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If it seems like I live at Three Clubs - well, that's sort of true. It's far away from my home, parking is a pain, and it can get uncomfortably crowded. But it's my favorite concert venue in Los Angeles for a reason: one can see bands up close. Like headstock-in-the-face close. Because the tiny stage can hold only a drum kit and maybe some amps, non-drummers usually stand on the floor. They hide behind nothing; we hear their picks on their strings.

So it was a pleasure to witness three of Los Angeles' most promising metal bands together there. Exhausted Prayer just self-released a new record, Worst of All Possible Worlds. It should not be self-released. (I'll write more on it separately.) Much of the set featured this material. Its presentation was confident, thanks to a week-long tour alongside Dreaming Dead. That pairing was natural, and not just because both bands share drummer Mike Caffell. Both bands play a sort of blackened death metal. Dreaming Dead favor the "death" part, while Exhausted Prayer have a strong prog element. (Ihsahn's solo work and Ludicra come to mind.) Since it was the night before Halloween, the frontman and bassist wore a tuxedo and Jason hockey mask, respectively, while Caffell looked like Edward Gorey's take on black metal. Their feverish, harmonically rich set made me put my ear next to the amps. Complex chords and distortion make difficult bedfellows.

Dreaming Dead took a while to set up. Since the band is currently a trio, guitarist/vocalist Elizabeth Schall made up for the lack of a second guitarist by joining two amps and a MIDI foot controller with miles of cables. Just watching her piece this together was tiring. But this defiance of Occam's razor paid off. Her tone was huge and ripping. Like tourmates Exhausted Prayer, Dreaming Dead showed ample road chops. "Perpetual Pretext", from last year's Within One - which I maintain will become a classic - felt like a rocket taking off. In fact, parts of the set were too turbocharged. The riffs were mighty, but they blew by so quickly, they didn't have time to be heavy. Just slowing down a few bpm to dig into riffs can make all the difference. Otherwise, the performance was arresting. It was wondrous watching Schall shred and sing, with a capable rhythm section in support. This set contained mostly new material, which bodes well for upcoming album Midnightmares.

Things also look bright for Huntress. They have improved greatly since I first wrote about them earlier this year (here and here). Their performances have gelled, and their unrecorded, new material is light years beyond their first demo. It works black metal tremolo picking and blastbeats into a traditional metal fabric. Singer Jill Janus, as she's called now, no longer sounds thin. She is confident and hits her notes, though she could write a few more catchy choruses. They'll come, I'm sure. This band learns fast. Huntress have taken an atypical route and hit the local circuit hard. This is smart, as it gives them stage experience without having to tour. They are one of the few bands who can play locally frequently without overstaying their welcome. Charisma and hot performances are why. I try to catch as many of their shows as I can - and I hate going out. Local bands like Exhausted Prayer, Dreaming Dead, and Huntress make me more excited to go out than many national acts. There's a good chance they'll become national acts themselves. In a year: at least two out of three.

— Cosmo Lee

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PUT A SOUND TO THE FACE

Exhausted Prayer - "I Long for the Peace of a Cemetery"

Dreaming Dead - "Perpetual Pretext"

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HUNTRESS DJ'S METAL FOR YOU

Huntress drummer Sean Ford and singer Jill Janus start a new Internet metal radio show tonight called Death Wish. It is every Wednesday from 9-11pm PST. Details and listening stream are here.

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