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Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012

R.I.P. Maidens

Milwaukee's metal scene loses one of its most promising acts

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They should have been bigger. After putting out two strong EPs, 2010's Failures and 2011's Shallows, Milwaukee-based post-metal band Maidens are breaking up. Thankfully, they will be going out with a bang, sharing a bill with Relapse recording artists Jucifer and local metal upstarts Ellis at the Cactus Club. Yet one is still left to wonder why this group never gained more popularity than they did.

It certainly wasn't because they failed to improve. After forming in 2008, Maidens took two years to release Failures. The title track was indicative of the record's overall sound, highlighting the fact that the band was undoubtedly influenced by the metal-tinged emo moment of the mid-1990s. At the same time, the songs on the act's first EP stayed true to the hardcore punk ethos in another way: Most of them were relatively short bursts of manic energy. Songs like "The Outcome of Circumstance" and "Wooden Heart" both clocked in well under three minutes. These songs were well done, particularly for tracks on a debut record. But one still hears a sort of musical immaturity on Failures. Maidens, simply put, sounded like a bunch of hardcore kids trying to become a metal band.

This metamorphosis was complete by the time Shallows arrived just one year later. The four tracks on this EP were marked by a level of self-confidence not present on Failures. And Shallows showed the band drawing from a larger variety of influences. The aggression present on the band's first EP can still be heard in such tracks as "Desolation" and "Delusions of Grandeur." Yet these songs also reveal a deep dept to the intricate metal sounds of such acts as Neurosis, Isis and Sleep. More importantly, Shallows showcased a band willing to play with the volume and dynamics of their songs—moving from simply bludgeoning listeners to engaging them on a variety of levels. One hears this most clearly on "Shallows," a song that hints at what could have come next for the band. This mid-tempo instrumental features soaring guitar work coupled with a driving bass line in a way that drew to mind Chicago's Pelican. However, "Shallows" also displayed a band with a propensity toward genres like shoegaze and straight-up indie rock, suggesting that the group's next record could have been more My Bloody Valentine and less Black Sabbath.

There is little doubt that Milwaukee currently has an incredibly healthy metal scene. Bands such as Northless, Protestant, Enabler and Ahab's Ghost continue to churn out music that is putting the city in the spotlight within the global metal world. But the vibrancy of such a scene does not mean that Maidens' breakup doesn't sting. Indeed, the band's nuanced take on the genre provided a nice counterpoint to the sheer aural spectacle created by acts like Northless. Yes, volume mattered to Maidens, and the band was capable of making quite a racket. Yet they also understood the power of contrast—and they were able to make their most chaotic parts all the more effective by surrounding them with moments of relative calm. They will be missed.

Maidens play their final show Friday, Aug. 31, at the Cactus Club, with Jucifer and Ellis.