Cayce Key, Sean Patrick Riley, Ben Clarke, Eric Chaleff, Tony Lazzara, Nandini Khaund, and Bruce Lamont
Cayce Key, Sean Patrick Riley, Ben Clarke, Eric Chaleff, Tony Lazzara, Nandini Khaund, and Bruce Lamont Credit: Saverio Truglia

Bloodiest hesitate to call themselves a metal band, though if you’ve seen one of their shows you probably have no such qualms. “People want us to be a metal band just because of the name,” says guitarist Tony Lazzara. It’s not that simple, though: Bloodiest’s name is remarkably, even poetically brutal, but it’s far from the only thing metal about them. Musically they summon the same kind of apocalyptic, black-hole heaviness as bands like Sleep, Neurosis, Mastodon, and Slayer—bands that, needless to say, are as metal as it is possible to be.

I’m interviewing four members of Bloodiest: Lazzara, who plays guitar though he’s best known as a drummer (for defunct locals Sterling and Atombombpocketknife as well as Follows, a new group fronted by his girlfriend wife, former Electrelane guitarist Mia Clarke), guitarist Eric Chaleff (Lazzara’s bandmate in Sterling and Follows), singer Bruce Lamont (who also fronts Yakuza), and drummer Cayce Key (90 Day Men). Absent are guitarist Sean Patrick Riley and keyboardist Nandini Khaund, for both of whom Bloodiest is their first band. (Normally a seven-piece, they’re between bassists, so Ben Clarke from Lying in States is filling in for their Empty Bottle show this weekend.) From a glance around the table, you’d figure you were looking at a metal band: there’s plenty of long hair, beards, and black leather, and even though it’s 2 PM on a Sunday they’re ordering whiskey shots.

They’re not worried about limiting their audience, and it’s certainly not that they don’t like metal. According to Key, every member of the group has a substantial metal collection. “It’s one thread that connects everybody,” he says. “All of us love metal.”

In fact this devotion is exactly why they try to avoid the tag. Like many metalheads, they’re loathe to throw the word around to describe hybrid music, and that’s definitely what they play—as Chaleff points out, they incorporate such a broad range of influences that they could just as easily be considered modern classical. “We’re into Stockhausen as much as we’re into Obituary,” he says.

He might’ve just as easily name-checked Spacemen 3. He even could’ve said Sun Ra—Bloodiest’s songs use a lot of improvisation and have a similar “traveling” feel, as though their long unspooling is aimed from the start at a particular destination. “Night Feeder”—from their still-untitled debut album, which they hope to release later this year on a label to be determined—begins a la Ennio Morricone, with ornate fingerpicked acoustic guitar shadowed by sparse twangs from a reverbed electric, then blooms into a spacey dirge filled out with thundering drums, cycling piano arpeggios, and droning vocals. About five minutes in, the cascading guitar lines turn into chunky, palm-muted death-metal chugging, and the track spends another three minutes and change battering your ears in waves till your head feels like an old sailing ship in a midocean storm.

Bloodiest’s arrangements are complex and carefully paced, and considering the music’s wide emotional range and sometimes gargantuan volume, the band’s live performances are surprisingly low-key. Lamont, who’s been known to spit fake blood in Yakuza and swings hair with the best of ’em as Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin 2, usually sings sitting down so he can work the knobs on his effects pedals. The group began in early ’08 as an extension of Sterling—a duo of Chaleff and Lazzara, both playing guitar—but it quickly expanded. “Me and Eric started this project,” Lazzara says, “basically to simplify our live-performance situation by being a two-man, all-guitar project. We played one show like that and all of our friends decided to join the band.”

Actually it was more like four shows, and Chaleff and Lazzara actively recruited their friends, though not in a particularly organized way. “It was one of those things like, ‘I’ll ask Cayce,’ and Eric had already asked Bruce and I didn’t know about it,” says Lazzara. “And then somebody asked Craig Ackerman. And then we came into practice one day and we were a band.”

“At that point,” Chaleff says, “I think I had put together a six-piece band unbeknownst to anybody. Even myself, because I probably did it really wasted. You really can’t leave your bros out.”

The original Bloodiest lineup—with bassist Ackerman, formerly of Lustre King, and keyboardist Steve Art, formerly of the Race and Sterling—came from a broad range of local underground rock bands linked less by mutual aesthetics than mutual watering holes. Even now, with two newbies and one sub in the group, there’s nobody who wasn’t tight with someone else in the band (if not everyone else) before coming aboard; Key and Khaund, a classically trained pianist, are a couple. Lazzara and Key have been talking about playing together since the late 90s, when Atombombpocketknife and 90 Day Men frequently shared bills. “It only took 14 years of hanging out for me to figure out that I should get better at playing guitar,” Lazzara says.

The group’s size presents logistical problems, and full attendance at Bloodiest practices is rare—usually they only manage it just before a show. “There’s just no way,” Key says, “that you can get seven people in a room and be like, ‘Let’s write a song!'”

“It’s just so expensive,” Lazzara adds. “We have to buy so much beer when there’s seven people in there.”

The most they’ve practiced before a gig was five times, according to Lazzara, yet every show I’ve seen Bloodiest play has been stunning. However tough it is to pull off, when they do get the whole band together they kill it. Lazzara says that everyone “knows how to come out of a 7/8 turnaround,” but the consensus is that the group’s tight social structure is just as important as the members’ individual musical talents. Certainly it has something to do with the sense of inevitability that accompanies the graceful movements of Bloodiest’s dense, massive sonic structures. They’re heavy, but they’re also sweeping, cinematic, even tender.

It’s not hard to rattle off a list of emotional responses that Bloodiest provokes, especially since there tends to be such a variety of them. But that variety makes it really tough to describe the music succinctly. Late in our interview, after another round of shots, Chaleff takes a stab at it, even though his bandmates’ attention is increasingly on the gold-medal hockey game playing on a TV in the corner.

“It’s really aggressive,” he says, “but there’s a really melancholy, sad mood. I don’t want to say that it’s like a Pantera ballad . . . “

“No,” says Lazzara, suddenly focused on the conversation again. “You don’t.”