“Dead Wake. Their first gig? Fooled me!” Imminent Sonic Destruction frontman Tony Piccoli wasn’t alone in thinking that. A lot of great bands have made memorable debuts at Drom over the years, but very few rock acts as heavy as Dead Wake. From how acrobatically and expertly they made their way through brain-warping metric changes and stylistic shifts, it’s obvious that all of these guys have had plenty of experience. Still, you never expect a band to come out of the chute firing on as many cylinders as these guys did. and with a combination of as much finesse and relentless assault. They could have headlined this killer night of cutting-edge metal that also featured Pennsylvania’s Next to None along with ISD.
One aspect that sets Dead Wake apart is how they vary the vocals. Frontman Sam Smith does the pigsnorting guttural deathmetal thing, while six-string bassist Rob Zahn supplies the Dickinsonian grand guignol. His big, boomy, toxic clouds of chords anchored many of the songs, but it was his elegant Rime of the Ancient Mariner of a solo that was one of the set’s high points. Guitarist Lance Barnewold – stage right, wearing a Metallica shirt – fired off one sizzling volley of tapping after another, while his counterpart across the way, Steven Drizis, had more of a resonant solar flare attack. Drummer Marc Capellupo made the constant tempo shifts look easy: you can hear echoes that go all the way back to Queensryche and Pantera in their music, but their mashup of thrash, doom and orchestral grandeur is unlike any other band out there.
Next to None were even more stylistically diverse, and just as individualistic. Frontman/keyboardist Thomas Cuce proved equally capable as bovine bellower and operatic apocalypse messenger. It was his creepy, Messiaenic organ interlude that turned out to be the band’s high point on stage, although guitarist Derrick Schneider’s valkyrie savagery and biting sarcasm gave the music a lot more color than most thrash bands can deliver. They also had the night’s heaviest rhythm section, as you would expect from a bassist who’s a Slipknot fan.
Barely half an hour into Imminent Sonic Destruction’s set, Piccoli glanced up from his guitar to the sound booth. He’d been given the signal – by his own sound guy, no less. – that the band had one song left.
That song turned out to be twenty minutes long, part pastoral Zep, part Peter Gabriel-era Genesis on steroids, part merciless stomp. Guitarist Scott Thompson channeled grimly spare rainy-day Jimmy Page while Piccoli’s lightning runs looked back to the James Hetfield playbook. Earlier in the set, Piccoli had sent electric chair shivers down everybody’s spines with his slides down the fretboard, along with an ice storm of tremolo-picking that would have made Dick Dale jealous. Bassist Bryan Paxton held down the stygian low end and matched that with the occasional zombie-bogman growl, while drummer Pat Deleon made all the epic twists and turns look easy. Keyboardist Pete Hopersberger sang the quieter passages, spinning classical piano flourishes, psychedelic organ and ominous clouds of synth.
They opened with the doomy calculus of I Am the Fall, then made Breaking Through, another twenty-minute monstrosity,, equal parts symphonic grandeur and knee-to-the-face thud. Outside of Golden Fest or this past January’s multi-band extravaganzas at this club, it’s hard to think of a triplebill this year as relentlessly interesting as this one.