"We're evil, we're bad," says the Creep, trying hard to keep a straight face. "No, no -- we are evil!" he tries again, a grin emerging on his face. And with that, the Creep breaks into a loud, shrill laugh that nearly drowns out the jukebox at Lakewood's pillbox-sized Mars Bar, which booms with Monster Magnet's guitar thunder on a recent Tuesday evening.
Downing a succession of Budweisers, the Creep, a 30-year-old producer and veteran of numerous Cleveland bands (among them the Nation of Teflon Souls), is joined by the three members of Filament 38, the goth-industrial upstarts who are the Creep's latest charges. Filament's music is as dark and forbidding as a mine shaft; the band members themselves, oddly, are all smiles.
But when the subject turns to their eye-opening debut, Fractured, the laughter subsides. A blend of brittle, whip-cracking beats, growling synth, and stentorian vocals, it's one of the best efforts to come from the Cleveland hard-electronic scene in years. The album embraces many of industrial's key elements, established in previous decades by such bands as Front Line Assembly and Ministry. But unlike the cold, stiff music of those bands, Fractured breaks rank with a less sterile, claustrophobic sound; it pulses with a welcome energy and sweaty pop sensibility.
And the record's a burgeoning hit too. Days after Fractured's February release on Illinois's Negative Gain Records, Filament scored a distribution deal with Philadelphia's Metropolis Records (industrial's biggest label, home to KMFDM, Front 242, and Haujobb). Cuts from the disc have topped national college-radio charts for weeks, and the band has landed a summer tour of the Midwest with labelmates Cryostate, Cruciform Injection, and Delien.
All of this has positioned Filament 38 at the forefront of Cleveland's resilient goth-industrial scene, a community every bit as durable as the leather fashions favored by its members. While bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy, which brought the genre to a more mainstream audience in the early '90s, have long since faded back into the underground (Ministry's well-received new album, Animositisomina, preaches to a small, faithful choir), Cleveland's industrial community remains strong. Synth Cleveland, a two-year-old collective of local electronic musicians, now boasts more than 100 members; the Chamber nightclub in Lakewood continues to pack in the black several nights a week -- mostly with the same people that were showing up 15 years ago, when dark-music pioneer Trent Reznor was cutting his teeth at the Phantasy Theatre next door.
"There's a certain camaraderie that comes from never really making it too big," says Filament keyboardist Android, a good-humored, bespectacled rocker with a geyser of bright red hair. "I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that old-timers are still doing it. Not like we're ancient, but with Furnace St., Chew's [Eye Shop], Bath, State of Being, SickApril -- there's a perseverance that goes on. No matter how many times we've been through the wringer, we still want to continue doing it, because we like to do it. Everyone gets together, we hang out, we date bass players from the other bands. Stuff like that."
One of the downsides of such a communal scene is the tendency to breed similar-sounding acts. Filament 38 distinguishes itself from the others with a more streamlined approach.
"When you're in an electronic band, it's easy to keep layering and layering, but I just wanted to get the basic point down and ride with it," explains Ash, Filament's founder and singer, whose piercings and shock of yellow hair give him the look of an ear of corn with a nose ring. "I love mood music -- when you listen to something, and it makes you feel a certain way. I definitely wanted to project that into what I was doing, and I wanted to do something hard-hitting at the same time."
The result is Fractured, a debut album that came together quickly. Though both Ash and Android have been making music since high school, Filament has been a band for only a little more than a year. Conceived as a solo vehicle for Ash during downtime with his former band, fellow goths Phantom Tribe (he also plays drums in SickApril), the project took an added dimension when Android (also of Chew's Eye Shop) was recruited to supply vocoder and synth. The music for Fractured was recorded in Ash's basement studio; the album was mixed in Creep's laundry room. ("There's good acoustics in there, and I could simulate crowd noise by turning the dryer on," the Creep says.)
Once Fractured was released, Filament called on Adam Boose, frontman for electro-rockers Furnace St., to play drums for the band's live shows. Boose met Filament when both were part of a 2001 album produced by Synth Cleveland.
"I heard these guys on the first Foundation compilation, and I thought it ["Sacred"] was one of the standout tracks on the record," Boose says. "I'm not a huge fan of the genre -- I like the bands that do it well, and I think these guys are one of the bands that do it best. It's high-energy, but there's emotion, and it's not this pseudo-militant stuff that a lot of industrial bands succumb to."
Fractured contains its share of industrial earmarks. "This world is empty/This world is diseased," Ash utters on the terse "Unconscious," coming with the genre's requisite doomsday lyrics, steely synth, and robotic vocals, like Optimus Prime in combat boots. But it's the buoyant dance-floor ass-shakers -- like "Dissolve" and "Radiate," with their jacked-up beats -- that set Filament apart from the normally hermetic goth crowd.
Thanks in part to the new album, Filament has begun to draw a solid live following, including fans who head north from Columbus and Dayton for the band's shows at the Phantasy. Still, the band has no illusions about stardom in a genre that resides on the margins of popular music.
"None of us have ever looked at it from the point of 'Okay, when do we get to quit our day jobs?'" Ash says. "Everything we get, we're really happy for. A lot of us are just looking forward to the next show."
So are we.
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