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PIECE OF MIND
When the lights hit the stage, the piercing sound of air-raid sirens fills the room. Blessiddoom guitarist Russ Reel and his sister, bassist Sherri Reel Johnson, dive into chugging riffs and squealing false harmonics as a police beacon, decorated with two large American flags, flashes red behind them in the shadows. Backup singer Chelsi Raymond paces, while on either side of the stage two young women dubbed the "Daughters of Doom" dance scantily clad in goth gear. Suddenly, frontman Eddie Johnson saunters into the light dressed in an ATF uniform and sunglasses, his long blond hair snaking out from under a top hat. He yells to the crowd: "Get the fuck up," and several people stick their rock horns in the air as drummer Pauli Doom's pummeling double pedal kicks up the wall of heavy sound.
"Attention citizens," Johnson growls militantly, "please stand before your telestrator...and prepare...for the five...minute...hate!"
That line, if you don't recognize it, is a slight variation of one in George Orwell's 1984. Blessiddoom's police state props and Orwellian references reflect the band's interest in American political commentary. The group's most recent album, Dystopia, focuses on the view that American citizens have lost their taste for independent thinking.
"In this country I think there is an addiction to the idea of being oppressed by the government," says Johnson. "My sentiment is that there's nothing more patriotic than to stand up and dissent. But I use the American flags as a positive symbol, like, 'Guess what? We're taking this back for ourselves.'"
"It also gets back to an important aspect of metal, which is defiance," adds Doom. "The [stage performance] also has a certain amount of shock value. And I'm not against shock value."
Blessiddoom plays a fusion of classic Judas Priest with Black Label Society's chunky groove metal. Its style is a far cry from the cacophony and animalistic growling of, say, black metal bands, who are sometimes labeled devil worshippers (usually not true) or, in the case of a couple of Norwegian metal bands, cathedral burners and murderers (sometimes true). But people still get the wrong idea about Blessiddoom's songs titled "Sepulchre" and "Could You (Sacrifice)."
"Let me just say that there is no satanic grave robbing in our music," laughs Doom. "And there's no misogyny, which I think sometimes metal and other rock 'n' roll can get tagged with."
Blessiddoom began playing shows at The Other Side in 2006, and the band's opened for national touring acts like Skeletonwitch and Hemlock. The band often travels to Spokane or Great Falls, which has a thriving metal scene. But, unlike the Prophecy days, most independent bands like Blessiddoom can't make much of a living wage off tours.
"You can't be in a metal band if you want to make money," says Johnson. "Even some of the biggest names don't make money. They go home after tour and they have day jobs."
In some places, like Missoula, it might come down to the fact that metal isn't the genre of choice for music audiences. It's just too loud, too dark, too raw, too something. But, for local metal bands that like the sinister, underground feel of it, sometimes that's the point.
"Some people will never understand the element of it being therapeutic for people who are outcasts or loners, who do have intelligent things to say," says bassist Sherri. "I think a lot of metal bands do."
"It's not easy," adds Johnson. "You have to do it because you love it. And because you can't imagine your life without it."