By Dave Pehling
BERKELEY (CBS SF) — A trio of boundary-pushing metal bands share the stage at the UC Theatre in Berkeley Saturday night when veteran quartet Baroness is joined by Bay Area black metal shoegazers Deafheaven and gospel-tinged headbangers Zeal & Ardor.
Founded in Savannah, Georgia, in 2003 by guitarist and singer John Baizley, the group followed the artful lead of fellow Georgia metal mavericks like Atlanta powerhouse Mastodon and fellow Savannah band Kylesa (whose guitarist Phillip Cope would produce the crew’s early EPs and debut album), weaving elements of progressive and psychedelic rock and post punk into their sludgy, metallic sound. The band quickly built a regional following and earned raves for the intricate songs of its seismic Relapse Records debut Red Album in 2007, getting awarded Revolver Magazine’s Metal Album of the Year.
The follow-up Blue Record in 2009 was also met with universal critical acclaim. Another effort featuring Baizley’s distinctive artwork on the cover (he would also create covers for Skeleton Witch, Kvelertak, Torche and Flight of the Conchords) and the band’s dense riff architecture and complex dynamics, the album moved easily from ambient psychedelia to tandem guitar orchestrations by Baizley and new addition Pete Adams, playing almost more like a symphonic suite than a collection of songs.
Touring with such notable contemporaries as the Bay Area’s own High on Fire and Metallica, Opeth and the aforementioned Mastodon, the band ascension to headliner status seemed assured. But Baroness would be hit with a major setback when, only a month after the release of their ambitious 2012 double album Yellow & Green, their tour bus plummeted off of an viaduct in England, with three of the band members suffering broken bones.
After a period of recovery, the band would undergo a serious transformation with the rhythm section departing the following year (Trans Am drummer Sebastian Thomson and bassist Nick Jost would take their places). But Baizley and company persevered, launching a successful headlining tours of the U.S. and Europe. The band would eventually return to the studio to produce Purple, the quartet’s most tuneful and anthemic effort to date on their own new imprint, Abraxan Hymns. Baroness would earn its first and only Grammy to date with it’s songs “Shock Me.”
While the band’s long awaited fifth album has yet to be released, the current line-up of Baroness (with new guitarist Gina Gleason, who took over for the departing Pete Adams last year) recently unveiled a new song from its forthcoming release Gold & Silver on the first date of the quartet’s co-headlining tour with rising Bay Area post-metal band DeafHeaven.
Formed by guitarist Kerry McCoy and singer George Clark in 2010 — the pair previously played with Modesto-based grindcore band Rise of Caligula before that group split and the two musicians moved to San Francisco — Deafheaven received widespread attention almost immediately after sharing a demo that was recorded on borrowed equipment for only $500 to a number of blogs. The positive response to their collision of howling black-metal vocals and droning, shoegazing guitars and a desire to play live led the duo to recruit additional band members.
By the end of the year, the group had been signed a record deal with Deathwish Inc. The band’s debut album Roads to Judah established Deafheaven as a creative force to be reckoned with. While other groups had mixed elements of extreme metal and more indie-minded post punk before, none had managed it with such melody and slowly flowering grace. The recording was met with universal acclaim, making prominent “Best of” lists published by such noted outlets as NPR, Pitchfork and Decibel Magazine.
Deafheaven toured extensively to promote the album, sharing stages with Canadian noise-punk trio KEN Mode and instrumental heavyweights Russian Circles in addition to appearing at such notable festivals as Fun Fun Fun in Austin and Brooklyn’s Northside Festival. McCoy and Clark would convene a new line-up of the band to record their breakout sophomore effort Sunbather, a simultaneously heavier and more pop-minded collection that went on to be one of the best reviewed albums of 2013.
Since that recording, Deafheaven has continued to impress critics and fans alike with the band’s ever evolving sound. More recently, the quintet issued its latest recording, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love that drew inspiration from the Graham Green novel The End of the Affair and moved the band in a slightly more restrained, cinematic direction that still drew plenty of drama from Clark’s tortured vocals and McCoy’s textured guitars. For this pairing of envelope-pushing bands at the UC Theatre on Saturday night, Baroness and Deafheaven are joined by equally daring outfit Zeal & Ardor. Led by Swiss-American guitarist/singer Manuel Gagneux, the experimental group builds its unusual sound on the collision of black metal with gospel and traditional blues. The group will perform songs from its most recent album, last year’s Stranger Fruit.
Baroness and Deafheaven with Zeal & Ardor
Saturday, March 16, 7:30 p.m. $30