Violent Offerings: Three Indiana Bands Breaching Borders and Building Acclaim
The land of Indiana is a difficult soil for heavy metal to take root in. National tours, much like legalized weed, often skip right over Indiana, going straight from Grand Rapids to Chicago. There are some bigger bands that have come from the state -- Apostle of Solitude, Gates of Slumber -- but not nearly as many as the coasts and major cities have turned out. Those bands that do build a name for themselves tend to be hardy road warriors, their sound whetted by frequent gigs across the Midwest.
In Chicago, due to the huge volume of shows, it's entirely possible for a band to play for years, build a following, open for national bands, and have never played more than 50 miles from home. In less densely populated areas like Indiana, though, bands have two options for development: either hit the road and spread the word, or stagnate. Many choose the former -- the greater Indianapolis area is within a day's drive of many other metropolitan hotspots and thus enjoys a weekend-tour trade with the surrounding cities and states. This allows a close-knit web of bands and their fans to thrive in the area, with promoters like Lafayette's "The Doom Room" putting on over 30 shows last year in that town alone. On the reverse end of the bargain, though, those of us in surrounding states get to enjoy the talents of these hard-working bands, often without leaving the comfort of our hometowns: Chicago, for one, might actually get more than it gives.
Back in 2016, Invisible Oranges put out a list of nine bands from Indiana you should know. While that list has remained an excellent reference (all nine are still active), my own experience with the local scene as an Indiana-bordering Chicagoan have generated a few more recommendations. These three bands gig heavily and memorably, tirelessly carrying the defiling gospel of Indiana metal to strange lands and leaving smoldering ruins wherever they alight.
Throne of Iron
Although only founded a year and a half ago, Throne of Iron is a blast from the past: inspired by the passing of Manilla Road frontman Mark "The Shark" Shelton, their lineage of heavy metal draws as much from the traditional metal greats as it does from Dungeons & Dragons. It's gritty and irreverent with a certain alcohol-fueled grandiosity, paying tribute to the heavy metal and board games of the past (one can be fairly certain they're not writing songs about Fifth Edition) but having a bit of fun while they're at it. The unpretentious vocals and the noisy onslaught of the guitars add a welcome touch of dirt often missing from the genre: after all, the adventurers in their songs aren't noble-born knights chasing dragons, they're a ragtag group that's out to earn a few coins, dodge traps, and (going by my average D&D experience) murder at the slightest possible hint of provocation.
Throne of Iron has risen swiftly in stature after a mid-2018 demo caught a wave of initial attention; they followed up with rapid, small releases including a split with a dungeon synth outfit and multiple singles. These have kept interest in the band growing steadily without an oversaturation of material and every release has reinforced the singularly oddball nature of the group. Three of their singles, labeled as "Roll for Metal," have been created through a homebrew improvisation process involving drum patterns picked by dice roll and power metal lyrics spat out by a random generator -- the results are bewildering, but appealing.
With a full-length on the horizon, their future is looking pretty bright: they're headed for Greece in March to play the Up the Hammers Fest "warm up" show with the likes of Atlantean Kodex and Argus, with a couple of stateside shows beforehand. Their particular approach to heavy metal seems to have struck a chord: finely balancing down-to-earth aggression with daring tales of epic stature has garnered them notice outside their home state and set them on an adventure of their own.
January 18th @ North End Pub - Lafayette, IN
February 1st @ Cafe Mustache - Chicago, IL
March 12th @ Up the Hammers - Athens, Greece
Wraith is from northwest Indiana, but close enough to the Illinois border and Chicago that they could probably have listed that as their hometown and nobody would be the wiser. They didn't, though, and proudly describe themselves as Indiana blackened thrash -- to be precise, the thrash element here is that of the early 1980s when thrash and speed metal were often entwined, with the black metal influence attaching a pervading sense of sleazy evil. This particular genre fusion is fairly established, so Wraith might be described as "more of a good thing," except that they've done their thing exceptionally well to steadily increasing acclaim.
Working within the framework of quick, fast-paced songs, they intersperse rhythmic variety into the headbang-friendly riffing as if to clearly mark out spots for fans to pump their fists in time. They know when to break the tempo down, or when to just ride a steady middling pace, but much of their 2019 full-length Absolute Power finds the band throwing down heated d-beats with snarling howls accompanying the insanely tasty riffs every song has no shortage of.
Wraith's no-frills metal has found a willing home in their own region and beyond, somehow standing out despite the crowded field. When it comes to this particular style of blackened thrash/speed, there's fairly stringent requirements on how a band should sound. That might seem stifling, but creativity can thrive with constraints, and Wraith has demonstrated an infernal aptitude for this task.
February 29th @ Black Circle Brewing - Indianapolis, IN
March 21st @ Reggie's - Chicago, IL
April 10th @ Blades of Steel Fest - Milwaukee, WI
The Mound Builders
You really need to see these guys live. That's a critical step in understanding exactly how the quartet has continued to be a staple of the local live scene across multiple states -- last year, they hit six. While the other bands on this list are only a few years old, The Mound Builders are a decade-spanning institution that's consistently delivered one of the best live shows I've ever seen.
Playing a combination of heavy metal, hardcore, sludge, and punk rock makes for a difficult classification, which is why they tend to just label themselves as all of those, all at once. The hardcore elements are most obvious live, where frontman Jim Voelz screams the band's sardonic lyrics while roaming unpredictably, consuming any and all real estate available -- the man will climb on a table if the opportunity presents itself. The rest of the band provides the remaining elements of their signature sound: riffs that drip Jack Daniels from every note, sludgy grooves that ramp up without warning, and a bass tone that probably violates some public decency law somewhere.
I'm not sure that any of their records have fully captured their energetic live sound, and I'm further doubtful that it's possible: their 2018 self-titled full-length nails the sludge and doom aspect, but might not conjure thoughts of punk and hardcore. It's a quintessentially Indiana album in any case, as the artwork is a composite of the Lafayette skyline and a few of the songs, plus their name, reference the history and geography of their state. The one-two punch of "Star City Massacre" and "Regolith" is where their enticingly feral sound reaches a zenith: the rhythm section's breakneck insanity is brought to bear against the venom of Jim's vocals and southern sludge riffs run through a speed metal filter. Now, picture that being performed with an almost frightening vigor ten feet from your face in a PBR-rich environment -- that's the magic of the Mound Builders live, an experience you're not likely to forget. I've seen them in dive bars, a barn, and a literal bakery and they've yet to disappoint.
Bonus: check out some of my photos from The Mound Builders' October 12th set at The Drunken Donut in Joliet, Illinois last year.
February 29th @ Metal Monkey Brewing - Romeoville, IL
March 13th @ Shakespeare's - Kalamazoo, MI
March 14th @ The Avenue Cafe - Lansing, MI
March 21st @ The State Theatre - Logansport, IN