Metal bands - especially black metal bands - take a lot of shit. They're cast off as rejects from a bygone era - in this case, the golden years of the early '90s - and get knocked for their presumably limited lyrical content (i.e. pain, gore, nihilism, references to wizards and the like). Needless to say, the word "positive" isn't an adjective normally associated with the genre and, truth be known, most of the bands couldn't care less anyway.
Chris Carrington, lead singer of Sarasota-based metalheads Byam Klavor, goes even further in his summary of black metal groups. "Most are racists who eat tons of meat and treat girls bad," he says, half-jokingly. Most, but not all. Some bands take up worthwhile causes. Take his, for example.
Byam Klavor's altruism has to do, in part, with The Locust, a Southern California band celebrated as much for their political ideals as their futuristic (and wholly un-mainstream) art-punk. They pass out free condoms and literature, courtesy of Planned Parenthood, at their shows; the renowned nonprofit even has booths set up outside The Locust's concerts.
Same with Byam Klavor. "Justin [Pearson, bassist for The Locust] hooked us up with that one," says Byam Klavor bassist/keyboardist Drew Goldii, an avowed fan of the group who, like his three bandmates (Carrington, lead guitarist Jason Jones and drummer Justin Reynolds), believes it's essential for every band, no matter who they are, to have a set of beliefs.
"That's what separates the men from the boys," adds Jones. Though earnest, Jones' statements are somewhat ironic, considering neither he nor any of the bandmates are yet 20 years old. It's also ironic because these, ahem, men parade onstage in makeup, fake blood and body armor.
Yes, body armor, ladies and gentlemen.
More on that in a minute. First, some history: high school friends Jones and Carrington started Byam Klavor in 2000 (or, as the band's bio states, at "the beginning of this self-destructive and morally unconscious millennium"). A succession of members followed - mostly people who wanted to play in the band but weren't necessarily committed to black metal, Carrington says - and only a few months ago the current lineup solidified with the addition of Goldii and Reynolds.
"We got lots of great shows real early," says Carrington, noting that by the time he and Jones were in the 10th grade, they'd already opened for death metal godfathers Deicide (in the fertile metal haven of Tampa, naturally). Byam Klavor's success grew; since those early days, they've released a demo (2002's Into the Wilderness), played on popular radio station WMNF-88.5 FM's underground metal show Cacophony, and performed sporadically at the Orpheum, Masquerade and Club Venom.
Blood-spitting and sword-wielding is, of course, an undeniable facet of the band's popularity. Onstage, Carrington - wearing a torn suede jacket he pillaged from the neighbor's trash (now bedecked with leather and spikes) - roars and howls in a guttural voice that belies his sensitive, minivan-driving offstage persona.
The rest of the band, wearing less elaborate costumes, thrash, spit and shred their way through songs with appropriately dark titles ("The Curse of Morgona" and "Wraith," to name a couple). By the time the show ends, the floor is enriched with red dye and corn syrup, and the audience, if they've stayed for the entire ride, feels richly rewarded.
"They're serious about black metal," says Ryan Hopewell, drummer for Sarasota-based hardcore act Towering Inferno. "But they get the irony of it too." The dreaded "i" word seems to come up often when other bands talk about Byam Klavor. It's understandable, to an extent. How serious are these guys, after all?
Hopewell, whose group has shared bills with Byam Klavor, is convinced that they're dead serious. As evidence, he describes a memorable show at the now defunct Club Therapy, where a human suspension - hooks pierced through some willing soul's back and then hoisted to the ceiling with chains - took place while Byam Klavor played. It was an appropriate soundtrack, it seems. Black metal, no matter what the implication behind it, just isn't black metal without pain and suffering.
Hearing about it now, having met the guys sans blood, sans makeup and sans self-mutilating guy swinging above the stage, the scene Hopewell describes seems completely implausible. These are, after all, guys who meet up for potluck dinners every week, and who work the same shitty jobs that most teenagers do. What's more, three of the members are vegetarians - not the carnivorous, wife-beating racists Carrington talked about when referring to most metal bands.
"We're definitely about being positive," says Jones. "We're not saying you have to be just like us, only that there's a different way to live."
Which brings up the band's name. Byam Klavor, pronounced "buy-um kluh-vor," is a Gaelic word translated as "feudal existence." Carrington came up with the moniker which, for him, is tied to the band's ethos. He explains: "Our songs are basically about how people are set in their ways. In the feudal system, most people worked these crappy jobs just to pay for a place to sleep, only so they could wake up and go back to their crappy jobs."
Goldii has said in an earlier interview that part of the appeal is in how the band's name is constantly mispronounced.
It kind of begs the question: what's the worst anyone's screwed up the band's name?
"Diam Clover was pretty sweet," says Jones.
Goldii chimes in. "Bombs Klazor was on a flyer once."
"Yeah," Jones responds. "But the best one though was Lions for the Lord. Lions for the Lord! That one was pretty good."