were a few days away from their first out of town show, at Grimey's record store in Nashville. They'll be releasing a CD soon, which should help to spread word even further. Recorded by engineering wiz—and Balch's bandmate in New Brutalism—Dave Basford, the band laid down eight songs in two days, live, with Caylor's pre-written solos overdubbed.
"We were originally going to record it at Dave's studio, but circumstances led to it being recorded here, which is where it should have been recorded," Balch says, referring to the practice space. Surveying the dilapidated concrete bunker decorated with beer-soaked rugs, foam padding lining the ceiling and amps stacked throughout the room, you know he's right.
In-demand producer and remixer James Plotkin, who has worked with bands such as Isis, Pelican and Sunn O))), mastered the disc, which ended up sounding like a forgotten metal classic from 1985.
We seem to have moved from a period when indie-rock bands would borrow and quote from metal without fully embracing it. But there are varying degrees of how seriously bands take the themes and iconography of the genre. No one who's experienced Warband live would ever doubt that these are serious practitioners of the form, with titles like "Time to Die" and "Waves of Blood," a lyrical fixation on death and violence, and Caylor's Dungeons & Dragons- and Frank Frazetta-inspired designs for the band's flyers and CD cover. The band members assert that there's no ironic distance from their source material.
"I had a friend listen to our recording and he liked it, but he said he just didn't understand the vocals, why the lyrics had to be about what they were," Balch says. "I just thought, ‘What else would they be about with this kind of music?' They're nice, simple phrases—slogans that are easy to remember."
"I don't see it so much as irony as a throwback to a time in your life when it was bad-ass to be a Norseman," Wright says. "The type of metal I loved as a kid—the reasons I loved it seemed so unaffected and pure, and the reasons I like it now are the same. It just kicks ass."