Heavily Nightshades

Posted October 9, 2008 in Music

“Dway-lee, dwall, dee-whale . . . those are the most popular variations on our name,” laughs vocalist and bassist Travis Bartlett. So what is the correct pronunciation? Well, it’s just Dwale, dammit, rhymes with whale. If you haven’t heard the name yet, you will soon. This metal trio—named after a medieval term for the deadly nightshade plant—has its roots in Riverside, but its poison is spreading fast.

There’s something that’s not easy to put a finger on when you listen to Dwale. But as soon as an aural assault like “Freemasonry” comes crashing in with Sherman Coleman’s cymbals and rolling bass pedal, Spencer Bartlett’s chugging riffs, and the Hetfield-meets-a-drill-sergeant vocal styling of Travis Bartlett, it becomes immediately clear that metal hasn’t been this, well, metal in a long time.

“We don’t limit ourselves to one genre of metal,” says Bartlett. And that’s pretty accurate actually—Dwale’s metal is more elastic, involving elements of thrash. Think Metallica, but think closer to Ride the Lightning than Load and Reload. Or Amon Amarth, as Dwale’s loose-cannon, wreck-your-neck thrashy side is simultaneously fitted with a background of epic and lofty ribcage-rumbling heaviness that sort of reminds you of the Swedish vikes. Dwale themselves describe it as “epic thrash metal.” Whatever it is, it’s gripping stuff.

A closer look at the three-piece helps to speak to their gonzo take on the metal genre. Ringleader Bartlett is 25, which is positively ancient next to his 17-year-old bandmates, drummer Sherman Coleman and guitarist Spencer Bartlett . . . both of whom are still in high school. In other words, don’t look for Dwale at Angel’s Sports Bar; some of them can’t get in. They’ve been together for about a year-and-a-half, and despite the age gaps they’ve found a creative nucleus. It seems metal doesn’t discriminate, but it does require some thick strings.

“For the first seven months after we started the band, we lacked a bass and I couldn’t sing—and some say I still can’t,” laughs Bartlett. But he took matters into his own hands, picked up the bass, and damn if he can’t shred and shout with gargoyle panache. Bartlett also plays the role of producer—and, when called upon, mediator. That’s because younger brother Spencer claims to be a fan of the “real brutal shit—black metal,” along the lines of Old Man’s Child and Gorgoroth. “But they [Travis and Sherman] just bag on it,” he says. Which brings everyone to Coleman, who is “bagged upon” mercilessly for his alleged admiration for Bullet for my Valentine.

Whatever their fetishes and guilty pleasures may be, the live show brings on tinnitus in the crowd. That’s because Dwale plays loud, they play with passion . . . and they mean business. And, like most things when business and art cross, they are contrarian in their pursuits.

“We are out to make a living—all that tour bus ego-shit aside. It’s not about the money. It’s about making a living.” First step towards that goal was in the release of their first EP, Atropa. The cover art alone invokes the look of foliage, as dwale is, after all, a plant—just as Atropa is another deadly nightshade. They like deadly nightshades like meerkats love scorpions. But they ultimately like writing strong songs better within that image, which means they’re smart when it comes to prioritizing.

“We don’t focus on increasing the ‘brutalness,’ we focus on making a better album,” says Bartlett. “Our dreams and ambitions are there, and we put our efforts toward learning how to chase them better. We want it to be obvious that we believe in it all the way and that nothing is half-assed. We don’t want to be known as a great metal band, we want to be known as a great band.”

Okay, Dwale isn’t so much an epic thrash metal band as it is a great band, got it—with a very aggressive sound and tons of upside and innumerable stories of backstage orgies . . . ha, right?

“We haven’t been playing long enough have any groupies stories,” says Bartlett. “It’s still about the music right now, unfortunately.”

We’ll just call them contrarian nightshade death metal, which is fairly easy to pronounce.

Dwale performs live at Friar Tucks, 540 E. Foothill Blvd., Pomona, (909) 625-7265, Friday, October 10, 11PM. Free Show!


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