It's an unusually mild August night and Maleveller will take the stage at The Double Wide shortly after midnight. The show is celebrating the release of the band's debut self-titled full-length. In attendance are a number of friends, fans and bar regulars. But what's noticeable right away is that this is probably the only Dallas-based metal band that this crowd will show up to see.
The people in attendance are from different walks of life, with different approaches to musical appreciation. These are indie-rock fans, metalheads and scenesters — and they're all under one roof, with heads ready to bang. But how does a crowd like this come together? In many ways, it's just what happens when four guys who aren't firmly entrenched as metal performers come together and form a metal band.
A few years ago, as their band Pegasus Now was falling apart during the making of an album, guitarist Brian Smith and drummer T.J. Prendergast found themselves talking about their shared love for classic heavy metal. Their admiration wasn't just for epochal records by Slayer or Metallica, but for records like At the Gates's Slaughter of the Soul and Carcass's Heartwork — records, they realized, that not many outside of serious metal fandom know or care to know about.
Both had played metal before — but that was eons ago. Still, after their conversation, they were reinvigorated by their roots, inspired to create something new based off of those influences. It just seemed logical.
"I was actually really uninspired with where I was at musically before we started doing this," Smith says. "I was running out of writing ideas and things like that. When we started doing this, it took me a minute to revisit some of my techniques on the guitar. Once I started writing, it was the most prolific thing I had done. Maybe in my whole life."
Given how Pegasus Now was a multi-layered pop rock act, metal was probably the furthest thing from what Smith and Prendergast had been playing. Nonetheless, they wanted to take their new effort seriously. They bought new equipment more suited for the style. They wrote. They practiced. And, sure, the guys could have taken the piss out of metal by forming a tongue-in-cheek, irony-drenched band. But that's not what happened when Maleveller formed. The new band is metal through and through, albeit from a somewhat different perspective.
Consider it a ripple effect of how Atlanta's Mastodon gained worldwide fame and critical praise in the last decade for their progressive and less straightforward approach to the genre. The members of Maleveller readily acknowledge as much; although they say they're not aiming to become the next Mastodon, they concede that the band's Blood Mountain album gave them an extra kick in the ass to approach the genre as they saw fit.
With bassist Luke Harnden and former Max Cady guitarist Jeff Biehler in tow, Maleveller's material started to take shape, and, most important, it started to do so without the genre earmarks that most non-metal fans mock. Credit Biehler and Harnden for that; both came from bands where they wanted to infuse more of a metal influence into their sound, only to end up rebuffed and frustrated. Through introductions and mutual friends, they found kindred spirits in Prendergast and Smith.
These days, Maleveller is a band that tries to be different, but without trying too hard.
"There are a lot of metal bands that are out there just to punch you in the face," Biehler says. "We're out there to make pretty music and melodies more so than trying to punch you in the face."
He has a point. North Texas has always boasted its fair share of metal bands, the bulk of which simply aim to blow speakers. Maleveller wants to change that.
"There's definitely a grindcore scene and a generic metal scene," Harden says. "But there's not a lot a whole of people really pushing boundaries of what they can do with that sound. So, I think what we're doing is a little atypical."
Very much so, actually. Smith's vocals don't sound particularly "metal." His shouts don't sound like he's scaling operatic heights, reacting to a cattle prod poke in his back or aiming to mimic Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Hearing the band's material, especially "The Endless Run" and "Dead Horizon," the riffs are what grabs you.
"We're all music fans," Biehler says. "We all love metal more than anything in the world, but we also love good music. That's another thing we all have in common."
Indeed: This is a band that talks about singer-songwriters like Richard Hawley and Elliott Smith with as much reverences as they do Mayhem and Anthrax. This kind of approach is a major reason why the band worked on material for a year before they played a show. They even went so far as to decline show offers, mainly because Prendergast didn't think they were ready yet. The decision would prove to be valuable.
"For us to introduce this band to Dallas and try to present ourselves as this serious band, it wasn't a joke," Prendergast says. "It was really important to get it down first, and then we'll worry about shows. I feel like every band I've been in, you get a couple of songs under your belt and you're really excited and anxious to play."
But Prendergast himself didn't want to go through what he had been through before with previous bands, when members had promoted the shit out of their band in its infancy stage.
"We just wanted to be a good band and not worry about getting the hype machine going," he says.
Thing is, the band's buzz caught quickly around town regardless.
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Randall Zimmerman heard about the band through friends. Under his Battle Flag Records moniker, he helped birth the band's debut full-length — and get the band known throughout the country in the process. During his travels with his job at the ticket company Prekindle, he'd pass copies of the band's EP out. He even helped the band get a show in Austin. He continues to help to this day, manning the merch table and handling promotional duties.
"The thing that's great about this band is that they've gone and built a fan base in such an organic way," Zimmerman says. "It's almost like in the mid-'80s when you'd hear about a band through a fanzine."
With this kind of support system behind them, Maleveller is at a stage where they're open to, within reason, playing shows beyond Dallas. And while they swear they're not rushing things, they're not exactly wasting time either.
"We're all willing to sacrifice quite a bit to see it happen," Harnden says. "Naturally, we have to make concessions. But we're all in it to do it to its full potential."