Just Metal, No Hyphen

Oakland's Saviours keep their angry music simple as hell.

A recent study by this reporter has shown that eating spaghetti is made much more difficult while listening to heavy metal. The act of winding pasta around a fork is in direct opposition to the metal-inspired impulse to shake one’s fists violently, regardless of what is in those fists. Someone could get hurt, what with the stabbing of steel tines. Bob Marley, now that’s spaghetti music.

Listening to Into Abaddon, the just-released album by Oakland’s own Saviours, one wonders what they might have eaten to make them so aggressive. Something spicy, perhaps; something still mewling and begging to be let go. The album drips with a kind of end-times rancor, the smell of sulfur and bong water, and images of otherworldly butchery that are equal parts Revelations and Dungeon Master’s Guide.

The members of Saviours don’t seem particularly aggressive in person, however. In fact, they were downright jovial earlier this month, on their home turf in a North Oakland apartment. Hospitable, even. Hot sake was simmering on the stove, and generously passed around. A cat, dying from an undiagnosed wasting disease, peered curiously at us before scurrying into a darkened corner.

It was a rare day off for the band, shortly before they departed on a high-profile, nationwide tour with local stoner-metal heroes High on Fire. Partial credit to the band’s rising success can no doubt be credited to their busy practice schedule, which they maintain — or try to — even when they’re not recording or touring.

“We practice two to three days a week,” explained drummer Scott Batiste, before adding, with an embarrassed grin, “although usually one of those days falls through.”

“There’s three days on the calendar,” bassist Cyrus Comiskey added. “That’s what’s important.”

The band has an air of devil-may-care detachment — maybe what Skid Row was trying to go for, but Saviours accomplish with a shrug instead of a sneer. Singer and guitarist Austin Barber slouches and talks like a stoner from any Circle K parking lot in America, though when he tells of the band’s origins in 2003, he turns on the stage presence with surprising abruptness.

“Me and Scott were talking about starting a new band,” he remembered. “We just wanted to do some heavy, gnarly shit.” While Barber was on tour with his previous band Yaphet Kotto, Batiste recruited his childhood friend, Tyler “Balls” Morris, as a second guitarist, and another friend on bass. Morris was attending San Francisco City College at the time, halfheartedly bouncing from one major to another.

“Scott called me up and said, ‘Are you tired of being in college? Do you want to be in a band?'” Morris recalled. “I said, ‘Yes I do.’ So Scott said, ‘Well, start writing some heavy riffs then.'” Comiskey, who also plays in Drunk Horse, soon replaced the original bassist, and Saviours were fully formed.

They released their first EP, Warship, in 2005, and followed with their debut full-length, Crucifier, the following year — both on Level Plane Records. Their two releases since, the two-song Cavern of Mind EP and Into Abaddon, have both been with the New York-based Kemado Records, whose roster includes the likes of the Sword and Priestbird.

While Saviours often get mentioned alongside their contemporary heavyweights in the metal scene, don’t try to pigeonhole them. Saviours don’t spend much time thinking about what kind of metal they are. Metal (with the “heavy” implied) is specific enough, and anything else is a fool’s errand. A question about influences sucks the air out of the room, and there is a long moment of uncomfortable silence with which to reflect upon how easy it would be for a metal quartet to carve their band logo into the cooling flesh of a former journalist.

“People ask me sometimes, Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin?” Barber says finally. “I live in a world where both can exist.” The other band members nod in vigorous assent at this parable, perhaps disappointed that the situation has been resolved so diplomatically.

“If it’s heavy and rocks we like it,” Comiskey adds. “I’m a big nerd about Steely Dan. We all are.”

The members of Saviours avoid intellectualizing what they’re doing. It’s not that they aren’t thinking about it, they simply don’t let the parsing of little thoughts get in the way of action. Conan the Barbarian was plenty smart, but he preferred to do math with a sword. And similarly, while other bands might worry about scenes and hyphenated stylings, Saviours want simply to let fly with thunderous riffs that are hard to pin down but are unmistakably metal.

“We’re all pretty easygoing, so we go ‘You want to do this shit?’ and we just do it,” said Batiste. “There’s never this thing where someone says, ‘Nah, I don’t want to play at that club, that guy’s a dick,’ and then nothing gets done.”

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