Metal & Doom Crank Up Jack Rabbit's

by Jack Diablo
Date: 6/2/09
Venue: Jack Rabbits
In order to continue my education in the infinitely perplexing and divergent realm of metal and its myriad styles, I made it out to Jack Rabbits on June 2 to check out a few doom-metal bands.
Come to find out, doom is just as subdivided as metal itself. There’s traditional doom, which is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath and features cleaner vocals all the way to funeral doom, black doom and sludge doom, to name a few.
The opening act was a local band by the name of Hollow Leg. They succeeded in grabbing the audience’s attention by opening their set with a sample from a Spaghetti Western before launching into some extremely heavy drums and guitar. The singer began by screaming away from the microphone and was still loud enough to be heard over the music. Had he kept this routine up, it would have been an impressive act of machismo, but anyone would agree to the senselessness of putting that kind of additional, unnecessary strain on such an already taxed larynx. For as strong as they started things off, they seemed to taper and lose momentum as they continued. The singer had an impressive growl but his singing voice left much to be desired. Their second-to-last song was pretty awesome and would have made a great finale but they went on to play another that lacked any kind of climactic resolution. But ultimately, they showed a lot of potential and will no doubt refine their sound and their performance as they grow as musicians.
If there were ever a band to take pointers from it would be Dark Castle. Practically a local band, they are based out of St. Augustine, a town not exactly known for such music. But they’ve been playing long enough to know how to execute a killer performance that you know is going to be great before it even starts. Having never seen them live before, I listened to a few tracks and like what I’d heard. You’d never know it from hearing their recordings but Dark Castle is one of a growing minority of two-piece metal bands. Their sound is full and heavy despite their size and you don’t miss the absence of bass or rhythm guitar.
There are certain, shall we say, occupational hazards to doing this kind of job on a regular basis. Chief among them is the decibel levels my ears are constantly exposed to. I’ve been meaning to invest in some ear plugs as a means of ensuring I can continue to do this for a while but it’s always been more of a good idea than anything particularly crucial. But when I saw the towers of speakers that were brought on stage and the gigantic amps that were there to power and project just one heavily distorted guitar, I immediately regretted not getting those damn ear plugs already.
The lights went down and the band kicked on some pedal-actuated lights to set the atmosphere with the fog machine. They then unleashed an onslaught of apocalyptic stoner-doom sludginess that could have potentially blown the entire roof off. It was that brutal and extremely loud. Almost ridiculously so for a venue the size of Jack Rabbits but it wasn’t past the point of sounding awesome. Even though it was almost enough to make my ears bleed, it was worth it and the volume seemed an indispensable part of the show. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have sounded right played at a “comfortable” level.
As rad as it is to have a female member in such a heavy-sounding band, I was even more impressed when Stevie Floyd opened her mouth and delivered one of the scariest, most primal growls I’ve heard. I had wrongly assumed that Rob Shaffer was the lead vocalist from their recordings and my jaw nearly dropped to the ground when I was proven wrong.
And if that wasn’t enough, Rob’s drum kit was so spectacularly gigantic, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself with a drummer’s delight. Everything was three sizes bigger than it was supposed to be. Instead of a traditional kick drum, he used a massive marching bass drum. The floor tom was mounted on a stand for the high tom and a bass drum took the place of the floor tom. It was probably the most vicious beating my poor little eardrums had ever received.
So believe me when I say that I actually whimpered a little when Zoroaster set their equipment up with double the force of the prior two acts put together. The entire length of the stage was a wall of speakers, woofers and amps. A wall that reached out to smack you in the face when that first low, distorted chord was strummed. Call it masochism if you must, but as my cochlea took the pummeling of a lifetime, I endured, intoxicated by the power of all that sound and all that fury. Maybe it was a high induced by my body dumping every last bit of dopamine to numb my battered ears, who knows, but it was fantastic.
But a Zoroaster show is so much more than an auditory beat-down, they do a fine job of stimulating the visual cortex as well. Multicolored strobes and various other lighting effects made for one hell of a dynamic performance. The impending sense of doom was palpable (in a good way) but by the time it was over I was grateful for the silence.
Stevie and Rob of Dark Castle took some time to talk with me after the show. Even though we had to practically shout at each other in our near-deaf state, I was eager to pick their brains about their new album.
You may have noticed an increasing number of two-piece bands these days. While it makes sense for acts like the White Stripes and the Black Keys, it seems odd that metal could even be done with just two people. “I think people are realizing that certain things about it make touring and playing in the band a little easier,” said Rob. Stevie added, “It’s less people to load all your shit inside but it’s less drama, less decisions, less people to worry about.” It’s a philosophy that seems to work just fine, even if bass players get the short end of the stick.
Dark Castle has a new album they’ve just released called Spirited Migration. Although it’s been complete for a year, it’s finally being released to the public. “It’s new to everybody but it’s old to us,” Stevie laughed. Recorded by Kylesa’s Phillip Cope and mastered by Scott Hull of Pig Destroyer at South Carolina’s Jam Room Studio, the album is a giant leap forward for the band. “We’re excited to finally have something that we feel represents us,” said Rob.
But even though their new record is polished and professional, Dark Castle still cling to their DIY roots. Stevie, a tattooist, lends her signature art nouveau style to the band’s album covers, t-shirts and tour posters, while Rob handles the online graphic design.
The conversation drifted to the state of the metal scene in the region. In my limited experience, I’ve noticed a wealth of bands emerging from the East Coast, particularly in Georgia and many from Florida as well. I’m told that Tampa is the birthplace of Death Metal and that there are some great Orlando bands as well. When the focus shifts to Jacksonville, Rob offers his insight. “Jacksonville right now is tough. There’s not a specific metal club like there used to be. After [The Imperial] kind of fizzled out, different places were booking metal bands still but it was a lot of bigger bands and it was really hard for local bands to get on shows.” But they do point out that the scene is alive and growing, it just has its obstacles. They love the sound quality of playing at places like Jack Rabbits but as Stevie notes, “a lot of kids won’t pay the door to get in,” leaving venues like Shantytown with their free shows as the last bastions of underground entertainment.
Another night of expanding my musical horizons down and another new style to appreciate. Far be it from me to speculate as to what the apocalypse will bring, but if doom metal is any indication, it’s going to be loud as hell!