Empire, Springfield, VA, 04/16/2014
Even before its renovation and rechristening from its former moniker of Jaxx, Empire has been a haven for some of the finest underground and independent musical performances to pass through the DC and Northern Virginia area for many years. While Wednesday nights may not be the most ideal to garner a packed house, there was much to be enjoyed by those attending the venue on the evening of April 16, 2014 as the progressive metal onslaught of Chicago’s CZAR played alongside two of the local metal scene’s hardest up-and-coming acts, Möbius Strip and Drugs of Faith.
Taking to the stage first was Möbius Strip, immediately blasting out an anarchic mix of raucous punk rock infused with catchy melody. The trio of guitarist Mark Kennedy, bassist Pitt Stains, and drummer Rosendo Flores ran a veritable gamut of styles, from slow and almost jazzy grooves to almost bouncy pop, all filtered through the band’s gritty and in-your-face style. Especially notable was the vocal interplay among the three members, as well as Stains’ rickety bass tone playing a pleasant counterpoint to Kennedy’s shrill riffs, all of which provided ample volume and energy to begin the night’s musical proceedings quite well.
With a decidedly less lighthearted and more hardcore metal sound, Drugs of Faith unleashed an acerbic helping of powerful riffs and rhythms, topped off by Richard J.’s vicious screams and howls. Fast and furious, Drugs of Faith minced few words as each song assaulted the small crowd’s eardrums; and yet, for the brute force of the band’s music, drummer Ethan G. and bassist Taryn W. all exhibited an almost serene precision on their respective instruments, leaving Richard J. to command the show, at one point even switching guitars in mid-song, much to everybody’s apparent amusement. Closing out the set with a mild helping of hardcore cover songs, the audience was now primed for the headliner.
A cold ambience fills the darkened room, the flickers of monochromatic imagery fading in and out in the background, and the murmurs of impending audio fury blasts through the speakers; CZAR hits the crowd with an icy power that mirrors the band’s Chicago roots, like the sound of a harsh winter personified. Jason Novak’s signature screeches tear through the air like a sonic razorblade, his rhythmic chugs underscoring Brian Elza’s shimmering leads and guttural harmonies, creating a monolithic wall of sound the likes of which are usually reserved for extreme metal bands like Meshuggah or Immortal. With the driving percussion of Dan Brill shifting from one time signature to another, the technical complexity of CZAR’s music is undeniable, yet still possessing chilled hooks for even the most uninitiated listener to latch onto, as evidenced in songs like “Whorchard,” Family Crest,” “Goregon Trail,” and even the blistering and monstrous cover of the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” Not ones to skimp on their own sense of humor, the band members even shared in a laugh as one fan shouted from the bar for an Acumen song, Novak obliging – if only briefly – with the opening riff of “Queener” as Elza replied that only requests from the floor would be fulfilled.
It goes without saying that such a noisy and chaotic musical barrage is not so easily digested, even among aficionados of the most powerful metal. However, all the bands this night offered something different – a varied yet cohesive progression of metal hooks and aggression, with CZAR proving to be one of the most exciting and engaging acts to emerge in the last decade.
Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Photography by Jessica Jastrzebski (JJastrz)
Drugs of Faith