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Sharp Darts: Please Scare Me

Indian has all the menace you could want from a metal band.

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Even at their most relaxed and outgoing, the guys in Indian are still pretty fucking intimidating. When I walk into their practice space for our interview, they invite me to help myself to a Heineken from the well-stocked mini fridge by the door, but then guitarist Dylan O'Toole and bassist Ron Defries each sit down in a corner at the other end of the room, backed up against a head-high black wall of amplifiers. They point me to a chair in front of the trap kit, about as far as it's possible to be from either of them given all the gear in the room. Drummer Bill Bumgardner is sitting behind the kit, poking around in a dugout box with a one-hitter and apparently uninterested in the proceedings. It's hard to remember what question I wanted to ask first. Without plucking a string or even standing up, Indian can give off the kind of menacing vibe most metal bands achieve only in the deepest moments of their sets.

I know I'm projecting a bit because I've seen Indian's live show, a five-alarm hellstorm of doom that's made fans out of Minsk, Raise the Red Lantern, Yakuza, Sweet Cobra, and pretty much every other notable heavy band in town. And their new second album—the vinyl-only Slights and Abuse, on the local metal label Seventh Rule—is so deeply, irresistibly evil that it's made me a slave to its incomprehensible wickedness, like some creeping horror out of a Lovecraft story. Even if they were the warmest of dudes in person, I'm sure I'd still be a little on edge.

But of course they're not the warmest of dudes. In fact they're really intense. O'Toole and Defries have been in the same practice space for around eight years—Bumgardner, the latest and probably last in a long line of Indian drummers, joined in 2005—but they say they played together for two and a half years before they started doing shows. That doesn't seem too extreme until they tell me they spent most of that time getting their guitar and bass tones just right—buying different instruments, amps, and processors and then getting rid of them, fiddling with the settings on everything, even learning how to do their own maintenance and repair work. A lot of great bands have formed, had fruitful careers, and broken up in less time than it took these guys to decide they were happy with their rigs.

Not that it's been wasted labor—doom metal is all about getting a sound so heavy and deep you'd swear it was bending space-time, and that's not something you can do with a Guitar Center starter kit. Plus Indian ask their gear to do a lot. O'Toole and Defries—despite a mutual dedication to the band that spurs them to practice almost every day—still have wildly different ideas about what it should sound like, and as a result their music jumps between modes so disparate it'd be tempting to call it bipolar if it weren't all so unrelentingly grim. Defries likes his songs slow, sludgy, and suffocating, while O'Toole prefers his thrashy and compact. Slights and Abuse gives equal time to each. The B side is one long track reminiscent of amp worshippers like Om and Sunn 0))), whose patient, slow-motion riffs and skull-fucking shamanistic drones have earned them an audience among indie rockers with little prior metal experience. (The band wrote the song in collaboration with Sterling, and members of Sterling have joined Indian to play it onstage, but they didn't make it to the recording session.) On the A side are three servings of punishing, hardcore-inflected metal reminiscent of His Hero Is Gone and Eyehategod, whose crusty, misanthropic tunes are popular pretty much solely with crusty misanthropes. "Ron hates shit like that," says O'Toole.

According to O'Toole the album is a condemnation of mindless submission and service, specifically the "comatose way in religion of thinking toward doing something faith based, certainly in a sense where there aren't really tangible reasons behind the dedication or sacrifice." I suggest that listeners might have a hard time teasing this theme out of the songs, given that there's no lyric sheet and O'Toole sings in an inhuman death-metal shriek—his words aren't exactly, you know, intelligible. "They aren't to the untrained ear," he answers levelly.

To the untrained ear, the record sounds like pain—and as it turns out, there are some distressingly literal reasons for that. We're talking about the process of recording the album when Defries tells me out of nowhere that two weeks before the session, "Bill got sick—he got his balls swole because he got an infection." Bumgardner jumps in and takes over. "The fever went away," he says, "and it caught in one side of my bloodstream and all settled in my right testicle and it swole up like a grapefruit. I had to record that fuckin' album with my... just elephantitis. It was horrible." Everyone knew he was hurting, and it suffused the sessions with an uncomfortable tension. "I like it," O'Toole says, "because it adds to the negative vibe of really what our music should be and is supposed to be about."

Slights and Abuse is 28 minutes long—a full-length by many bands' standards—but it's really only half an album. A companion LP, Sycophant, is due out in February, and Seventh Rule plans to release both on a single CD around the same time. (Indian is nonetheless playing a release party for Slights this Saturday at the Hideout.) Sycophant will invert the theme of Slights to focus on serving oneself instead of a larger social organism, echoing ideas from Nietzche and LaVey that many a metalhead has found inspirational.

A themed double album sounds like the type of project a band would have to talk its label into, but the way O'Toole tells it, Scott Flaster from Seventh Rule actually goaded Indian into the project. "He had a real vision, and what I liked about it is that he was fighting for it. I argued about that, saying all I could give 'em was 40 minutes—I didn't want to give 'em an hour—and ya know, we've gone back and forth about this concept." He pauses. "I like the way that he deals with me and our relationship is a good one. And we're a band that doesn't have a lot of positive relationships."v

For more on music, see our blogs Crickets and Post No Bills at chicagoreader.com.

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