At first, the concept of Christian metal might send up a red flag. It’s an oxymoron between the worlds of furrowed-brow conservatives and the carefree piss-and-vinegars giving them a collective, pounding migraine.
But it’s a thing, and if you’re not keen on hearing damage on tap, call-help-there’s-blood-in-my-larynx screaming and tattoo placement that will shatter the prospect of gainful employment — stick to Toby Keith, ‘cause most of that is still here. If you are into that kind of stuff but don’t want the holy business shoveled down your gullet, this is a convenient genre; you can’t begin to decipher the message without a thorough listen-a-long with the lyric book liner (necessary) in one hand and a bottle of aspirin (recommended) in the other.
The only quick indicator of this being a unique, niche area of metal is the audience. These are pretty average, yes-ma’am-no-ma’am, A-B Honor Roll kids. About 520 of these bright seeds packed into Murray Hill Theatre March 23 to watch The Devil Wears Prada play tunes to make them want to head bang themselves into whiplash and generously clobber the pulp out of one another in a form of dance more closely resembling a merciless blood-sport than any outward expression of merriment.
But it’s all in good fun, and the Dayton, Ohio, five-piece (now touring as a six) didn’t disappoint. Everything about their sound is urgent and intense. Crushingly loud guitars layer over crashing cymbals, piercing snare drum and that growling, impassioned singer. Like traditional metal, the band utilizes very tight stop-and-go-rhythms — head-banging and scissor kicking and generally making a ruckus of things along with them.
Guitarist Jeremy DePoyster impressively managed to nail every note on the guitar and his sung choruses despite having a mop-head of hair in his face the entire set — and that’s not saying the music is simple to play. It’s not. The speed at which Prada performs their songs, combined with their energetic stage presence, is a feat of athleticism on its own.
For this set, Prada mostly stuck with their newer material from albums “8:18,” “Dead Throne” and “Zombie EP” (yes that is a concept album about life following a zombie apocalypse). A few nostalgia-seekers in the audience complained about there not being more songs from earlier efforts like “Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord,” but it’s hard to deny that the band’s sound has gotten bigger and more ambitious with each release.
The elements of metal-core are still here, but there’s definitely more than the heavy-verse-pretty-chorus interchange that became all too predictable in this genre years ago. Tracks like “Kansas” feature the entire group finding an extended, lyric-less groove that alternates between clean, minimalistic rhythms into a six-instrument wall-of-sound sonic that blows back the neatly parted bangs of people on the venue floor.
Artsy musical journeys are great and welcome, but breakdowns are the nuts and bolts of this genre, and Prada’s career has basically written the book on those.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a breakdown, here’s the skinny: it’s a bare-bones, synchronized rhythm created with an open-note chugging sound on the guitar and matching drums (see video below). Its effect on metalheads is tantamount to what the bass drop does to frat boys and tipsy ladies in the night club. The theater’s light show added to their effect; oftentimes the entire venue would go dark and silent for several seconds before matching the band’s sudden burst of energy with a shower of multi-colored lights.
It was the birthday for Jonathan Gering, the band’s touring synth member who turned 23. Prada didn’t waste any time with the birthday ballad — they just shot into another hope-filled scorcher.
The crowd was very receptive, passionately singing along to mostly every song. That makes sense, because they didn’t just stumble into this show — many waited weeks and months to see this performance and there was a line stretching out the front door 45 minutes before doors. When the doors did open, these die-hard fans walked straight to the front of the stage to reserve their place to watch the band that wouldn’t play for another 3 1/2 hours. With metal powerhouses I Killed the Prom Queen and The Ghost Inside on the bill, they enjoyed a solid show during their wait. Opening band Dangerkids was an entertaining blend of hip-hop rhythms and metal, stretching into turn-of-the-century Linkin Park territory while making the sound their own.
If the combination of theme and genre is still bugging you, that’s partly the point. Rock and roll has and will continue to bend and break perceived rules and expectations. This isn’t so different from what the straight-edge movement was to punk rock in the late '80s and early '90s. Angst-filled teens with a very strong, if not sometimes naïve, expression of conviction and ideals.
That’s not to say religious metal acts are doing this for the sake of making that contradiction, bands like The Devil Wears Prada have been at this for nearly a decade, and they practice what they preach. They deliver to an audience that is discovering they can cherry-pick what they want from certain styles of music without conforming their lifestyle to them. That they can mosh in a venue at night and still knock out algebra homework when they get home. Good on them.
Side note — the barista at this venue has a special recipe for sweet tea that he refuses to disclose to inquiring, pestering reporters. It may be a few extra (dozen) cups of sugar, it may be a sweeter-than-smack nectar handed down from the bosom of some divine backdoor connection. Either way, it’s consistently the best sweet tea in the city this guzzler of the stuff has come across thus far.