It's already been an eventful year for the iconoclastic San Francisco progressive metal band Ludicra. It was supposed to be—a national tour, a new album, and a new label were expected to kick the band up from the basement of respected but generally unknown veterans to a more visible level of cult status. That's happened, but not quite in the way anyone could have expected.
"The last three months our profile as a band has increased," says drummer Aesop Dekker. "But the whole 10 years we've been a band have been exciting and overwhelming. We've been handed good opportunities that get f--ked some way or another."
First, Ludicra was named as a supporting act for Norwegian black-metal legends Mayhem's spring U.S. tour. It was set to be a small watershed moment, with the New York bands Krallice and Tombs also on the bill. Those three bands, along with Wolves in the Throne Room and a handful of others, are at the front of a renaissance in American black metal that's radically different—and more progressive—than its European precedents. Ludicra, especially, has pushed those boundaries since forming in 1998, incorporating punk, folk, chamber music, and hard rock with traditional buzzsaw guitars and shrieking vocals.
"We have a kinship with all those guys," Dekker says. "We're proud of what's going on. When we formed 10 years ago, the idea that you could make American black metal was crazy. We've proven that you can do it—and add to it and do something unique, not just ape Darkthrone."
But two months before the tour was to start, Mayhem backed out, forcing Ludicra to patch together a string of club dates on their own. All five members—Dekker, guitarists John Cobbett and Christy Cather, bassist Ross Sewage, and vocalist Laurie Sue Shanaman—had already gotten the month of April off from their day jobs. And The Tenant, their fourth album, came out on March 16. Ludicra's previous records had earned the band minor critical acclaim, but they'd never had widespread marketing or distribution. Their new label, Profound Lore, is small, but it's a respected boutique label with an advertising budget and extensive North American distribution.
"We were absolutely determined to go on tour," Dekker says.
Then, just days before they finally went on the road, Cobbett started complaining of severe abdominal pain.
"He went to the hospital and told them he thought he had appendicitis," Dekker says. "They told him he had a stomachache and to go home and eat some Imodium."
On April 2, the second date of the so-called De-Cancellation Tour, in Olympia, Wash., Cobbett couldn't perform. That night, he was admitted to the hospital with a burst appendix which had developed a large abscess around it. Dekker says Cobbett thinks his appendix burst back home in San Francisco, when he first went to the hospital.
"The abscess blocked all the toxins from his appendix from spreading, so it might have saved his life," Dekker says. "But it also complicated getting the appendix out. It would have been a routine outpatient surgery."
The band took a few days off while Cobbett recuperated, but they continued the tour as a four-piece on April 8. In the meantime, support efforts sprang up all over the Internet. Both Profound Lore and the members of Wolves in the Throne Room, who are based near Olympia, set up PayPal accounts for donations to the uninsured Cobbett's medical expenses. Cobbett finally rejoined the band in Rochester, N.Y., on April 13.
"It was difficult, but I'd say we did pretty well," Dekker says of the four-piece lineup. "I think audiences were pleased we soldiered on. Part of us felt it might be seen as half-assed, just trying to salvage the tour, but people seemed really appreciative."