GLUECIFER 3/24, EMPTY BOTTLE This five-year-old Norwegian outfit has been signed to Sub Pop, which after years of floundering has decided to carve a niche for itself in trash rock. In preparation for its first full-length for the label, due in June, Gluecifer has issued an EP, Get the Horn, that samples tracks from their earlier albums Ridin' the Tiger (1997) and Soaring With Eagles at Night to Rise With the Pigs in the Morning (1998). All the tropes of the genre are here--from Danny Young's rapid-fire drum fills to Biff Malibu's three-note singing range to Raldo Useless and Captain Poon's vaguely Stoogeoid guitar sounds on the title track. Yet these guys sound oddly faceless, like they smashed up a pile of classic leather-pants vinyl and pieced together all the undistinctive parts. FREEDY JOHNSTON 3/24, MARTYRS' Freedy Johnston is the kind of cult hero who can cruise along for years on one of the less bloodthirsty majors, releasing album after respectable-selling album, never trendy but never embarrassingly unfashionable either. For his fans, he gets better and better all the time; for everyone else, he's just sort of there. His latest, Blue Days and Black Nights (Elektra), sure sounds lovingly put together, and theoretically I can see the appeal of his detailed images ("Empty shelves and lonely keys / Sounds so hollow when I shut the door," from "Moving on a Holiday") and slowly unfolding tunes. But I can't get beyond his wheedley singing voice. PETER SEARCY, FRANKIE MACHINE 3/24, HARD ROCK CAFE In the fledgling mid-80s alternative scene, there was plenty of room for bands like Squirrel Bait--maniacal and energetic, at least, even if they'd never be accused of excessive originality. But nowadays, when most of the great talents of that era have faded into shadows of their former selves (look, there's Paul Westerberg scratching at the window like the ghost of Catherine Linton), the second-stringers who still churn it out sound that much worse. Peter Searcy is a master of diminishing returns, fronting Squirrel Bait, then Big Wheel, then Starbilly, and on his 1999 solo album Could You Please and Thank You (Time Bomb) he sleepwalks through the sort of bland pseudoemotive alterna-rock only a sitcom producer could love. The first line of opener Frankie Machine's utterly empty AOR horror One (Mammoth) is "Do you wanna sell me?" Sure, but I don't know what used-CD store will give me more than a quarter. Just when you thought this package tour of up-and-trying-to-come acts (the bill also includes Neve) couldn't get any less appealing, you learn that it's sponsored by the Hard Rock Cafe and Jolly Rancher candies. APARTMENT 3/25, BIG HORSE When critics write that a band "defies categorization," it usually just means that the string of hyphens would be too ugly. The Chicago sextet Apartment fleshes out lyricist Caila Lipovsky's literary scatological and sexual texts and keyboardist Christine Heinisch's new-wave cabaret ditties with guitar, cello, drums, and tuba for a fractured, theatrical, and sometimes sinister (but not goth) stew of strident, witty art punk. MIKE & AMY FINDERS 3/25, NO EXIT On their second self-released CD, A Breeze Away From Gone, this happily married duo from Galena used a full band--percussion, violin, bass, banjo--to beef up their agreeable but generic roots folk. Alas, on the road they strip their act down to their singing and Mike's acoustic plucking, which means there's nothing at all to distinguish them from the coffeehouse hordes. It would be nice if love were enough, but in music as in life, it just ain't. KAYHAN KALHOR 3/26, CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER Ever since I saw Iranian master musician Kayhan Kalhor play with Indian sitarist Shujaat Hussain Khan as Ghazal a couple years ago, I've been entranced with the sound of the kamancheh, a rounded Persian fiddle that's usually played resting on the ground next to the seated player. It's got a woodier, earthier tone than a Western violin, never cloying as that instrument can be in the classical tradition, and can produce the most haunting tones and shivers. And no one--at least no one else who's surfaced in the world-music market--can make it moan like Kalhor. He appears here as part of the Genesis at the Crossroads Festival, a daylong presentation of Middle Eastern music and its many permutations--from Persian classical music to klezmer--as well as art, food, and dance. THE SHIV 3/27, EMPTY BOTTLE This Joliet trio has been pestering me for press for years, but the demo tape they sent me last time around was pretty rough, so I held off. I'm glad I did: their latest missive, an untitled album-length CD-R, features some arresting moments of spiky, twisted, wickedly alert postpunk, with echoes of Killing Joke and maybe a Joy Division lick that spirals up instead of down. Rhythmically it sounds barely restrained, and there's the constant threat of breakout by guitars that sound alive and wired. Very, very promising. SATYRICON 3/28, HOUSE OF BLUES High-ranking wolves in the contentious pack that is the Norwegian black metal scene, this trio made their American breakthrough in 1997 with Nemesis Divina, released the year before on their own Moonfog label and picked up by the American indie Century Media; according to their current U.S. label, Nuclear Blast, some 15,000 of us own it. Like most composers of the genre, Satyricon front man Satyr (the other guys are named Kveldulv and Frost) spins dark tales, sometimes in English, of bloody warfare, Viking raids, appeals to the gods of destruction, and of course that persistent and creepy Nordic nationalism--which led to a falling out with Kari Rueslatten, singer in his side project Storm, who tried a bit too late to distance herself from lines like "If you ever smell the Christian man's blood / Up in the mountains, up in the mountains / Then get your axe and chop him down." In short, these guys are the nightmare of every parent who believes, even a little bit, that role-playing games lead to real violence. But the really dangerous part of this stuff--in the most complimentary sense of "dangerous"--is that it's cloaked in seriously seductive, occasionally graceful Sturm und Drang, performed with chops out the wazoo. This gig, in support of last year's Rebel Extravaganza (which Satyr reportedly calls his "most misanthropic" album), kicks off Satyricon's first U.S. tour; they were supposed to play Milwaukee Metalfest last summer but the paperwork went awry. Also on the bill are fellow Norwegians Immortal, Tampa's Angel Corpse, and the Brazilian extreme-metal band Krisiun.