Fledgling bands, take note: don’t be too hasty about labelling your sound, because you might find yourself evolving in ways that defy your self-categorization. Judgement Day knows this all too well. The trio, comprising violinist Anton Patzner, his brother Lewis Patzner on cello, and drummer Jon Bush, dubbed its music “string metal” early on, and even registered a domain name to match.
“We got our website, Stringmetal.com, when we were on our first record, which was a metal album,” says Anton, reached in his home town of San Francisco, where he’s out running errands. “That album’s called Dark Opus. The songs have ridiculous titles, like ‘Revelations’, ‘Pitfires of Hell’—every song on the album, the title was either a reference to the end of the world or a reference to hell. Every song was, like, fast distortion, and super-epic. After that, we probably should have gotten a new URL, but we didn’t. I don’t think that we’re very metal anymore.”
Sure enough, while numbers such as “Ghost Hunt” and “Common Denominator” charge along at thrashing tempos, with Lewis sawing out bow-shredding grooves and Anton flying through rapid arpeggios, Judgement Day’s latest LP, Polar Shift, deviates wildly from the heavy-metal template. Witness “Rednek Rumble”, which is a demoniacal hit of white-lightning western swing set to a freight-train shuffle beat. And then there’s “Waves”, a spacious slow-burner that hangs on a mournful melody.
“We kind of had some self-imposed restrictions,” Anton says of writing the material for Polar Shift. “We wanted to do violin, cello, and drums with minimal overdubs and minimal effects. So it was just acoustic violin, cello, and drums, and we tried to do as much of it live as we could. Those are pretty intense restrictions, so I think if there was anything we were thinking about when we were trying to write our songs, it was how to write music that would work under those restrictions.”
Having accomplished that, Anton says he doesn’t feel compelled to repeat the experience.
“I think it was fun and interesting to make the ‘unplugged’ record, but I wouldn’t be interested in making another record like that,” he says. “I’ve decided after doing that that I don’t even like how violins and cellos sound very much, and I would rather make sounds that no one’s ever made before.”
In other words, don’t expect Judgement Day to travel the same path as Apocalyptica, the Finnish cellos-and-drums outfit that made it big playing Metallica songs. Nor, for that matter, will the trio ever attempt to emulate the Vitamin String Quartet, which has cranked out a startling number of highly unnecessary tribute albums, covering an array of artists that includes AC/DC, Tool, Bruce Springsteen, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Lady Gaga, and Alice in Chains. Anton solemnly swears that you’ll never hear him fiddling his way through “How You Remind Me”.
“The only thing that I think is worse than a Nickelback record,” he argues, “is the string tribute to the Nickelback record.”
Judgement Day opens for Pinback at Venue on Tuesday (January 22).