Madison's selection of heavy music isn't always as diverse as it should be, but that stands to improve over the next couple of months. Bookers here seem to have a safe zone that doesn't often extend beyond the red meat of doom- and stoner-metal riffs. That means we hear from decent acts like Weedeater, Witch Mountain and the mighty Skeletonwitch on a fairly regular basis, but rarely see many other varieties of heavy music performed live.
Luckily, November and December offer some more compelling angles on metal, noise and post-hardcore. Here's a handful of noteworthy shows.
Chicago post-punk trio Bear Claw (Nov. 2, Frequency) boasts two bass guitars but doesn't use them to simply double up on harsh low end. Their 2007 album Slow Speed: Deep Owls opened with an instrumental of the same title, with the two basses rippling over each other in warm chords and flickering melodies. Their most recent, 2010's Refuse This Gift, finds them in a Shellac-inspired lurch that leaves enough room for tuneful nuances. Appropriately, it's the third album Shellac's Steve Albini has recorded for the band.
Bachfest (Nov. 9-10, Frequency) is a two-day event that celebrates some of Wisconsin's contributions to adventurous abrasion. Milwaukee's Northless, who headline the first night, evoked everything from Jesus Lizard-style noise rock to stately post-metal on 2011's Clandestine Abuse, making it one of the more fascinating Wisconsin-made records I've picked up in recent years. The band is preparing a new EP, Valley of Lead.
The second night of Bachfest closes with long-running Madison metal trio Droids Attack, which now features Dennis Ponozzo of Sinking Suns, whose recent EP I reviewed last week. That night you can also hear what former Droids bassist Nate Bush has been up to lately -- forming The Garza with guitarist Scott Blackler and former Bongzilla drummer Mike Henry. The band's new four-song EP draws on some noise-rock torment, but in a spirit of smart-assed fun.
Some of the hardcore and thrash melders from the local band Pyroklast (Nov. 11, Wisco, a.k.a. Willy Street Pub & Grill) have spoken with me recently about touring Europe and avoiding skinheads. For some reason, I mistakenly thought the band had called it quits this summer, but they'll be returning to the Wisco to share crusty leftist rants from this year's album, The Madness Confounds.
New Yorkers Call of the Wild (Nov. 17, Good Style Shop) try to distill the bad-assery of Thin Lizzy, Misfits and Motorhead into something catchy and almost playful on their recent debut album, Leave Your Leather On. They're also worth checking out live.
If you're curious about the far reaches of harsh sub-genres like death metal, you can expect some long dry spells in this town. The Cannibal Corpse visit to town (Nov. 21, High Noon Saloon) is a mixed blessing. This year's album, Torture, finds the long-running band as competent as ever at the genre's nuts and bolts. Their grotesque imagery in songs like "Intestinal Crank" and "The Strangulation Chair" is also solid. Sure, the band hasn't varied what it does that much since the late 1980s, but in that time, what people call "death metal" has expanded to include an incredibly diverse an imaginative body of music. Of course, in metal, sticking to your formula with a certain infernal stubbornness is just as valid as the bold innovation of Death or At the Gates.
When I complain about Madison's bias toward stoner-friendly metal acts, I'm not complaining about High on Fire (Dec. 9, High Noon Saloon). Guitarist Matt Pike got his start as a pioneer of drawn-out and droning,in the band Sleep, but he's pursued more taut and suspenseful metal since forming HOF in the late '90s. This year's De Vermis Mysteriis stretches his riffs over Des Kensel's roiling drums. Even its slower moments, like the intro to "Madness of an Architect," give way to searing violence, and Pike's vocals strike an ideal balance between growl and screech.
The lineup at the east side's all-ages venue the Loft tends to read like an issue of Alternative Press. That is, it's heavy on third-rate metalcore and emo-pop. But every so often it sneaks in a more seasoned and compelling act. Every TIme I Die (Dec. 16, Loft) should appeal to both the venue's younger crowd and older listeners who are a bit more picky about how metal and hardcore get mixed. The Buffalo, New York, outfit's latest release is this year's Ex-Lives but before sampling that, try out 2009's New Junk Aesthetic. This record boasts a swagger that younger bands in this realm tend to lack. The result is a happy medium amid extremes: It's heavy, but not so much that it's a clunky cliché. It's angry, but not so much that it's humorless. And songs like "Wanderlust" have direct, catchy choruses that aren't too slick and shiny.