Attack of the 125-legged freaks

Go ahead and say heavy metal musicians are arrogant assholes, dirty longhairs, and social outcasts who live with their parents and worship Satan, sniff glue, and set fires. It may even be true. But according to Alex Suarez, guitarist for the instrumental metal quartet Centipede, they're "just normal-looking dudes playing some sweet metal."

OK, and they participate in small episodes of pyromania: "We start off [the set] with our cymbals on fire and then burst into the first song," Suarez explains.

A band since May, Centipede -- which also includes guitarist Jason Shuster, bassist Hazen Ziringer, and drummer Ryan Verzaal -- crafts breakneck sludge metal epics that swirl and pummel with aplomb, all without vocals. For an ex-member of Orlando's screamo band Kite Flying Society, a band in which bulging neck veins were the norm, that's quite a different approach. But Suarez is just fine with it. "We like to think our riffs are so sweet we don't need vocals to cover them up," he says before adding: "It's kind of cheesy I guess. But if we got a singer, it would only be cheesier."

Well, in the realm of metal iconography, cheesy would be a gong, or wheeling the singer on stage in a coffin, or a fog machine, or white cowboy boots. Or maybe that's all ironic again. "No, we don't wear jean jackets with Slayer patches on them, but those kinds of people are usually into it," he says. "Our first couple of shows we played at the Saloon, the old rocker dudes in their AC/DC shirts were all like 'Yeaaaah! I thought that was a Sabbath song!'"

Another misconception of the metal band: Inevitably, someone thinks you sound like Black Sabbath.

"Most of our influences are '80s metal," Suarez says. "... And Justice For All was one of my favorite albums, but I also listen to Belle and Sebastian, and a bunch of Swedish indie crap. I don't really listen to metal now. It's more for kicks. It's fun to write, and with no vocals there have to be constant hooks to keep you interested. In that way it's a challenge."

The four songs posted on the band's site (http://www.hxcmp3.com/bands/7404/) are a challenge indeed. "Eat Away at Your Clothes" is a furious, fast-slow-fast dirge. "Untitled" sounds like a song that would fit perfectly into Apocalypse Now, like it's being played through helicopter blades. "Marble Madness" is a bass-heavy, tempo-challenged epic that sounds as if it were cribbed from a video game soundtrack.

The band's name is a reference to the '80s video game of the same, and Suarez admits that they're all pretty much video game junkies. They even plan to learn a song from Super Mario Kart. "Have you ever played TurboGrafx 16?" he asks, suddenly talking faster. "It was out about 15 years ago, and all the games from that have really great soundtracks. It was, like, the first system to come out with CD games, not cartridges. And the songs were all speed metal, when you're flying into space, and you're like 'Aaaah'... God, I sound like a dork."

And hey, that's allowed, even if you're not a metal dude. Every band has a common denominator, something that binds them together, whether it's on-stage theatrics or a cohesive look or a unique approach to making music. Centipede simply uses the gimmick to their advantage.

"I guess I would rather [the absence of vocals] be a gimmick than just be another local band that sounds the same. A lot of people don't understand the concept, but once they see a few songs, they really get into it."

As for these four normal-looking dudes who just want to play some sweet metal, the concept works because the music is the focus. Their brand of angular instru-metal could be the soundtrack for a video game, an energy drink commercial, or an Italian horror film. And that's fuckin' sweet.

Check out By the Way's all-day art and music festival with Centipede, Southern Flaw, the Bikes, Sayonara Tokyo, Dooms de Pop, Good Life Cycle, Teri Catlin and others starting at 2 p.m. Saturday, September 25, at the Fort Lauderdale Saloon, 626 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-565-4909. You can also catch Centipede at 10 p.m. Sunday, September 26, at Maguire's Hill 16, 535 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-764-4453.

 
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