BLOOD CEREMONY with MANIAC, PERMAFROWN and OLD WITCH at the Boat (158 Augusta), tonight (Thursday, December 6), 9 pm. $6. 416-593-9218. Rating: NNNNN
Autumn leaves are scattering across the graveyard, and the sky looks ominously dark for the early afternoon. As we follow the winding pathway deeper into the Necropolis cemetery, it grows quieter and more still. Save for the presence of nefarious black-cloaked witch, it feels as though we've just walked into the cover shot for Black Sabbath's debut album.
I'm with Blood Ceremony's Sean Kennedy and Jeremy Finkelstein in the 150-year-old cemetery. The scene suits them. The local doom rockers make no bones about whose rock altar they worship at - they're Sabbath heads full-tilt.
"I don't feel bad ripping off Sabbath because that's where metal came from," says Kennedy, tucking a lock of blond hair behind his ear. "Some of our riffs are pretty Sabbath-y, but there's another band that we rip off more, Pentagram. And with the flute we're leaning on Jethro Tull pretty heavily, too."
Vocalist/frontwoman Alia O'Brien and her fluttering flute give Blood Ceremony a mystical, medieval vibe reminiscent of early Tull. Although once said instrument enters the forum of heavy metal, there aren't many other bands you can reference.
But the melodic flute focus is what separates Ceremony from a zillion weed-hazed dudes blasting Iommi riffs. It gives their otherwise gloom-drone occult rock a heightened sense of drama, imagery and femininity, something sorely lacking in most metal.
"We [started] as a sludge band, and it was kinda of a joke," recalls Kennedy. "But I took it seriously. Then a couple of years later, Alia came down with her flute. I talked her into playing some mystical forest stuff for one song, and it sounded better than all our other songs."
Considering most of BC come from indie rock backgrounds (No Dynamics, Rozasia), their pronounced penchant for the Roger Corman-type camp of wizards and magic forests might raise a few irony-suspicious eyebrows. However, Blood Ceremony play both the metal club circuit and hangouts of smirking indie set, and say they're starting to see sincere "air fluters" in both scenes.
"Indie rock is always trying to come away from form," explains Finkelstein. "They see us and we're giving them something that they don't usually get.
"When I listened to this music when I was 13, 14, I couldn't play it because it would be laughed at. At this point in time, people still question it, maybe laugh at it, but less so. The fact that we've been successful at shows, I think we've got lucky in that sense."
Some of that good fortune has rubbed off on their upcoming self-titled debut. Originally slated for an early December release, the disc is currently in the hands of San Fran heavy rock specialist Billy Anderson (Neurosis, Sleep) for retouching as Ceremony sorts out their label arrangements.
Surveying the Necropolis's weathered stone monoliths, its Gothic arched gates and chiselled dedications to loved ones, Finkelstein comes up with some special arrangements for their upcoming record.
"I always wanted speakers next to my tombstone," he says, grinning, "just playing the ultimate mix forever. "
Additional Interview Audio Clips
The legend of Tony Iommi
Metal scene versus indie scene
Working with producer Pete Hudson
Utter the words "Jethro Tull" to a Metallica fan and you'll likely get a venomous reaction. One of the biggest upsets in Grammy history, the Tull dropped jaws in 88 by stealing the best hard rock/metal statue for their featherlight Crest Of A Knave. So sure of losing, the band didn't even attend. Metallica, meanwhile, having just performed One, were side-stage rehearsing speeches when the shocker was announced. A torrential outpouring of critical disbelief prompted JT to respond with an advert depicting a flute, iron bars and a proclamation: "The flute is a heavy metal instrument."