Queens, New York was at one time the epicenter of jazz in America. While Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald could be heard blaring the new sounds of America, young Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk were busy ingesting all they could so that one day, unbeknownst to them, they too could put their stamp on a rebellious sound that was purely American.
Fast-forward to present day Queens and one will find that not much has really changed. Yes, the shops and styles may be different. The roads are wider and the air is dirtier. The “cacophony of rebellion,” as it was described in the 1940s, still looms in the air, albeit often without brass and woodwinds.
“I am not so knowledgeable about the world of jazz,” admits Colin Marston, guitarist for the black-metal band Krallice. “I grew up listening to King Crimson a lot.” Despite the lack of fervor for the music of old Queens, Marston — along with bandmates Mick Barr (vocals/guitar), Nick McMaster (bass), and Lev Weinstein (drums) — has sure-footed knowledge about where the band’s singular sounds have originated.“Classical music, especially 20th Century, which is another influence on how I think about music,” he says. “A lot of ambient music, especially ambient guitar music, has been important to me.”
Krallice’s self-titled debut album quickly shot the band to the apex of what has become the US black-metal sound, combining classic blast beats with ethereal atmospherics. This wildfire can be mostly attributed to word of mouth, a staple in the metal world via messages and music trading. For Krallice, this was especially important because the band rarely tours or plays shows outside the New York area.
“[We put] less of an emphasis on playing out and touring than most other bands,” Marston says. “It is just not a priority for Krallice. We are playing a few shows for the record… five days or something, all around New York.”
But a question undoubtedly comes to the foreground. With the members’ roots and influences in non-black-metal bands (members are and have been in such acts as math-metal trio Dysrhythmia, punk-jazz act The Flying Luttenbachers, progressive death-metal band Astomatous, and melodic death-metal group Solecism), was the self-titled debut a one-off? Something to do for the hell of it? With the band’s second full-length, Dimensional Bleedthrough (Profound Lore, 2009), any and all doubts have been put to rest.
Dimensional Bleedthrough takes the power and atmosphere of Krallice’s debut and pushes it further, louder, and longer. The opening title track lays the foundation for this sprawling, violent collection with its unflinching power and sweeping crescendos from movement to movement. Barr’s vocals are at times in your face and other times seemingly part of the entire atmosphere.
The production, both a seamless blend of clarity and a blinding fog of rage, can be attributed to Marston’s other endeavor: he owns and operates the Thousand Caves recording studio in Queens. Along with Krallice, Marston has recorded electro-grind masters Genghis Tron, avant-garde artist Jarboe, and the scarier-than-hell, now-defunct Khanate.
Though New York City accepts all kinds of art, both outsider and mainstream, Marston feels that the city is not a metal town. “I’ve gone through periods where I think that New York has a decent metal community,” he says. “I go back and forth, though. I mean, there are some pretty influential death-metal bands like Suffocation and Immolation, but they’re really from Yonkers and Long Island, I believe. As far as from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and so on, there aren’t that many that I can think of.
“There is a lot of experimental music here, which can be exciting even though it is not in the traditional sense [for] a metal band. But, really, I can’t think of a single American city where there are five awesome bands coming out at the same time. When I think of a scene, I always think of the [1980s] Bay Area thrash scene where a lot of bands came from this one area all at once.”
Even though the reemergence of black metal has generated a buzz, just as when any genre becomes more popular, an underground still lurks away from the Internet. Marston says, “I’m not sure I’m convinced of any more interest in extreme metal now than there has been in the past. It seems to me that that just happens every now and then [when] there’s a band from a more extreme-metal background that ends up on a major label. That’s fairly common.”
Safe in the spoken-word world of friends and critics alike, Krallice has achieved a notable following around the world based solely on its two-album catalog. Krallice may very well, and unintentionally, bring the American style of black metal to a wider audience and continue the legacy that the jazz greats of yesteryear did before them without big money or big business, and only with a big heart for what its members love to do: play music.