Boise-based metal band Kryterium plays adrenaline-pumped, aggressive, scream metal. The band makes no attempt at genre evangelism; its music is for the established metal lover. And with a new CD, Control, coming out early this year, the band is testing its hard work and beyond-all-reason-dedication to its fan base to see if it pays off.
Kryterium formed in the spring of 2006 through the efforts of lead singer and frontman Mike Chaves, 26. Chaves had just moved to Boise from the San Francisco Bay Area and was hoping to take his music in a different direction from where his previous band, Crooked—in which he played with Kryterium guitarist, Michael Harter—had been going.
Through word of mouth and some MySpace research, Chaves brought in old friends Troy Komula on bass and Michael Harter on guitar along with newcomers Karber and Mike Landerman as drummer. The intent was hard, heavy, fast metal, a departure from the nu-metal/pop-metal of Crooked.
"From the beginning, we said we wanted to play fast and hard," said Karber, 27.
"Melodic stuff is great and we like it, but it's just not what we play," said Chaves.
This isn't to say Kryterium's songs have no tuneful moments. The song "Brand New Curse" features a guitar solo sandwiched between pounding riffs that is a positively pretty take on Spanish-style guitar.
Chaves' vocal range is wide, and he has the ability to transform his voice from menacing whispers to a blunt roar. However, as capable a screamer as he is, he is still a screamer, and the lyrics are often unintelligible.
When asked about the decision to adopt a less melodic take on metal music, Chaves cited his favorite bands, Pantera and Chimaira, who have screaming vocal styles. Though he admitted, "It hurts my throat."
Even if the listener can only appreciate the lyrics in the liner notes, the band doesn't seem to see itself as having any particular thematic messages to get across.
"We write so people can take things however they want," said Karber.
Chaves agreed, "I don't want to write about religion or love or politics or war ... It's all been said. I just want to have fun."
Harter called the music a celebration. "It makes us happy. We're not trying to make anyone depressed. We're trying to pump them up," said Chaves.
For so many positive comments on its music, few of the band's songs could be called classic "uppers." Many songs focus on evil, rebellion and violence.
"Stand Down" is a story about a man who murders his wife in a hotel, and the singer, who is down in the bar listening to the struggle, helps the killer by disposing of the body.
"Brand New Curse" also has futile messages about life: "Everyday is a brand new curse / Left alone on this dying earth."
However, the title track on Control is an exhortation for the listener to succeed against all odds, standing up to life's obstacles and detractors. The song encourages positivity and fighting for dreams.
The band's songwriting process starts with riffs and rhythms that the guitarists come up with, and as the song takes shape, Chaves writes lyrics to go along with it. Karber said that he doesn't know the names of a lot of the songs, just what the band named the song before it had lyrics.
"We had one song that we nicknamed 'John's Balls,' and I could never remember the real name," said Karber.
Though they have tried to write songs differently, the band members agreed that all songs seem to originate in the lead guitar riffs.
Since forming, the band has thrown itself headfirst into its music. The operation is entirely self-funded. The members have flown across the country to play at metal festivals and sacrificed jobs and commitments to tour nearby states for little or no remuneration from venues.
Chaves, Harter and Komula have quit their jobs in order to pour their time and energy into the band. Karber and Landerman schedule work around band commitments. They are in the rehearsal studio five days a week.
Members of the band say they consider their fans a top priority. The band prides itself on allegedly having the most MySpace fans of any Boise band and pulling in a dedicated following at all of its local shows.
"A real artist doesn't take from their audience, they give to their audience," said guitarist John Karber. "If it weren't for our fans, we wouldn't be here."
Clearly on a do-or-die crusade with its music, Kryterium has gone $50,000 into debt to fund the necessary exposure. The band is being rewarded with a demo track in an upcoming issue of Metal Edge magazine. "It's a matter of sacrifice," said Chaves. "We are doing what we need to do to get exposure."
The band members even signed a contract with one another determining how they were going to keep a professional atmosphere at gigs: no spitting on stage and no drinking or drugs before shows.
"I don't want bad role models in my band," said Chaves, "I've sacrificed too much."
Karber said the key to not having problems is "moderation."
For guys who were slung over their chairs like wet sweaters before a recent practice, they released some serious energy when they played. Each of the guitarists has the ability to fill the room with driving sound. Together with the furious drumming of Landerman, they bring formidable force.
After playing through a new set of riffs, Landerman burst into laughter. "This is so evil."
The music is precise and unforgiving. It is so fast that there's no catching up for a player who falls behind. As Karber played, the veins in his forearms stood out, and after working through a few new songs, Landerman was panting behind his drums. It has to be perfect before they take their music to a live show.
As a band, Kryterium has carved out the place it wants to fill in the heavy metal scene, and with the skill and determination the band members are bringing to the table, they just might do it.
The question that must be answered is whether there is something past the initial intoxicating adrenaline rush to really relate to listeners lyrically. The band will have to be clear about what it wants to communicate in order for all the dedication to pay off.
"We're trying to sound like Kryterium, but we're trying to take Kryterium to a different level," said Karber.