by Anthony Stassi & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ast Sunday, I drove to north Hillyard in search of the Market Street Market. Pulling into the empty parking lot, I was sure I had gotten bunk directions. If you've never been, it vaguely resembles an old, abandoned carnival. I'd come to cover RAWK Final Four entry Catacomb as they frantically searched for a new lead singer -- just a week before they're set to compete. I parked, dodged a couple of guard dogs and finally stumbled on a series of handmade signs that led to a huge, empty warehouse space rigged with a stage, a P.A., and exactly zero prospective front men.
"It's just basically been a day for us to practice instrumental stuff because nobody's been showing up to the audition," explained guitarist Joey Rodriguez. Since the auditions apparently weren't on that tight of a schedule, I took the chance to sit down with the band. Turns out they were waiting for only the second prospect of the day. The tragic part is, their initial front man offering (via a MySpace blog post) was originally met with a slew of responses from 20-odd metalheads anxious to try out. "One by one, they started dropping like flies, calling us back with all these lame excuses from sore throats to inflamed organs," explained drummer Taylor Belote. "That's good you're writing a story, though -- maybe that will encourage more to come out." This'll be a public service, then.
My guess, however, is that the initial response wasn't exactly insincere. The posting could even have spiraled a few wannabe rockers into daydreaming frenzies, conjuring up hopes of "hitting the big time" equipped with nothing but a quasi-mean growl and some eyeliner. But for most, in the end, self-doubt coupled with laziness would smother such an elaborate pipedream. It shows, if nothing else, the balls required to do any kind of performing. Even playing an empty warehouse.
We talked a while longer and, just as the conversation was grinding to an uncomfortable halt, the second prospect of the day arrived. He was a bigger guy, shaved head, outfitted in some boots, camo pants, and a Pantera hoodie -- exactly what I'd imagined when I tried to dream up the ideal candidate. He walked in and stood motionless, until someone asked him what his name was. "Uhh, I'm Zach," looking a bit nervous and unsure as to whether or not he had made the right decision in showing up. Perhaps in retrospect, he thought being smothered by doubt could have saved him from this potential disaster of a situation. Regardless, he climbed on stage, introduced himself, and got on with it.
Zach (whose last name turned out to be Hutyler) made sitting in on vocals look downright easy. Granted, he spent the first couple of verses awkwardly clutching the mic and pacing around the stage, but after letting out an ungodly howl -- a wonderful thing to hear when backed by double bass and distorted guitars -- things fell into place. The snarling and growling resembled a pit bull fight, and Zach, in the end, proved fairly competent at translating English into Metal-ese. When Catacomb's members weren't engaged in synchronized head banging and hair twirls, they showed signs of being impressed with Zach's efforts. Most impressive to me was the fact that all but one of the songs were Catacomb originals. (He'd done his homework.) After four songs, they turned off their amps, told Zach they'd call him and took lunch.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen preparing for the story, the biggest question I had was how metal bands can audition for a vocalist the way any other band would audition for a bassist. I don't want to generalize for all of metal, but it became clear watching Catacomb that their emphasis was on instrumental chops and precision, not lithe turns of phrase. They were judging Zach based not on his songwriting ability, but on how well his howl -- one instrument among many -- would integrate. The more important question I didn't anticipate, with so many metalheads propping up our scene, is why there wasn't a denser market for screamers. That one remains unanswered.
Also unanswered as of yet is whether Zach's going to make the final cut. The band had a total of six people try out for the spot, including one David Welsh, who saw the post on Myspace and took the bus from his home to reach the tryout. He lives in Pennsylvania. "He said he took like seven Greyhounds to get here," Rodriquez says. Zach, David and the rest are up against an unseen opponent as well. The band has a specific vision of what they want in a singer, and is prepared to perform without one for their RAWK show. "If we have to, we will compete as an instrumental band," Rodriguez had said. "We're OK with that."
When asked about their recent success, Belote immediately referenced their involvement with BOBfest. "We took home the People's Choice Award, but every judge in the competition actually voted against us," he said. "They clearly didn't understand the type of music we like." Metal thrives on that kind of outsider sentiment, and Catacomb's members bask in the mantle of people's champion. Given that RAWK is one big People's Choice Award, that might be enough.
At press time, we received an e-mail from the members of Catacomb: They hadn't met a vocalist who suited their exacting needs. (Not even the dude from Pennsylvania.) It will be interesting to see if they can reprise their crowd award from BOBfest at RAWK without a singer. Stay tuned.
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN
Catacomb at the Service Station for RAWK Final Four, Round 3, with McConkey-Long Band, Black Curtain, Sound Curfew, Making the Day and Patrick O'Neill on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 7 pm. Tickets: $8; $10, at the door. Call 466-1696.