Bands rarely get their own self-descriptions right, but Pittsburgh nerd-metal quintet Dethlehem nails it: “Imagine D&D, but with guitar solos.” Rooted in the knotty medieval mythos of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games, Dethlehem started as a Halloween party band, but with a solid set of originals under their costume cloaks and sword belts, the five dragon-slaying, ale-quaffing, maiden-bedding friends have gone on to record “The Ghoruselam Codex Vols. 1-III,” three albums full of technical, backstory-rich heavy metal. And with the assistance of Kickstarter, they’re now venturing south on their biggest tour ever.
Folio Weekly caught up with drummer Overlord Brom and guitarist Hildor Anduv to talk about the band’s magical influences, its singular setup and its fun-loving desires.
Folio Weekly: Dethlehem’s upcoming tour was entirely funded by Kickstarter. What brought that idea about?
Overlord Brom: We’re a small band without label backing, and an expensive one because of the costuming and stage props. So it was either go underwater in debt ourselves or ask friends, fans and family to kick in some money. We had doubts about it, but we got a lot of help from nerd blogs and video gamers and ended up clearing just over $3,000.
F.W.: And how did the outlandish idea for Dethlehem originally come about?
Hildor Anduv: We’re basically big dorks who’ve been fans of this medieval stuff for a long time. So we figured, “Why not put it all together in one big package and do what we enjoy?”
O.B.: We’ve been together officially since July 2008, and our first show was for Halloween. We wrote some songs that we thought were good, so we kept going. Initially, people thought, “Wow, these guys are still partying for Halloween.” But then we got more serious about it, and it’s really evolved from guys dressing up and playing songs about dragons, warlocks and wizards into crazy props and interactive things, like giant inflatable swords. We obviously want to grab people’s attention, but we also want them to be involved and part of our fun.
F.W.: Is Dungeons & Dragons the main source for the band’s backstory?
O.B.: We’re also influenced by video game RPGs [Role Playing Games], but D&D is the main backbone. It’s very imaginative, and from that backbone we’ve created our own mythos, which we’re thinking about making into a stand-alone D&D campaign. We also pull influences from World of Warcraft, Diablo and other tabletop games like Warhammer.
F.W.: How extensive is the nerd metal community out there?
H.A.: The first night of our tour in Pittsburgh, we’re playing with Powerglove, who do the dress-up thing while playing Nintendo and video game covers. There’s a huge nerd scene out there with all kinds of bands, but no one has done it the way we do with the RPG and LARP [live-action role playing] interaction.
O.B.: We get compared to Gwar a lot because yeah, we dress up. But they’re supposed to be from outer space, and we’re medieval. We’re not the first band to dress up, but we’re one of the first bands to take it to a nerd level like this.
F.W.: Even though you’re combining technical metal and hardcore gaming, two scenes that take themselves very seriously, you still seem to have a lot of fun while shredding on stage.
H.A.: We all love technical and death metal, but those bands are so serious, and we find humor in it. We’re serious, but we also realize how ridiculous this is.
F.W.: You have to be serious to travel all the way to Florida from Pennsylvania. Is this Dethlehem’s most extensive tour? And are you making any money with this?
O.B.: Last year, the farthest we went was Boston. That tour lasted for a week, and we left with $1,000 and came home with $900.
F.W.: Then you must all have day jobs, right?
H.A.: I went to school for game design, so I work on educational games.
O.B.: And I do work at Carnegie Mellon University, videotaping classes for distance learning. Bovice, our lead guitarist, is a mechanic; Brutalitus the BloodBeard, our lead vocalist, is a graphic designer; and our touring bassist is a software developer. We range in age from 25 to 35, and that’s who we appeal to. Our music is a very “Grab the nearest mug of ale, get really drunk and bang maidens” type of thing.
F.W.: So Dethlehem is strictly a passion project. I imagine it takes up most of your spare time?
O.B.: [Laughs.] All of our spare time. But it’s good to have direction and focus. And despite how insane everything about this band is — it keeps us sane.