How now is SOON? Why you need to see this Chapel Hill (folk?) metal band live

By Angela Perez
The music line-up at Slim’s that cold Saturday night promised me hours and hours of heavy metal.  And not just one style of metal – but a veritable smorgasbord of genres, from screaming and guttural howling to droning guitars to jackhammer drum beats to gentle ambient soundscapes.  The question looming large in my mind as the fancy Uber car pulled up and dropped me off in front of the bar was, “Can I veer all over the sonic map tonight without getting a headache? Might I possibly not like half of the bands?”  For, as you know, all metal heads are not into every kind of metal.

But, I decided for this particular night what’s most important is that I’m supporting a friend by attending the show.  The show was a benefit organized for local Raleigh hard-core musician Jason Brown to help him settle his little brother’s funeral expenses.  And, as benefit shows often are, the band roster was a motley hot mess of a line-up.  But, for my money, it was a glorious mess that titillated me down in my guts. Also, I knew there would be lots of hot and delicious metal boys skulking about downing PBR and whiskey shots.  Several of us ladies had already had short, breathy discussions earlier in the day about the presence of all those brooding, devil-may-care men.  Oh yes, we like it like that. Good God, we do.
As you have heard me say before, metal is about power and sex.  It’s inherent in the heavy primal scream of it all.  A deep-throated drive exists within – whether melodic and orchestral or DIY breakneck and morbid.  More than power and sex, however, my favorite types of metal are a sonic homage to the chaos that rules our lives.  Unlike pop music, it doesn’t try to resolve or order anything.  No, most genres of metal zero in on the dark side of the soul and the cold ambivalence of nature and the world around us.  The music revels in that which controls us and it illustrates that same context within which we lead our uncertain lives.  Sweet God, I’m generalizing.  But that’s how I make my peace with said chaos.
There’s an inherent sexiness about the bands that brood in this type of darkness.  This penchant is infinitely more interesting than the optimism of pop, even if that pop is born out of despair.  These days, most indie pop despair gets channeled into that folksy earthy celebratory jig claptrap churned out by bands like Mumford and Sons and that ilk.   All of this gets me to the band I came here to discuss with you.
That night, I got turned on to the Chapel Hill band SOON.  And they were my favorite band of the night.  Here’s why.
First up, I’ll introduce the guys – all well known in the Triangle music scene and most of them known for a gentler kind of music:
Mark Connor: guitars
Stuart McLamb: guitars, vocals
Thomas Simpson: Drums
Rob Walsh: bass, vocals
With SOON, these guys are creating within two growing trends of metal right now that really push the boundaries of the genre – atmospheric and folk metal.  SOON plays with those boundaries in their own unique and seductive way.
So what about SOON?  Their music is tight and sexy and glides across cold and mysterious landscapes dotted with ragged peaks and gently rolling valleys.  Most times, it feels more like progressive rock, often bordering on melodramatic despair inevitably tempered with either silky folk ballad reverie or 80s power ballad metal (which is too simple to be melodramatic).    There’s a self-reflectiveness to their stage output and, as is the nature of reverie, it doesn’t really climax so much as come to multiple epiphanies mostly in the form of painfully tight and heavy crescendos.  I do love it when a band gives me multiple epiphanies.  Ah!
There were fade-outs and rising and falling curtains of darkness – SOON put on a stage show by all accounts.  And yet the project felt so natural and organic.  The push and pull of theatrical artifice with raw interiors was tantalizing to say the least.
As I sipped my cold Cardinal gin and listened from the back of the bar, I felt ancient longing in the music, which is the nature of folk metal (it’s an earthy affair for all such bands creating in this genre. I keep thinking of Portland-based Agalloch who blew me away at King’s a few months back.  I kept annoying my girlfriend at that show by pulling her aside and musing, “What the fuck is this?  My God, it’s got all the trappings of metal but, buddy, it ain’t metal!”  It seemed to have hints of early U2.  But I digress. )
The beauty of that night with SOON is that they had no self-consciousness about what they were doing.  Given the fact that most of these fellas are not born and bred metal musicians, they pulled off a kind of metal authenticity that usually only guys who spent their teenage years jerking off to Pantera and weeping over Iron Maiden can manage.  But this line-up handled the whole show masterfully.  It was as though the music lit up a mythic landscape that had always existed and SOON guided us across it, letting us all feel what we felt.
 What I felt that night from SOON in that crowded bar was delicious.  And sad.  And sexy.  I felt a tight ache in my belly.  And I want more of it.
Note:  SOON released a track on February 9, 2015 and you should listen to it.  The tracks were mixed and engineered by Krif Bilbert at Legitimate Business in Greensboro, NC and only one has been released so far. But you need to see them live if you want to feel what I felt.
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