Written by Chad Taylor
If you already like Dead Horse Trauma, you're going to like the new album. This is both a good and bad thing.
First off: the DHT boys are top shelf. They're all some of the nicest guys I've ever met, and they are universally recognized as the hardest working band in the state. Ask any other musician in town, and they'll tell you the same: Nobody out-hustles these guys.
Now, DHT has expanded on their sound, adding former Mindrite shredder Jayson Kempf into their mix as a second guitarist, paring with Seth Peters. I've known Kempf since he was 15, and I'd be hard pressed to find a smarter dude out there. And rather than politics, or math or chemistry, Kempf has chosen to focus the full powers of his intellect on music. He sees it the way that Russell Crowe saw codes in "A Beautiful Mind" and, as a result, there are few in the city who are better at it.
Kempf didn't join the band in time to be featured on DHT's new album, "Kill the Precedence," but he's been practicing with the band for a month or so now, and he's fully integrated into the act's live performances. And that makes an already heavy burden even heavier.
Kicking off the late show of the band's CD release party at House of Bricks last Friday was Minneapolist-based metal act, Nuisance. They were loud; really, that's all anyone was asking of them under these very specific set of circumstances, and that's about all they delivered. The people in attendance who were familiar with their music seemed to enjoy it, while those who were new to the whole Nuisance Experience were varying shades of non-plussed. It was loud, it was certainly enthusiastic, and it got the crowd in the right frame of mind for what lay ahead. Opening act mission: accomplished.
Despite it being their night, DHT didn't actually headline their own late show (they played two sets this night; an all-ages show at 5pm, and one just for the drinkers at 9). That honor fell to local prog four-piece, Cirrus Minor. I've got a number of theories as to why, but regardless, Cirrus Minor is always an interesting act to watch live, if only because you never really know what version of the band is going to show up. All the component pieces are immensely talented, and when the act is firing on all cylinders, they can be really great.
But on any given night--whether it's because of boredom, apathy, or just too much alcohol--you can also run the risk of catching a pretty dismal show. Last year's performance at the inaugural Buswak Festival, for example (the last time I saw them live), was a night that was plagued both by technical difficulties, and a thoroughly painful set.
This night at Bricks, however, was not such an evening. Everything about Cirrus Minor's set was technically solid and aesthetically beautiful. Frontman Mike Ruby and mercurial keyboardist Rich Cantrell are a couple of amazing talents, and when they're both on top of their game, it's a joy to behold. They're still not going to be for everyone--they're a bit on the experimental tip and they can be a little to jam-infused for some tastes--but if you've got the patience to appreciate their sound, it can be really, really good.
But for DHT's set, what you took from it actually depended a bit on what you'd heard about the album beforehand. Going into the evening's set, everything that I'd heard from the band bespoke a departure in sound. The band's last album, "ViOps" was a metal album, through and through. "Kill the Precedence", on the other hand, was more of a hard rock influence, they said. There was more melody, and more chances for frontman Eric Davidson to flex his pipes.
And maybe that's what the finished album sounds like; I haven't gotten my hands on it yet. But the live performance struck as more of the same. I'm certainly not calling that a bad thing, once again, the band has plenty of fans and plenty of people who are going to like more of what the band already does well.
But the problem with DHT's shows, if you care to categorize it as a problem, is that there's an awful lot going on up there on that stage, and adding Kempf to the mix hasn't exactly streamlined that.
So there's a lot to focus on, it's all happening at once, and most sound guys have a REALLY hard time making it all sound copacetic. As a result, DHT shows do have the capability of descending into a kind of constant drone; something where the songs kind of blend together, and all the nuance and vibe that you get from the albums is washed out in the maddening volume of...everything.
They put on an entertaining live show. It's a genuine spectacle, and at times the sound really can be great. But it's also something that is HIGHLY dependent upon having a good sound guy and good equipment. And, unfortunately, I think the band's aspirations for "Kill the Precedence" outstrip their reach in this case. To put it as succinctly as possible, I'll quote another concert-goer from that night: "From the hype for the album, I came in expecting something like Stone Sour. But these guys are still just six masks away from being Slipknot."
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