Closing In (Matador), the full-length debut from EARLY MAN, passes over contemporary extreme-metal subgenres in favor of classic headbanger stuff like Celtic Frost, Black Sabbath, and Mercyful Fate, not to mention Diamond Head and some other NWOBHM acts. Guitarist and vocalist Mike Conte has known drummer Adam Bennati since they were kids in Columbus, Ohio, playing together in a Minor Threat cover band, and when they reunited in Brooklyn in 2003 Conte was already working out some of the material that would become Closing In with a four-track and a drum machine. They recorded both discs as a duo, and I get the impression their style evolved at least partly out of necessity. Remember that scene in The Buddy Holly Story where Buddy explains to a producer that the Crickets' songs are arranged to sound good without the usual Nashville string-section treatment? Conte's songwriting likewise shores up the sonic gaps that'd ordinarily make a two-man metal band pale in comparison to a full four- or five-piece lineup. He keeps the solos to a minimum, and wherever you'd expect one he drops in a melodic guitar-and-vocal hook ("Thrill of the Kill," which showcases his tuneful, refreshingly nonridiculous singing style, is especially catchy) or some overwhelming string-throttling noise ("Raped and Pillaged" in particular benefits from a sinister surging-lava sound and a gigantic chunka-chunka pattern). But Conte and Bennati have added a bassist and a second guitarist since recording, and I'm psyched to hear what they can do with that extra firepower. --J. Niimi
THE SWORD's Age of Winters seemed like it'd make a great alternate sound track to Conan the Barbarian--like the way you're supposed to watch The Wizard of Oz while you listen to The Dark Side of the Moon--but it turns out the combo isn't particularly trippy. You don't get, for instance, any cosmic lyric-to-action synchronicities--given the number of times Age of Winters mentions swords and battles, it can't really be called a coincidence that during some of them Conan is either holding a sword or hurting someone with it. So what do you get? A huge, stupid guy beating the hell out of people for no reason worth explaining while a bunch of other guys make huge, stupid metal for reasons that aren't worth worrying about. Which is to say, fuck yeah. --Miles Raymer
Early Man headlines; Priestess, the Sword, and the Black open. Sat 3/4, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8 in advance, $10 at the door.