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Sacramento's Metal Scene Is Keeping It Dark in the Golden State

Check out these 11 bands who are tearing it up on the west coast.

If anybody outside of the Golden State knows Sacramento, it's because of our almost-A-team basketball franchise or because they had to learn its name to pass a states-and-capitals test. Inside of California, it's more specifically known as a stagnant dumping ground for state workers and the rejects that couldn't hack it in Los Angeles or San Francisco. For the past ten years, it wouldn't be surprising if people thought the city's motto was, “I'm bored.” Of course, only boring people ever get bored. There's always something going on in our multi-faceted city, where almost every night you can hit the string of bars and venues on 21st Street or its smattering of cafes and punk houses to dig up slamming death, tech grind, symphonic fantasy, fuzzed-up psych, or heart-crushing doom—and that's if we're limiting it to metal. Part of what makes Sac's scene so interesting are the incredibly dissonant mindsets and agendas that foster all of this artistic diversity. The city is split between the suits who want Sac to be “world-class” and the down-and-out weirdos who thrive in jankiness. Outside of the contested downtown area, you hit nothing but open sprawls of agriculture and affluent suburbs, where pockets of money hide among swaths of low-grade housing with few meaningful social centers aside from schools, churches, and shopping malls. With generations of pressurization from capital political tensions, spreading poverty, suburban voids, and garden variety cow-town shaming come artistic outrage and nihilistic resistance—qualities that make for an incredibly deep hardcore and metal scene. You're likely aware of some Sacramento bands, metal and otherwise: Dance Gavin Dance, Tesla, Death Grips, Deftones, Cake, Trash Talk, etc. And as these bands get bigger and ditch us for supposedly greener pastures, the scene moves on without them. The profile of Sacramento metal continues to rise, with more and more touring major acts deciding to pass through instead of hitting the Bay and skipping up to Portland for the next show, the norm for many years. In 2015 alone, the city's hosted bands such as Yob, Weedeater, Sabbath Assembly, Incantation, Down, In Flames, False, Wayfarer, Arabrot, Agalloch, Big Business, Ufomammut, Samothrace, Witch Mountain, and Jucifer, and it will soon host Saxon, Blind Guardian, Goatsnake, Primitive Man, Acid King, Watain, and Mayhem—just to name a few. Anaal Nathrakh went so far as to launch their North American tour here, outright passing on the Bay (and trust, that Monday night crowd absolutely raged). Below are some examples of the sort of bands you'll find tearing shit up in the greater Sacramento area.



The band formerly known as Church is one of those whole-package doom bands, much like Yob or Pallbearer, in that they aren't just another group picking apart the corpse of Black Sabbath and trotting out the same old ideas. Chrch aggressively expands the doom vocabulary while holding to the fundamentals: their music is loaded with rocking riffs, looping drones, vocals both snarling and gentle and compositions that bludgeon you under deadening weight before lifting you up in soaring swells. Their music is as fragile as it is devastating. Above all else, they're overwhelmingly loud in that way that rattles your molecules. Their first release, Unanswered Hymns, received widespread acclaim in the underground doom scene and have been killing it ever since, scoring invitations to open for bands such as Bongripper and Pentagram.


Somebody's gotta write ripping songs about horny werewolves, and thankfully, we've got the fantastical Graveshadow to fill that niche with symphonic metal and some splashes of thrash. Taking notes from bands like Blind Guardian, Hammerfall, and Nightwish, Graveshadow drives hard with chugging palm mutes that lead into way-up-there choruses. Imagine choirs of fallen angels wailing on guitars while dark mages pound keys, and you'll start to understand Graveshadow.

Will Haven

Born from the wreckage of a failed hardcore band, Will Haven's got that can't-fuck-with-this attitude coupled with an absolutely vicious guitar tone and driving, droning riffs. They're similar to Deftones, except much heavier, and much darker. (The two bands have toured together and collaborated frequently, lest we forget that the Deftones are also a Sacto product.) Their latest album, Open the Mind to Discomfort, cranks up the band's density of tone to delve into lower depths while splicing in tracks of more open and atmospheric sounds of gloom, creating a feeling akin to the way blurry acts of violence play out in your dreams.


