Rocket Queen: Speak No Evil

“Instru-metal” comes to Capitol Hill, and ZZ Top screens in West Seattle.

When it comes to metal, vocal presence is a particularly tricky piece of the puzzle. Metal is dramatic by nature, so it follows that whoever's fronting the show needs to have big balls and a knack for theatrics—requirements that can go to horribly hilarious or unlistenable places quite quickly. The term "Cookie Monster vocals" exists for unfortunate and valid reasons.It's not surprising, then, that some of the most widely respected metal bands forgo vocals altogether. "Instru-metal" acts like Pelican, Mono, Explosions in the Sky, and Red Sparowes are attracting a cross-section of punk, metal, and jazz fans who appreciate sprawling soundscapes, methodically-built arrangements, and elephantine heaviness.The Chicago-based Russian Circles has released one of 2009's best albums in this flourishing "instru-metal" subgenre. Their third record, Geneva, was released in CD format on Seattle's Suicide Squeeze label earlier this month (Portland label Sargent House released the vinyl version), instantly garnering widespread critical kudos and helping fuel a tour that will bring the band to Neumos on Wed., Nov. 18, where they'll be joined by like-minded acts Helms Alee and Young Widows.Speaking by phone last week while midway between Dallas and Houston, Russian Circles bassist Brian Cook was looking forward to hitting Austin's hardcore and metal-centric Fun Fun Fun Fest this past weekend. Cook, a freelance music journalist who also plays in Seattle's These Arms Are Snakes and calls the Northwest home, managed to connect with Russian Circles guitarist Mike Sullivan and drummer Dave Turncrantz when they came to town last year to record their second record, Station, at Red Room Studios with producer Matt Bayles. They had just parted ways with their bass player, and through the recommendation of Bayles and a network of mutual friends, Cook stepped in as a temporary replacement, eventually joining the band permanently.Much of what makes Cook's contribution so valuable is outright tastefulness. He never overplays his hand, literally or figuratively, which ultimately results in a more concentrated, powerful low end. "I think when I first started playing with them, I had sort of busier bass lines," he admits. "But there are already a few layers going on, so to insert an additional countermelody doesn't really make sense. It seemed more important to reinforce what [Sullivan and Turncrantz are] doing."Northwest filmmaker Jamie Chamberlin has charted a colorful career trajectory himself, from film school in Vancouver, B.C., and undergrad work at Evergreen State College to time in the Los Angeles trenches working for Fox on a testosterone-laden program called The X Show. There, while producing segments involving power tools, rock 'n' roll, and cars, Chamberlin met ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons in 2001. A fast friendship formed, and Chamberlin made Gibbons the subject of his first independent feature, a documentary called Rock and Roll Gearhead: 4 Days With Billy F. Gibbons."Out of all the performers and talent and rock people I met at the time, Billy's the only one I created a real friendship with," says Chamberlin on a recent drizzly day from his Alki Beach home.At Gibbons' invitation, Chamberlin spent time on the road with ZZ Top during their 2008 tour, filming shows and capturing the band candidly backstage. "The more I followed [Gibbons] around, the more I realized it would be a good festival film," says Chamberlin. There was also the added incentive of a lack of ZZ Top documentation: Despite the Texas band's 40-year career, very little live footage exists."Almost all video that had been shot of the band had been destroyed," explains Chamberlin. "It was in a warehouse, and an assistant didn't know what it was and ended up throwing it out."Chamberlin has received the green light to release Double Down, a double-DVD set that includes his film and a heavily bootlegged concert from 1980, now remastered. Catch two free screenings of the film this Thursday, 7 & 10 p.m., at the Feedback Lounge (6451 California Ave. S.W. in West Seattle). Chamberlin will be in attendance.rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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