One of my New Year’s resolutions was to discover more Columbus metal bands, and although I usually stick to resolutions with the strength of decade-old masking tape, I decided to forge ahead last Thursday with a trip to see Tank Destroyer at Cafe Bourbon Street.
They were billed as “Columbus’ stoner/doom heavyweights,” so I was hoping for something like a slow-churned psychedelic swirl circling the drain to the bowels of hell. They served up an experience far less compelling than that.
Technically, they were proficient, uncoiling bluesy pentatonic riffs and spiraled echo-laden solos with ease. This was paired rather incongruously with ominous ogre grunts from their new lead singer, replacing the goblin rasps that defined 2009 debut “Head of the Demon.”
On that album, such tactics benefitted from meticulous production that made every riff and rasp sound brutal and bloodthirsty. Like psychedelic sharks, they slinked beneath the surface through spacey grooves before exploding above water in the name of violence.
At Bourbon Street, their edge was dulled. There is something to be said for a weathered, working class approach to metal — think Clutch, maybe? — and indeed Tank Destroyer delivered their songs Thursday with the same kind of grit that used to define hardscrabble Midwest factory workers before outsourcing decimated that industry.
Part of the trouble with that approach was that it sacrificed the epic undercurrent that made Tank Destroyer’s album so much more satisfying. The music lacked pizzazz, as if they were merely going through the motions. When they embarked on one of their trademark psychedelic dirges, it felt adrift, taking me out of the song rather than deeper into its core. The players were stoic and motionless.
This was one area in which the frontman excelled. With swaggering stage maneuvers, he supplied much of the drama and intensity his bandmates were lacking. Unfortunately, he stood out in less positive ways too. His vocals rarely seemed synced up with the music, rather meandering haphazardly across each song’s landscape like a Viking who knocked back one too many goblets of mead.
I kept wishing they would go full-on stoner metal with an Ozzy-style singer to bring some melody to the table. Even the former demonic rasps provided some semblance of a hook. In the meantime, there’s little to latch on to.