If there is a volatile lottery of success, providence, fortune, etc. in contemporary music, metal is the surely the remotest ball rolling in the hopper.
The term “metal” has remained malleable for decades, and the polarities of the genre are so extreme that they easily—if not invitingly—encompass everything from the early-‘80s UK denim-and-leather of Saxon to the current gore-bath of Dutch blasphemo-core Gnaw Their Tongues. Even a Grammy-winning band like Metallica (with 63-million albums sold) or even Mastodon (who’ve sold a tidy 100,000+ records) the numbers are widely split and those respective bands’ success seems to be the exception and not the rule.
The majority of the entire metal community is populated by a vast multitude of lesser-known bands creating original music, touring and enjoying (or enduring) lengthy careers in a scene that is inherently not drawing the attention of a larger audience. Metal can seem defiantly indifferent to popularity which means the stakes are low. That blunt reality offers some creative lateral moves for the musicians working with the form.
For the past decade plus, Jacksonville four-piece metal band Appalachian Death Trap have been a prominent presence on the local and regional music scene. And like their peers across the board, their chances in the metal lottery are as uncertain and as good as any.
The band has shared bills with bands including High on Fire and Crowbar, and have self-released a full-length, an EP and a smattering of singles. Their latest offering, “Between the Stars,” is a taut encapsulation of the band’s development. The quartet—Brad Alcorn and Erik Heran on guitars and vocals; bassist-vocalist Gary Vernon and drummer Sean Morrison—color inside the lines of what is considered to be modern metal, yet don’t paint themselves into a corner with rote convention. “Between the Stars” delivers enough original flourishes to keep it from being consumed in the shuffle of a modern metal playlist.
Over the song’s five minutes, Appalachian Death Trap readily show their volition: the sinew-riff holding “Between the Stars” intact is a recurring Sabbath/Cathedral-style riff that is punctuated by a staccato minor-key stab but there’s an absolute prominence of prog-metal. The song’s closer, with its synthesized windstorm and odd-time bass guitar-and-drum shifts, immediately evokes (for better or worse) the gold-standard of contemporary “unconventional metal”: Tool. The lyrics are bleak, oblique, even cryptic. The chorus of the song is essentially a invocation-mantra: “Ash in the eye / bringer of light / flame in the fire / salting the sky.”
The accompanying video, self-produced and edited by Morrison, presents a narrative of a rabbit-headed figure carrying a briefcase, roaming a foreboding industrial space and mired in some mandated assignment, is equally arcane. From the song’s execution, lyricism, and promotional push, it’s clear that Appalachian Death Trap aren’t a feel-good, party-down Duval metal band. The overall takeaway of their latest single is one of powerlessness. That indifference to “work the audience” is admirable in its own right. Yet the band are hardly humorless. Four years ago, guitarist Alcorn playfully copied and pasted the Golden Girls IMDB description as the band’s bio. This offhanded prank resulted in some surprise international press and the band then released a cover version of the cult ‘80s sitcom theme.
Like their Jacksonville peers Rhythm of Fear and the Noctambulant, Appalachian Death Trap are dutifully working in a scene and genre where the possibility of popularity seems bluntly dead on arrival. Which may be the point. Regardless, it’s one thing to willingly work in metal—a scene that is historically niche-ghetto in the eyes and ears of units sold and awards-show bling.