Old-school heavy metal is brand-new again: Just listen to the double bass drums, screaming guitars, pulsing bass, and guttural vocals on "Jackball," one of the six tracks that comprise Shards, Rabid Villain's new EP. The band's churning sound is a far cry from the overly muscular nü-metal style that's gained popularity in recent years — think '70s-era Ozzy Osbourne, Slayer, and Metallica instead of, say, Saliva or Egypt Central.
Rabid Villain actually began as a trio in 2000. The group cut a debut album, The Villainous Group, soon after, although its members ultimately decided to put the project on ice a few years later.
"We're all big Pantera and Black Sabbath fans, and we like newer bands like Lamb of God and Mastodon," says bassist Blake Rhea, who replaced Grayson Grant after sessions for the Shards EP had already begun.
Eagle-eyed scenesters might recognize Rhea from the funk-infused Gamble Brothers Band, know guitarist Elliott Ives' work with Lord T. & Eloise, or spot drummer Jeff Burch, who frequently pounds the skins on Beale Street. The trio first coalesced nearly a decade ago with Midtown collective CYC; last year, they joined forces with vocalist Burl Caine to form a new and improved Rabid Villain. (Check out MySpace.com/RabidVillainMemphis.)
To anyone who might think the band is the basis for a Spinal Tap-type outing, Rhea argues that "to play this kind of music, you have to be serious. It's hard to play this fast and with this much endurance," he says. "We take it very seriously. We've all liked metal for a long time. We've just never gone full-force into it.
"The people who know me, who are friends with me, know I like metal. They're not surprised [by the group]. We've all been gigging in Memphis forever, but the metal scene is new to us. We're learning it as we go, finding out where to play and who to play with. We've done shows at Murphy's, and, last month, we did a gig at the Memphis Drum Shop. We've been checking out the metal bands who play at the Buccaneer and the Rally Point, and this Friday, we're playing a showcase at the New Daisy."
The Memphis Metal Showcase, which is sponsored by the Memphis Musician's Advisory Council, an offshoot of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission, also features local groups Evil Army, Cremains, Detriment, Serapis, and Legion of Divine Punishment.
"Our goal this summer is to provide a certain educational component and performance opportunity for local musicians," says harmonica master Billy Gibson, who, with House of Blues producer Ralph Sutton, organized the metal show. They have plans for future events showcasing the local gospel and DJ scenes.
Gibson explains, "We're offering a free live sound seminar with Will Floyd, the house engineer at the New Daisy, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., then the show starts at 7:30 p.m. 93X is making it the official opening concert for their Locals Only summer music series."
Talking metal with the harmonica player, renowned on the international blues scene, is initially unsettling, but his enthusiasm for the genre comes through loud and clear.
"I'm a huge Rob Evil fan. His band Evil Army has so much energy," Gibson says. "I caught a show they did with Cremains at the Bucc. They're so young, and they come at it with such fire. This time next year, they could be on the road with Mastodon. They just need to get in front of the right kind of people.
"There's a really kicking metal scene that's coming together in Memphis," Gibson adds. "Rabid Villain are way schooled on it. They have that Stax-type groove, which comes out even when they play metal. It gives them an edge, but I really think that any of the bands playing Friday night could have presence [nationally]."