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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Northless: A Band Metalheads and Punks Can Agree On

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Milwaukee is blessed with a number of high-quality metal bands, and Northless holds a place at the top of the pile. "Temples of the Weak," the band's contribution to a just-released split 7-inch EP with fellow Milwaukeeans Protestant, drives home why the group is attracting attention.

Highlighting the imaginative guitar and drum work of Erik Stenglein and Dan Opgenorth, respectively (it's hard to imagine that such a racket can come from just two people), the song starts with a slow, Sleep-esque groove, one that finds a happy medium between head bobbing and head banging. There is something immediately accessible about the band's sound, though this sense of accessibility does little to soften the bludgeoning effect of the band's epic riffs.

Instead, the band works to draw the listener in by providing moments of brief calm-a point demonstrated by a brief interlude occurring in "Temples of the Weak" a little more than two minutes into the song. This breather wouldn't sound out of place on a Pelican record and stops the song from simply overwhelming the listener. And Stenglein's almost pleading vocals-he ends this lull by screaming "Bury me with the false/ Long for disintegration"-adds yet another layer to the band's distinctive sound. Like the best of all heavy metal, there is a certain feeling of real humanity in Stenglein's pained shouts.

What makes such moments possible is the fact that Northless has a sound that is quite difficult to define. The band is quick to pledge their allegiance to metal-and Stenglein is proud to point out that Northless is one of the only bands in Milwaukee playing within the "doom-sludge genre"-but there is also a strong punk aesthetic to the band's sound. Such an inattention to musical boundaries has allowed the band to grow a broad fan base within the city.

"There's a lot of hardcore punk guys that say they like us," Stenglein explains, "and there are also a bunch of straight-up death metal people that say they like us as well." The band has a strong sense of the history of heavy music in Milwaukee, even name-checking such seminal acts as Die Kreuzen (a band that also cared little for the metal/punk divide), and one gets the feeling that future releases will continue to find the band moving in new directions.

At the beginning of April, Northless will be recording for a new LP, to be released on local independent label Halo of Flies, at Shane Hochstetler's Howl Street Recordings in Bay View. Stenglein explains that the band is experimenting with faster tempos, and attempting to up the ante a bit in terms of the impact produced by the group's already bruising sound.

"I think what we've been trying to do with every song we've written for the new album," concludes Opgenorth with a bit of a laugh, "is pretend that we're 13 years old and try to create the heaviest, angriest, most pissed-off sound we can."

Shouldn't that be the philosophy of all heavy metal bands?