The East Bay is gaining much notoriety for its aggressive music scene these days, especially in the metal genre. For instance, Metallica frontman Kirk Hammett recently named releases by two Oakland bands as among the top 25 albums of the last decade: All Shall Perish's 2008 deathcore classic Awaken the Dreamers and Machine Head's 2007 neo-thrash salvo The Blackening. Still, as Sign-of-the-Horns-worthy as such acclaim may be, there are a number of even more intriguing metal-tinged acts in Bump City headbanging below the mainstream radar.
One such band is the relatively obscure (until now) Dimesland, a fierce avant-metal, post-thrash quartet that owes more to Goblin-scored Italian horror film soundtracks than to poodle-haired Eighties butt rock. Led by guitarists and brothers Nolan and Drew Cook, Dimesland conjures images of machete-wielding maniacs lurking in bedroom closets — minus the dumb, gore-obsessed lyrics and clichéd, pentatonic blues riffing that often passes for song structure. Dimesland doesn't go in for "metal as usual."
"My brother and I have a wide palette as far as what we listen to," explained Nolan during a recent interview. "But we don't draw directly from our influences per se. We employ the tools of metal, volume, and aggression, and combine them with our imaginations in order to create something other than your standard fare. We try to experiment and bend the genre. Also, we don't relate to a lot of the conventions associated with metal — the getups, hairdos, looking real mean into the camera, what have you. And no, we're not Satanists."
The latter statement also refers to the fact that Dimesland is scheduled to perform at Karla LaVey's 12th Annual Black X-Mass party on Christmas night at the Elbo Room. In case you've been living under a Christian rock of ages, LaVey is former High Priestess of the Church of Satan and founder of the First Satanic Church — and she throws an awesome anti-Christmas rock show every year.
"I really don't expect any animal sacrifice," Nolan added. "The whole deal is obviously tongue-in-cheek."
However, there's nothing cheeky or ironic out about a Dimesland instrumental demolition like "Ghastly Maneuvering," which burrows straight into the listener's nervous system via galloping, lurching guitarwork that sounds like a burning ghost wildly struggling to break free of its haunted environment. Or consider the rapid-fire, razored kiss of "Trophy Wives Under the Influence," which strikes like a serial killer carving up his victim in order to secure a treasured body part.
"We're interested in the darker aspects of the psyche, and in strange human behavior in general," Nolan admitted. "But we don't like to spell anything out. Somewhere down there, in each song, there's a story, often about an unhinged person in a bad situation. Being horror-movie fans, we just find these stories more interesting. Things that are unusual interest us lyrically and musically."
What's intriguing about Dimesland is the band's circuitous route to existence. Although the Cook Bros. have been playing together since they were teens, Dimesland only recently settled into its current approach — an evolution into postmetal violence that, along the way, earned the band (under the previous moniker Land of Thin Dimes) mentions in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Guitar Player magazine. Momentum, though, remains problematic, given Nolan's regular sideman gig (since 1998) with avant-garde music and visual-arts group the Residents.
"It's a great job, and there's nothing like working with those people," Nolan said. "I was a huge fan for a long time before this opportunity ever arose. It was a serendipitous thing: I knew somebody who knew somebody." The Residents' managers, the Cryptic Corporation, got ahold of a cassette that Nolan made and wound up hiring him to play some of their Halloween shows at the Fillmore. "I suppose I did okay, because here I am eleven years later."
Nolan remains comfortable in Oakland and observes that the city has a "nice little underground metal scene." He insists that listeners will tend to find greater creativity in more obscure music, and that unique music is hard to come by.
Playing LaVey's Black X-Mass won't likely rescue Dimesland from obscurity, which is just fine with Nolan. He's eager to do the gig, do a brief tour with the Residents, and return to mixing Dimesland's debut EP, slated for a summer 2010 release on an as-yet-to-be-revealed indie metal label. Although Cook says the band has plenty of material to work from, Dimesland currently has only twenty or so minutes of live music prepared. Cook says they rely on audio samples to link tunes together and add texture, and there's a big section where the sound doesn't stop. Everything is connected into "a sonic collage type of thing." It's structured, no improvisation. "We're writing constantly, but we've pared it down to something fast and dirty and then we're out," he said.
Regardless of set length, isn't Nolan the least bit concerned that Dimesland is playing at an event billed as a Black Mass? "Playing Christmas night means the audience is made up of people who don't travel anywhere for the holidays," he said. "We're playing next to last, so we'll be doing a whole lot of waiting around, and watching the drunken holiday nutbirds."