Conducting From the Grave

Conducting From the Grave makes metal for the ADD-addled, with lots of twitchy high-speed riffs and frequent timing changes interjected with slamming breakdowns and shredding solos. A blend of metalcore and technical death, the band's been on a challenging path of refinement for ten years—beyond their many lineup changes, they were signed early by Sumerian Records, then became disenfranchised with the industry and dropped that deal to launch a highly successful Kickstarter campaign to independently produce their self-titled third album. Most recently, they decided to revisit their past and recorded an outright redo of their first release, Trials of the Forsaken.


Sacramento's scene has a good amount of women involved, and they all really come out for the nastiest, most demonic shit. Fittingly, three women have come together and formed one of the stand-out black metal bands in the area (and they've only been around a few months to boot). Their name roughly translates to “Night of the Mothers,” an evening near the Winter Solstice when women in trios would engage in copious amounts of pagan sacrifice. Modraniht plays old-school first-wave black metal that de-emphasizes constant blast beats in favor of shredding atmosphere. Of all major metal genres, black metal gets the thinnest representation out here, but with time, Modraniht could be the sign of a coming revolution under the black mark.


Battle Hag

It would be easy to call Battle Hag's music doom, given its weight, low tempo, and growling vocals, but it's an incomplete description. The band members prefer the term “shamanic,” but you could also get away with making comparisons to seafaring tunes (though not Viking metal or its worthless cousin, pirate metal). The Hag stomps through hypnotic rhythms overlaid with lulling riffs, the entrancing effect strengthened by the indelible fatness of the guitar tones. Plus, the hooks are just too tasty: There's no way you won't have the lead from “The Book of Thoth” stuck in your skull for the next few days.

Embodied Torment

Sometimes only the most vicious, disgusting shit will do. Embodied Torment brings brutal death at its nastiest while managing to incorporate some elements of dark atmosphere in between the utterly vile slam sessions. While the more extreme death bands of note in the area, such as the Kennedy Veil and AlterBeast, tend to focus on the tech side of the genre, Embodied Torment digs into the guts instead. Visceral, chugging, and gurgly as all get-out, Embodied Torment grinds out short, vicious tracks balanced with more conceptual epics that weave delicate guitar work into sheer monoliths of brutality.


It can't be buzzsaws and tortured screams all of the time, right? The near-fusion jazz approach of Flub serves not just as a great palate cleanser, but also as a captivating example of how to blend genres without getting too messy about it. In one moment, Flub evokes master shredders like Joe Satriani while chugging their way into tech death breakdowns, and in the next, they're slipping in the bassline from the dungeon theme from the first Legend of Zelda—and then busting that tune out in full as soon as you've caught on. And how many metal bands have you heard that incorporate the xylophone and still manage to kick ass?


If none of these bands have been blasphemous enough for you, don't worry. Just look to the guys in the black/death murderfest Defecrator for your unholy fix of pummeling low-fi sickness. Formed from the remains of local black metal mainstay Killgasm (check out that band's last album before they hit a hiatus, A Stab in the Heart of Christ), Defecrator doesn't give a single fuck about anything aside from making your ears feel unclean. And with band members taking on names like “Abhorrent Orgy Ejaculator of the Dead” and “Anti-Human Unholy Sexslayer of Hate,” you know there's gotta something good going on here.


Peace Killers

The urge to hit the highway and crank some heavy as hell tunes dredged from the bedrock of rock and blues never dies, and to that end, the Peace Killers satisfy those needs perfectly. A stoner metal band's take on the classic riffage of 70s rock, Peace Killers slay the stage with deep tones, grooving rhythm, and white-hot solos that pay proper homage to the freaks that brought us the fuzz in the first place. Above all else, Andrew Harrison's soulful vocals remind us that metal wasn't always about trying to scare the shit out of you. For everybody who's ever loved headbanging alongside your denim-wearing, big-haired significant other with whiskey sours in hand, this one's for you.

Bog Oak

Looking for a quicker pulse to change up your usual low-and-slow doom? Bog Oak moves at whatever pace it wants, miring itself in eerie chants and grinding tones on songs like “A Sea Without Shore” and absolutely rips into driving beats and snarling savagery on tracks like “The Resurrection of Animals.” The band has yet to release an album, but its EP A Treatise on Resurrection and the Afterlife earned them high praise and a decent amount of attention—not only has Bog Oak been featured on CVLT Nation for their music, but they were also chosen to cover “Holy Mountain” for the website's cover sessions for Sleep's Holy Mountain.

Anthony Siino is a writer based in Sacramento. Follow him on Twitter - @AnthonySiino