Shortly before midnight on a Saturday in the U District, budding local metal band Throne of Bone sets up in the middle of the College Inn Pub, a subterranean watering hole more accustomed to hosting co-eds hunched over textbooks than roof-rattling rock shows. The occasion is a benefit for Clean Water for Haiti, the pet cause of Throne of Bone guitarist and College Inn barkeep Josh Patten. Local post-punk outfit Cold Lake has just played, and the rambunctious, enthusiastic audience is dotted with fellow metal musicians, including Heiress guitarist Josh Freer and several members of local metal trio Vultures 2012.
Throne of Bone With Wah Wah Exit Wound, Guns of Barisal. JewelBox Theater, Rendezvous, 2322 Second Ave., 441-5823, jewelboxtheater.com. $5. 21 and over. 10 p.m. Sat., March 20.
It sounds awful. The limitations of the P.A. and the low-ceilinged space make frontman Michael Freiburger's throaty, unearthly growl dissolve, muffled under the heat of his bandmates' frenetically paced playing. Nevertheless, the crowd collectively inches forward, snaking around the pool tables and scattered chairs to get a better hit of the band. Freiburger is nearly inaudible, but he's a compelling figure, benefiting aesthetically from beatific good looks that contrast with the dark, hooded robe half-obscuring his face. You don't expect an inverted crucifix to swing wildly around his neck, but there it is. It's difficult to pinpoint how such melodramatic costuming and auditory obstacles don't reduce Throne of Bone to a laughable cliché, but it all works. Bone is easily one of the most compelling metal bands playing in this city right now, and seems quite capable of reaching a broader audience, both outside their genre's typical fans and outside Seattle.
Sunshine sporadically spills through the windows of Freiburger's Central District rental house, two weeks after the band's College Inn set. A handmade chandelier of toy dolls greets visitors when they walk up on the front porch; an illustration of the Imperial probe droid from The Empire Strikes Back adorns one wall. His two obscenely animated Welsh corgis race circuitously around the room, occasionally bounding over the lap of bassist Billy Hamilton. Patten saunters in, burrito in hand, and immediately commandeers the stereo to cue up Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids."
Freiburger and Patten have been playing music together ever since Freiburger moved to Seattle from Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2004 and began playing kickball in the U District ("We were in the Turd Burglars, arch-nemesis of the Shit Kickers," boasts Freiburger) with Patten. Hamilton was recruited when he rode his bike by the game field one day and was verbally accosted by Freiburger and Patten.
"Within 10 minutes he had asked me if I wanted to play bass in a metal band," says Hamilton, who had been singing and playing bass in hardcore bands around the city since age 15. A collective interest in fasttempos was their initial meeting point, as was a desire to break familiar composition cycles.
"We don't play many leads; it's mainly riff-based," says Patten, explaining their approach. "The songwriting is the most important part." Freiburger's distinct vocals were honed in isolation in his hometown. " I learned how to get good at singing metal by screaming at the top of my lungs in the middle of the woods on the darkest, coldest nights in Alaska, using arcane magic to keep warm and absorbing the power of the Northern Lights swimming in the cosmos above me," he explains, matter-of-factly, while shooing the dogs upstairs.
Eschewing the typical music-first, lyrics-second approach of many rock bands, Freiburger's lyrical and charismatic presence is woven into their writing process early on. "A lot of times we'll start with an idea about the song or the energy of where it's going. I'll write lyrics based on that, and then we piece the song together. They're all fictional fantasies," he murmurs with a laugh.
What's also notable about Throne of Bone, outside of the frontman's earnest druid-esque persona and the band's fluid ability to shift from aggressive thrash onslaughts to more melodic detours and back to bowel-bashing doom, is their fondness for, and success with, playing in unconventional settings. In addition to the College Inn Pub, the band frequently surfaces at underground venues and house parties (including one recent Capitol Hill blowout that included a set from the incongruous, pop-oriented Rooftops), drawing an impressive crowd that includes an unusual mix of earnest indie-rock types, crusty punks, old-school classic rockers, and devout metalheads.
"We're not trying to single any [mainstream venue] out, but I think all of us really prefer to play house parties," says Patten. "A lot of people who seem to like our music aren't big metal fans either, and I think we've been able to reach more people that way. I think if we can play with bands like Rooftops and not necessarily play a five-band bill where everybody sounds the same, that we can reach more people that way."