Tighten screws and inspect stability of stereo speakers. Check. Scrutinize dental work to make sure it's secure. Check. Ingest double dose of blood-pressure medication. Check.
Okay, I think I'm ready to drop the needle on American Falcon's debut CD.
Travis Yost's massive kick drum thumps out a martial beat. Jimmy Rolle's twin guitars announce themselves with a choppy riff. "On the march of the Mexican death squad, the blood was set to flow," howls singer/bassist Chris La Tray, and Missoula's loudest band bursts out of the chute like an enraged bull with its nuts in a knot.
What makes American Falcon the class of the field in Missoula's hard rock/heavy metal scene is their tone. Many bands wrongly think that volume equals power. Sure, these monsters of rock enjoy playing at a level that has Yost pondering the idea of a separate P.A. to amplify his drums, but they are savvy about what makes high volume a fist-pumping experience.
"We've been training our ears for 50 years to identify that tone," said Rolle over a few beers at the Mo Club recently. "We're all about tone over pure volume."
"And we don't get in each other's way," La Tray says as he refills my glass. Yost agrees, acknowledging the advantages to mixing a three-piece band, a refreshing change from some of the other, more, ah, delicate outfits he shares his talents with around town.
"American Falcon is my vacation," he laughs. "No expectations. The only expectation is that you show up."
"But it will rock," Rolle insists.
"Yeah, the volume helps create the tone," says Yost, "because of vibrations, things breaking and shaking."
Rolle leans forward, warming up to his favorite subject. "Tubes are cooking, things are compressing, the speaker's flapping, you can't get away from it."
The band has barely been together a year, having risen from the ashes of the power trio Lazerwolfs. After drummer Bubba Warne left that band, La Tray invited peripatetic stickman and compulsive band-former Yost to take the stool. From the first jam, it was a shotgun marriage made in rock heaven (which presumably has cheetah-print wallpaper and denim-clad furniture trimmed in studded black leather).
The CD's seven songs stretch out to nearly 45 minutes, giving the guys plenty of room to spread out. "When All Seems Lost (We Shred)" features possibly the best drum performance I've ever heard from Yost, live or on record. The guy has power, meter, consistency and taste. In Rolle and La Tray, though, the Mighty Travis may have finally found his match when it comes to sheer aggression. He also lends his Kevin DuBrow wail to a few songs, and his high harmonies are an integral component of Falcon's "man choir."
Yes, there are harmonies. But for American Falcon, everything takes a back seat to the precise, muscular onslaught of Rolle's guitar battalion. Lyrics? They're a testosterone-soaked mix of Viking/spaghetti western/pulp fiction imagery. Melody? Melody is for pussies. La Tray's growling monotone is just fine for this powerhouse.
The burly bassist is a published author and voracious reader of crime noir, and his lyricswhich are always written after the musicare straight-up narratives of doom and evil. "I want it to be fun," he says, "but not funny." Each album he does has to have a theme. "Is it gonna be a party album, or is it going to make a statement? It can't be both. This one is more tongue-in-cheek. It's fun, but it's not a joke."
One of the most arresting moments on American Falcon comes during the 12-minute album-closer, "The Beast of Bray Road." La Tray has penned a song about a werewolf that supposedly lives in Wisconsin. Over a creepy breakdown anchored by his plonking bass, he rattles off a hilarious, twisted voiceover explaining the science of cryptozoology.
Your first listen of American Falcon may well knock the fillings out of your teeth, but each successive trip rewards you with undiscovered sonic treats, striking lyrical turns and a rhythmic drive as unstoppable as a locomotive. Hang on tight.
American Falcon holds a listening party at Ear Candy music for the band's CD release celebration Friday, April 6, at 6 PM. Free.