Beast Masters

Akron's prog-rock phenoms rule the roost.

Akron is home to a prowling Beast, a four-piece prog-metal monster.

The up-and-coming group played Square Records' third anniversary party at the Lime Spider. The smorgasbord of cupcakes, pizza, booze, and great local music acts was enough to draw the Beast out of hiding.

Goodbye Ohio set the tone early, performing on the dance floor in front of the stage. Surrounded by enthusiastic fans, frontman Scott Hartlaub led the trio through seven blitzkrieg proto-punk tracks, including "The Book and the Band" and "Phoenix Down," screaming like Win Butler fronting Naked Raygun. It was only the appetizer.

Beast's Steve Clements grabbed his keyboard and squealed, "Let's play some fucking music!" launching Beast into "Wolf Bear" -- a shape-shifting instrumental with feral, prog-rock intensity. Clenched fists and bobbing heads greeted bassist Matt Haas as he took center stage, flailing with his four-string battle-axe, long, curly black locks covering his face. His fingers danced over the frets, while guitarist Hartlaub (doing double duty) wrestled lacerating leads out of spiraling arpeggios, punctuated by jagged start-stop dynamics.

Fed by Clements' keyboard frenzy, Beast's massive guitar edifice braced each instrumental -- from "Space Arps" to "Feast of Serpents." Clements, who drums for Akron's Houseguest, pounded the keyboard with rhythmic fury, giving the guitar assault an electronic screech. Each player's improvisations walked the tightrope between indulgent and incredible. Fortunately, Adam Goldman's sturdy timekeeping kept Beast from going too far off the reservation.

The entire set melted away into one enormous, winding jam session, reminiscent of Long Island's Dream Theater (without the vocals). But before the lights dimmed, the group was coaxed into playing one last psychedelic-rock encore, leaving the sound of the Beast ringing in the ears of the audience members as they filed out into the cool city night.

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