Most so-called indie rockers– especially those of a certain age, old enough to have memories of the Challenger explosion or when Pizza Hut was still a dine-in restaurant luring kids with bottomless Coca-Cola served by the pitcher and complimentary rubber hand puppets with Disney movie tie-ins – at some point went through a heavy metal phase. Some of the hipster set may have shoved that part of their past into the proverbial closet with other musical skeletons, like their once-beloved Carpenters Greatest Hits record and their New Kids on the Block cassettes. Others probably retain some warmth for Master of Puppets and a time when they circled Flying-Vs in their Sam Ash catalogues instead of Teles and Jazzmasters. A few, even after decades of playing in indie bands, just might suddenly decide to start actually playing metal again in their 40s.
Thrashy three-piece Ox Combine has done just so. Formed by half of the members of the artsy math-pop outfit Tame … Tame and Quiet, Ox Combine has traded pretty seventh chords for blistering single-note runs and chuggy power chord riffage. Guitarist/vocalist Darren Miller – who also plays in the Boozy Moods – and drummer Bill Johnson (Raised by Tigers) recruited bassist Jarrod Greene (100s) to relive their heavier high-school hesher days.
“The goal for me was to just be fast, heavy, and short,” Miller said, highlighting the contrast between OC’s frenetic intensity and the more elegant, contemplative, meandering style inherent to the songs he and Johnson are used to playing in Tame/Tame.
“This is 14-year-old me’s dream come true,” he added.
The blueprint for the band’s sound was originally envisioned to be in the vein of grindcore pioneers like Cannibal Corpse and Nuclear Assault, but Miller’s decades of post-rock inclinations –– both in Tame/Tame and his former band, Benway — naturally found their way into his riffs. The result is a custom hand-hammered alloy that is as much about the mathiness of Helmet and Unsane as it is the blitzkrieg of Slayer or Death.
“Everything I’ve done [musically] to this point has informed what this is,” Miller said. “It was never really going to sound like what we said we wanted it to. It was always just going to be how we play. Just louder and faster.”
The trio releases its debut album, New Demons, this Friday. The head-banging six-song EP was recorded last December at Cloudland Recording Studio. Cloudland co-owner Robbie Rux (The Fibs, Deep Sleepers) engineered the sessions, and Clint Niosi (Manana Cowboy, Frosty) mastered the project out of his new studio, Orange Otter Audio.
Though he’s never fronted a band before this one, Miller has contributed a few of his own songs in each of his previous projects. In Ox Combine, however, with song titles like “Toothless Wolf,” “Seance,” and “Harbinger,” he’s leaning fully into the requisite dark and spooky tropes normally found in heavy metal lyrics. Despite the difference from the aesthetics of his earlier music, Miller said it’s a place he’s certainly comfortable in.
“I’m not a very big fan of happy music,” he said, “so it’s not really a departure for me.”
Live, more than simply appealing to fellow Gen-Xers on a nostalgia kick for their heavier adolescences, the band is hoping to find its way into the ears and hearts of the die-hard, battle jacket-donning, real heavy metal crowd. There’s perhaps no more loyal (if not painfully judgmental) crowd than metal heads, and the energy they give back to bands they like is unmatched by the arms-folded, black horn-rimmed glasses set.
Miller said he’s not worried about being seen as a poser.
“The true scene guys – I want to get in front of them,” he said. “I think once they realize this is sincere, and it is, it will appeal to those people who are into this sort of thing.”
The guys in Ox Combine will have their next shot at endearing themselves to the devil-horn-throwing masses with the New Demons album release show on Saturday at the Tin Panther (937 Woodward St, 817-720-6868) with Errors of Metabolism and FTW.