But is it metal?

Pub date August 13, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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Judgement Day has all the makings of a classic superhero: gritty back-story, freakish features, and extraordinary powers. And for a mutant that’s half-string quartet, half-power trio, this triple threat of violin, cello, and drums turns out to be mighty tough.

Dude, seriously, though. Violins are soft. Drums are loud. Is this going to work? Bowed string instruments have put down anchor in a spectacular variety of musical cultures, but aside from Rasputina and Apocalyptica, metal is still relatively undiscovered country — until you’ve watched the Oakland trio’s collection of eccentrically creepy YouTube entries. In the mini-horror flick Out of the Abyss (2007), the violin screams and dives over an utterly ruinous wall of thumping, sawing cello while zombies threaten to overturn the Marshall stacks. With a forthcoming second album in the can and plenty of tour miles supporting folks like Mates of State already behind them, it’s hard to imagine a rock venue Judgement Day can’t annihilate.

Just because these lads can rock 100 watts, though, doesn’t mean they can’t play a Stradivarius, straight up. This year’s self-released EP, Opus 4 Acoustic — the followup to their first full-length, Dark Opus (self-released, 2007) — shows JD doesn’t rely on sheer volume or slick production to achieve Yngwie-worthy intensity.

What to call this deviant half-breed? "We call it string metal," says violinist Anton Patzner. "But it’s a little bit debatable whether it’s metal." Lewis Patzner, Anton’s younger brother and the band’s furious low end, remembers when "a big metalhead came up to me after the show and was like, ‘Yeah, man, that’s metal! You play metal chords, metal rhythms — that’s metal.’<0x2009>" Yet Anton remembers another fan who saw things differently: "’Your music is sooo beautiful,’ she said. ‘It’s definitely not metal.’<0x2009>"

For the Patzners and drummer Jon Bush, pushing the limits of their instruments and their own virtuosity, hopefully taking a totally psyched audience along for the ride, is more important than impressing the poseur police. "When we play rock music," Anton says, "I’m not trying to copy metal riffs note for note from the guitar." Lewis agrees: "I’m really trying to capture the intention and then translate that to my instrument. It comes out better that way…. Honesty is a really important quality."

And if there’s any tradition Judgement Day is truly born of, it seems, it’s that of the passionate but savvy professional musician. The Patzners’ parents, not surprisingly, are pro performers and educators — and, full disclosure, my former teachers — who "emphasized the importance of being able to play other musical styles, because they understand the reality of trying to make a living."

For Anton, back in the day, that meant hitting the streets of Berkeley with his fiddle, making tips while working on his chops. When Lewis tagged along one day with his cello, Anton recalls, "I didn’t really know what to do, so we started playing metal, and it was a hit." With shout-outs to other "off-center" bands like Thrips, Judgement Day hasn’t outgrown those roots, thriving among industry-shunning, genre-defying DIYers that populate the Bay and the nation. Yeah, man, that’s metal.


With Geographer and Cotillion

Sun/17, 9 p.m., $10

Café Du Nord

2170 Market, SF