Heavy metal has been through countless stylistic changes since the late ’60s. What started with the leaden tempos, distorted guitars and wailing vocals of Cream, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath has mutated into countless sub-genres. From the glammed-up poodle rock of ’80s bands like Winger and Poison to the church-burning nihilism of the Norwegian black metal scene, metal has become broad enough to encompass a dizzying array of styles. While the music’s popularity has dipped and risen with the caprices of the record-buying public, there has always been a steady stream of devoted fans, usually young men, who live for long hair, flared denim pants and deafening guitars. Whether it’s economic uncertainty, downward mobility or just a dearth of decent indie bands, heavy metal has been enjoying a cultural renaissance lately. On Saturday, the Haven Underground in Nevada City will host three very different bands who all use the basic metal template as a launching pad for their musical explorations.
Headliners Hot Lunch are a prime example of how modern headbangers can mine the past for inspiration. Avoiding the usual Cream/Sabbath clichés, Hot Lunch dig deeper into the record bins, appropriating the lysergically enabled blues-rock of ’60s bands like the Pink Fairies, Hawkwind and Blue Cheer. Singer Eric Shea has done his time in the San Francisco garage-rock trenches, previously working with blues-shredders Parchman Farm and before that fronting the proto Brit-pop band Mover. With guitarist Aaron Nudelman, who previously bent strings for grunt-rockers Mensclub, and an ace rhythm section consisting of drummer Rob Alper (ex-the Fells) and bassist Charlie Karr (ex-Harold Ray Live In Concert), they are poised to melt faces with their primordial sludge rock. While hard rock is usually devoid of nuances, Hot Lunch know how to blend their heavy riffs with some atmospheric touches, creating a musical synthesis of light and shade where subtle grooves give way to manic solos and airy guitar filigrees can morph into doom-laden screams.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Occult Wisdom make good on the eerie promise of their name. Following in the footsteps of great power trios like Rush, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Melvins, this three-piece band creates maximum impact with minimal tools. In a time where most “rock” bands rely on heavy metal histrionics and classic rock clichés to get their point across, Occult Wisdom reach back into their blues-based roots for inspiration.
Local openers the Still Sea are no strangers to danger either. While they may not have the Marshall stacks and towering hairdos of their heavy metal counterparts, they still create a huge, cathartic sound. Fans of operatic noise rockers like Swans, Neurosis and Mogwai will recognize familiar spirits in this music. From the pronounced loud/quiet dynamics to the distorted walls of guitar, the Still Sea reconstruct rock music like a hyper child at a taffy pull. Recent lineup changes have spurred keyboardist Chris French to take over vocal duties while the group’s core of Tyler Cook on guitar, Bryce Benton on bass and drummer Mike Puetz remains intact.
Saturday’s show kicks off at 9 p.m. Tickets are available at BriarPatch Co-op and online at www.havenunderground.org. The venue is located at 226 Broad St. in Nevada City.