Cleveland Metal Fest 2002, featuring Taproot, Deadsy, Dredge, and many others. Friday, August 30, through Sunday, September 1, at Peabody's. Taproot performs on Saturday.

Austin's Smokin' Steak House 6535 Wilson Mills Road, Mayfield Village 440-442-4340. Hours, Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m.; Sunday until 8:30 p.m.
It says something about the hard-rock scene that when a band refrains from sexist and/or homophobic lyrics, it's more of a unique selling point than a given. (At this point, we're still hopeful enough to think it wouldn't be a sales hindrance.) But the members of Taproot seem to be nice enough guys, and they don't mar their sound with disappointing misogyny. The band also deserves props for its taste in heroes. The work of the Deftones, Helmet, Tool, and early Fugazi seems to have served as the blueprint, with the best elements of Korn and Pantera scattered here and there.

Unfortunately, Taproot has difficulty rising above its influences. The rhythm section is sharp, the guitars are appropriately heavy, and lead singer Stephen Richard has adequate range. However, his voice can get annoying at times, and the band members are so busy trying to be heavy that they haven't figured out how to write hooks.

Overall, there are better bands in the current heavy climate. (See the above list of influences.) But many groups are much, much worse, and Taproot seems to care so damn much about its music that it's kind of endearing. Perhaps, after a few more years on the road and a newfound willingness to take more risks, Taproot could become a leader of the scene. Until then, it'll make a great opening act for those who call the shots.

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