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Those Damned Gideons

| February 1, 2006 | 2 Comments

Bible Of The Devil
For The Kids, Man

“That’s our first setlist right there on the deerskin,” Greg Spalding, Bible Of The Devil drummer, says as he points toward the back of the band’s practice space in the Superior Street rehearsal facility. There hanging from the wall is, as advertised, a deer pelt with a setlist scribbled in marker. “The BA stands for Bryan Adams’ ‘Run To You’ cover,” Spalding elaborates. “Melvins style — it was real, real terrible.”

That was New Year’s Eve 1999, after the group’s two original members, Spalding and vocalist/guitarist Mark Hoffmann, met via a musicians wanted ad Spalding placed in the classified section of a local publication. Hoffmann, donning mutton chops and a black stocking cap tugged over his head, smiles as he recalls the text that convinced him to call Spalding. “I think the ad was for ‘Like-minded musicians with lust and disgust to play some violent heavy shit,'” he says.

By Spalding’s own admission, things were “a little rough” at first. He was a guitarist learning to play drums because they couldn’t find anyone else, the bassist slot was a revolving door, and in the late ’90s Chicago wasn’t exactly a hot bed for hard rock and heavy metal. “The age of art rock dominated Chicago, probably until 2002 I would say, so the first four years I lived here,” Hoffmann says.

Bible Of The Devil have, for the most part, put those rough times behind them. Spalding, of course, learned to play drums; the group solidified their lineup with the addition of guitarist Nate Perry in 2002 and bassist Darren Amaya in 2003, and Chicago has become increasingly more metal friendly. “I think definitely in recent years the audience for heavier bands has improved a lot,” Hoffmann says. “There’s a handful of really good heavy bands here, as opposed to five years ago there really wasn’t anything going on.”

Brutality, Majesty, Eternity (Scarey), the group’s superb new record, has helped the cause as well. Released in September, it takes a significant step toward establishing Bible as the metal band in Chicago while also allowing them to make a name for themselves in metal-ravenous Europe, where they toured in October. Stripped to the bone, Brutality‘s songs are nothing short of devastating, but always with enough pop sensibility to keep things interesting. Like influences such as Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden, Bible have no problem walking the line between heavy and catchy, and Brutality is their overwhelming example — bursting with captivating hooks and decapitating guitars.

Though elements of the band’s heavy tendencies were evident on their 2002 full-length debut, Firewater At My Command, the album’s overall sound leaned more in the direction of gritty, straightahead hard rock. Tight Empire, released the following year, carried over much of that sound but also included a deliberate shift toward thrashy metal, most noticeable in Hoffmann and (then newly acquired) Perry’s six-string interplay.

Brutality is the realization of that style’s potential: a hammering rhythm section, an unlimited cache of riffs, Hoffmann’s raspy, pinched delivery, and a twin-ax attack that honors the archetypal design of forefathers like Judas Priest.

“I definitely think with the new one it went in more of a straight metal direction where as the last record and even our first album definitely had some, like, glammy rock and roll in there,” Hoffman says when asked about Brutality. “And I think that has made way for sort of an epic metal direction.”

“I still think we’re going to have those rock and roll moments just ’cause we all have that kind of feel,” Spalding adds. “But generally the concept of all these new songs definitely start with all this metal/power metal stuff and make it as interesting as we can and still retain that sing-song quality, you know? You’ve always got to have people remember your songs.”

People shouldn’t have trouble remembering one track in particular, the nearly six-minute “Cocaine Years, Cocaine Tears,” a grandiose attempt at a Black Sabbath or Eric Clapton-type coke-themed masterpiece. “We had to throw in the old song about cocaine, you know?” Spalding says, laughing loudly.

“Most of the great bands had at least one song about cocaine,” Hoffmann elaborates. “So we figured it was time for ourselves to have one.”

The members of Bible are honor-roll students in the school of metal. Talk to Hoffman and Spalding for 40 minutes and you’ll rap Dio, AC/DC, Priest, Lizzy, Maiden, Rainbow, and San Francisco underground power metal titans Slough Feg, but they rarely veer into the world of modern heavy metal.

That’s not to say they aren’t aware of the momentum the genre is gaining, including a healthy amount of attention during the last two years aimed at acts like Shadows Fall and Lamb Of God, whose music has been coined the “New Wave Of American Heavy Metal” by press. While both musicians seem pleased the genre is starting to earn some commercial and critical success again after the fallout of nu-metal, they’re hesitant to endorse what they’re hearing.

“I think a lot of those bands are pretty adept at what they play, but a lot of it, to me, it’s not something I’m totally into,” Spalding says. “Number one it always starts with the singing. The reason I think this band has worked is because Mark sings in a catchy kind of way; obviously if he was screaming Cookie Monster vocals the effects would be disastrous.”

“There’s a lot of new bands I like, but admittedly most of them are from Europe,” Hoffmann explains. “The newer bands I’m into, like Greg said, there is a style of singing, it’s memorable, it’s not just a bunch of growling and angsty screaming. Vocals don’t have to be pristine like Freddy Mercury operatic to be impressive. But even if you look at singer like Bon Scott or Lemmy the vocals have attitude and they’re raw as shit and catchy. They’re not so angst-ridden and in your face indiscernible that you can’t remember them.”

“That’s what the kids want to hear though,” Spalding replies. “They want to hear this aggression, which is so intense that sometimes it’s not real anymore. It’s like, ‘C’mon dude are you really that pissed?’ Even if it’s a good band it’s like, ‘Why are you singing like that?'”

He continues: “Sooner or later you got to go back to what you really like, what makes interesting rock, and a lot of that has to do with just remembering a goddamn song or, like, a riff. Some of these bands, as prolific as they are, or their chops are great, if I leave a show not knowing even one song, what’s the fucking point?”

So will metal make a full-blown underground-to-mainstream comeback soon? Bible Of The Devil sure hope so, for the children’s sake if nothing else. “I think you want to see a big metal resurgence but you don’t know where or if there’s room for more memorable metal songs that bigger labels think they can market to people,” Spalding says. “It’s all about the fans, I mean it starts with the people that are listening to that and impressionable teenagers. We had like Slayer and Metallica and stuff.”

He pauses, considering his own question before asking it. “I mean, what do the kids have now?”

It ain’t in the Good Book, whatever it is.

Trevor Fisher

Appearing: 2/5 at Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western) in Chicago.

Category: Features, Monthly

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  1. Stellar work Trevor! This is a great piece on a great band!

  2. Kayla Tomic says:

    this page is to long you should make it shroter and make your website stand out more.

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