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Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010

Enemy Star’s Dark Metal Pop

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The artful fury of Kassy Gruszkowski’s voice, swooping and soaring like a Valkyrie chorus, is not the blunt instrument of a heavy metal screamer. In addition to performing in bands, Gruszkowski earned a music degree from UW-Parkside and sang in the MSO Chorus. Her new band, Enemy Star, provides an ideal platform for the guided-missile accuracy of her voice.

A harmony of precision and passion is heard throughout Enemy Star’s debut CD, Light It Up. The band’s founder, guitarist Paris Ortiz, is a familiar name in the local scene from his years with the funky Psychedelicasi, the aggressive metal of Big Dumb Dick and the blues-rock swagger of The Cocksmiths.

“I wanted a different direction for myself,” he says, contrasting Enemy Star with previous bands. “I wanted more of a thrashing Megadeth feel focusing on those kind of syncopated guitar rhythms.”

Enemy Star is a product of the postmodern communications revolution. Ortiz found Gruszkowski on MySpace. Light ItUp’s 14 songs were composed through uploading, with Ortiz sending Gruszkowski the guitar riffs that inspired vocal melodies and lyrics. And yes, along the way, they met face to face, not just on Facebook.

“We have an assembly-line work ethic—we wrote a song a week,” Ortiz says. As the songs and basic tracks accumulated, Ortiz recruited a veteran rhythm section to fill out the band with Dave Benton from Chief and Beatallica on bass and ex-Cocksmith Dave Schoepke on drums. A few of the tracks have a pop heart and positive soul inside the razor-edged riffing. The love song “Heroes” sounds ready for any number of radio formats.

“I love pop choruses,” Ortiz says. “I want people to hum these songs. If you think of all the great rock anthems of the past, they can be hummed.”

Gruszkowski’s lyrics cross many themes. “I have to feel a sense of conflict to have a good lyric,” she explains. “One way or another, the lyrics draw from strong emotions, whether elation, depression or anger. I try to vary it. I don’t want to be this depressing person who always writes sad songs.”

Regardless of topic, her furious vocals are enough to raise goose bumps, haloed in the dark lacerations of Ortiz’s guitar and supported by steady power rhythms. Most bands begin by jamming in the basement and testing songs live. Enemy Star began with the songs polished to an obsidian gleam in the recording process long before the first rehearsal. “Finally, after five months in the band, I got to meet the bass player,” says Gruszkowski, laughing.

Light It Up
’s jacket is notable for the Frank Miller-inspired images produced by a Milwaukee artist with a national reputation among graphic novel readers, Mark Stegbauer. The visuals are as striking in their way as the music inside.

Enemy Star’s CD release party takes place Saturday, Oct. 9, at BBC, 2022 E. North Ave. Also on the bill are Fallout and Conniption.
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