Heavier Than Heaven: Oakland metal heavyweights Saviours prepare to assault St. Louis with crushing music, while a new Golden Smog greatest hits CD highlights the best of the rootsy supergroup

Placing a phone call to Austin Barber, vocalist and guitarist for the Oakland quartet Saviours, can be off-putting. After a few rings, his voicemail greeting comes on, a recorded clip of a hillbilly-sounding guy ranting, possibly about gold. It's utterly creepy, hard to shut off, and goes on forever.

"Oh, that's Charles Manson," Barber later says, finally lucid after twelve hours of sleep caught on his band's tour bus as it rumbles through endless Texas.

Um, it's really long — and disturbing.

Golden Smog: A side project to be taken very, very seriously.
Allen Clark/Courtesy of Rykodisc
Golden Smog: A side project to be taken very, very seriously.
Saviours: "We won't go on tour with, like, Trivium or some bullshit fucking metal band."
Saviours: "We won't go on tour with, like, Trivium or some bullshit fucking metal band."

"Oh, killer! I try to deter people from actually leaving messages." He delivers this sentiment deadpan, but his knowing wink is almost audible. Saviours plays serious, heavy music, but with a laughing awareness of squares' notions of metal stereotypes — and the bands that, without that self-awareness, fit them. Both, to Saviours, are bullshit. As are any kinds of geographical or scene classifications. The band is, in its own word, just devoted to all things "gnarly."

"A lot of people, especially when we do interviews, say, 'What's up with the Bay Area? You all have this evil fucking vibe,'" Barber says. "I just think living in Oakland makes you play gnarly music. It's a dark, nasty place."

Still, Saviours have a knack for heading up certain identifiable waves of ultra-underground rock. In the late '90s, most of the band members were in Yaphet Kotto, a spastic outfit named in honor of the American actor and crown prince of Cameroon. While barely known outside crusty circles, that band was revered by fervent fans for its lung-collapsing, knock-you-on-your-ass brand of hardcore. Now, as Saviours, the band is one of a few to explore a sludgier, slower sound, along with acts like Annihilation Time and High on Fire.

Those eventually coalesced into the band's 2006 debut album, Crucifire. That eight-song record boasted all the essential elements of quality heavy noise. First there was the band's logo — scratchy, angular and reminiscent of the crotch-grabbing power of the classic late '70s. There was the transgressive cover art, featuring a prostrate female slumped backward over some kind of altar, in front of an ankh plaque and candles. Then, of course, there were the riffs — pounding, but still fast enough to almost be punky, with the blunt force of a "new wave of British heavy metal" outfit like Motörhead.

It didn't dovetail neatly with anything in either the punk-offshoot rock scenes or with the purist metal microgenres, which didn't trouble them at all.

"We have no fucking desire to do anything but be ourselves. Sure, everyone says that, but we won't go on tour with, like, Trivium or some bullshit fucking metal band," Barber says. "Well, we always have a pretty mixed crowd. A lot of gnarly, dirty heshers show up to see us, and then kids in sweaters.... We like to be with just our bros and bands we like and respect, and put out records with people we fucking trust and want to do us right. We got a rad team going, and we couldn't be happier."

In fact, Saviours love Kemado, the indie imprint that released the band's sophomore album, Into Abbadon — not least because the label suggested the band record with producer Joe Barresi, revered by stoner-rock fans for his work with bands like Kyuss, the Melvins, the Jesus Lizard and even Tool.

Working with Barresi, Barber says, "every day was fucking magical. If you have good songs, he's gonna make them sound fucking awesome." Above all, he pushed for truth in the sound, and his influence is noticeable on Abbadon. Whereas before, Barber's vocals were often mired in reverb, the guitars bathed in artificial distortion, here they're crisper. But rather than sound too clean, the songs' pure tones come through more urgently; as a result, they sound heavier. "You can hide behind a lot of shit when you're making music," Barber says, "but his fucking approach is exactly how music should be made."
Arielle Castillo

9 p.m. Friday, October 3. The Bluebird, 2706 Olive Street. $10 21-plus, $13 under 21. All-ages. No phone. www.bluebirdstl.com.

Golden Years
Golden Smog takes its name from a little-known Flintstones character and spent its early days playing ironic classic-rock covers in smoke-filled, beer-soaked Minneapolis dive bars, which means it's sometimes misconstrued as a goofball supergroup. But Stay Golden, Smog: The Best of Golden Smog — a recent eighteen-song retrospective cataloguing the band's nearly twenty years of collaboration — is a quick reminder that although this loose collective always knows how to have a good time, they've never held anything back when it comes to the music. B-Sides recently had a chance to chat with Smog (and Jayhawks) bassist Marc Perlman about the band's history, approach and usual lack of planning for the future.

B-Sides: A lot of people out there might know about the Jayhawks or Soul Asylum or Wilco, but maybe don't know a whole lot about Golden Smog. How did this band with so many talented musicians come together?

Marc Perlman: There really is no definitive answer, because if you talk to each one of us, you'll probably get a different story — which is half the fun. I mean, this is Minneapolis, and you had a lot of us who were just around the same age and musical background. And when you're not busy with your own band, it's not that hard to just throw something together with your friends in town. That happens a lot here. Golden Smog was just one of those things that happened to keep going.

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