In 1981, the same year as my birth and the inception of MTV, Philadelphia's WYSP became the first to call itself a "classic rock" radio station. I've always considered classic rock to be the music that was created long before my time—stuff my parents listened to. Heavy-hitting, guitar- dominated rock bands like Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Yes, and Led Zeppelin, all staples of the classic rock station repertoire, were considered very progressive in their time. They experimented with concepts, expanded their song structures, and fine-tuned their technical abilities. And though a majority of the stuff was made well over 30 years ago, when their music resonates from the speakers, it leads a vigorous and complex listening journey that's still totally breathtaking— as though you were just kicked square in the gut, repeatedly, on each and every note. Yeah, people don't make music like they used to. Or do they?
One such band that's giving the term "classic rock" a proverbial twist is the Portland, Ore.–based quartet Danava, meaning an "enemy of God" in Sanskrit. Some say they're a prog band. Others call them glam. Some even go as far as to call them psych-rock. So, what are they? They're kind of all of the above, plus hundreds of known and lesser-known rock sources that would read like an "essential" list for your characteristic record geek. (Black Sabbath meets T. Rex meets Blue Cheer meets Simply Saucer meets Queen meets Hawkwind meets Bowie.) Just don't call these "enemies of God" a metal band.
"The biggest misconception is that we're a metal band. I would never be so specific," says vocalist/guitarist/synth player Dusty Sparkles from a cell phone, prior to the first of two special N.Y.C. shows the band is doing to preview material from its forthcoming self-titled debut on New York–based indie label Kemado (home to Lansing-Dreiden, Elefant, and Dungen). "I grew up on heavy stuff, loving it. Stuff like Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World is something that's lost in music today. No one ever rams heavy rock into the ground."
Sparkles and drummer Buck Rothy, both small-town Illinois natives, began putting the pieces together in 2002, but the band wasn't fully realized until 2003, after they had moved to the Northwest and happened upon bassist Dell Blackwell, coincidentally another Illinoisan. (Synth player Rockwell is the band's sole native Oregonian.)
"I think people were annoyed by us for the longest time," says Sparkles. "We didn't expect people to give a shit."
But after three years of honing their chops, people are finally giving a shit, and for good reason. The band is as raw and rare as they come these days. Their new album, despite clocking in at a healthy 45 minutes, has only five songs. The leadoff track is "By the Mark," which was a standout on Kemado's stoner-rock-heavy compilation Invaders earlier this year. "By the Mark" tells the story of one man coming face-to-face with evils of the underworld. Backed by a fuzz-drenched guitar, spacey-synth treatments, chugging bass lines, and arty, hyperspeed drum fills, Sparkles casts a booming and damning lyric that climaxes at a point that most religious fanatics would find truly haunting: "We welcome your demeanor here, your hatred is our swan/We place the pox upon you, you're bounded by the mark/In sacrifice, your afterlife is drawn!"
At nearly 13 minute long, "Eyes in Disguise" is the album's highlight, with a couple synth's ramping up to the four-minute mark, when the band releases a bombastic surge of technical prowess, and a little touch of boogie. The album's closer, "Maudie Shook," is a look into the mind of an elderly woman on her deathbed who Sparkles encountered while working at a nursing home. Sings Sparkles: "In the south wing lies the bedlam, reduced to sighing, all alone/And though her face bears no expression, hear the tone, hear her moans."
"She scared the living shit out of me," he says. "She was kind of incapacitated, hanging on for her life. It's like, why?
"I'm really glad people are listening. Heavy rock is appeasing to me. Our songs just keep coming out like they do. We just let things happen. It's a pretty free-flowing energy. Until it runs out, we're going to keep going. As long as everyone is happy, we're going to do it," says Sparkles.
What if Danava don't last?
"You might still hear out of me. I might come out as Manava. The righteous man is the Manava."
Danava With Witchcraft and Mos Generator. Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave., 206- 784-4880. www.sunsettavern.com. $10. 9 p.m. Mon., Oct. 23.