Photo by: Raymond Ahner

The metal ghouls were out in force October 29th, and Hemlock Tavern’s living-room-sized concert space was packed to the rafters. Beyond the plastic divider, expectant but ultimately frustrated supplicants waited fruitlessly, relegated to straining their ears towards whatever bled through the wall.

The carnage that ensued justified the big turnout completely. Olympia, Washington’s Christian Mistress’s incendiary performance confirmed their status as one of the underground’s most promising products; the music refracted the proto-thrash of NWOBHM pioneers Diamond Head through a modern, sweat-soaked, DIY lens. Rapid-fire dual harmonies and driving D-beats were the order of the day, and guitarists Ryan McClain and Oscar Sparbel put on a veritable clinic, chasing each other up and down the fretboard like Tom and Jerry on a three-day meth bender.

The guitar playing was so good that it almost overshadowed the talent of vocalist Christine Davis — a nearly impossible feat. Possessed of a natural diaphragmatic power that few metal singers (or indeed any singers) can muster, Davis provides an entirely unique dimension to the band. Her singing sounds simultaneously melancholy and defiant, and adds and emotional texture and range to a genre whose lyrics usually consist of machismo, bravado, or the combination of the two.

Next up was Acid King, a local band that also boasts a puissant, inimitable female singer. Lori S. is the focal point of the power trio, which — on the strength of their Hemlock performance if nothing else — is one of the best doom outfits currently active. Despite the fact that they were the loudest band I’ve seen all year (between the small space and the big amps, I could feel every bass note in my duodenum), Lori’s ethereal, bluesy vocals cut right through the mix. Looking like the coolest rock and roll aunt you never had, the frontwoman was also responsible for an avalanche of fuzzy, thunderous riffs, all of which managed the difficult of trick being slow and stately without becoming stale.

Having an impeccable rhythm section certainly helps in this regard. Drummer Joey Osbourne’s heavy-handed approach was alloyed with a number of intricate excursions, and his tasteful, groovy double-bass drumming was a welcome idiosyncrasy. Bassist Mark Lamb was responsible for most of the gut-rattling, churning out a bottom-heavy tone thick enough to spread on toast, and he carried the sound effortlessly even when Lori was playing a lead.

Thrones (Salem, OR) rounded off the night, launching into a set of punishing, heavy psychedelia just as all the drunks and highs were beginning to peak. Joe Preston’s solo bass-and-synth project beggars description with aplomb, but the grizzled veteran’s musical pedigree was evident as he combined ominous, distorted bass notes with unsettling keyboard chords. The overall effect was reminiscent of a movie score to some unfathomably metal film. Unfortunately, the only screenings take place inside Preston’s brain, and you’re not invited.