Clinically speaking, Walking Corpse Syndrome is a psychological condition of which those afflicted sometimes believe they have died, or have lost body parts, or have been rendered soulless. The mental disease has popped up in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But in Montana, Walking Corpse Syndrome (WCS) is the handle of an industrial metal—not mental—band slowly but surely making a name for itself. The band has played both Montana MetalFests II and III, was a finalist for 2008’s PBR Band of the Year competition, and was recently invited to play September’s Project Independent Showcase in Missoula. And on Saturday, June 21, the band will release its debut album, Forsaken.
Since forming in January 2007, WCS has been nothing if not productive in the face of certain obstacles. For instance, current singer Michael Phlegm joined the band just two weeks before they played their first show.
“We had shows booked and we had a singer, [but] he just had too many scheduling conflicts,” says lead guitarist Matthew Bile. “[Phlegm] came in and was just a champ, and not only learned 45 minutes of music but wrote completely new lyrics to everything.”
Bile—who has historically been a singer, not a guitar player—has jumped a hurdle or two, as well. After screaming his way through the metal band Prokaryon, he lost his voice.
“We were in the middle of recording an album when the band broke up and I ended up having to get throat surgery because I was just singing completely wrong,” he says. “I can’t really sing anymore, so I just play guitar.”
The six-member band includes Bile and Phlegm, two drummers (each of whom plays a full kit), a keyboard player, and a bassist/violinist. With that many bodies, and the gear that goes with them, simply getting on and off the stage is an exercise. Complicating matters further, the band also likes to experiment with stage props—shows have included anything from dancers portraying gothic spiderwomen to stacks of television sets showing old black and white movies.
“With all my other bands, I’ve done ‘gimmicky’ stuff,” says Bile. “I’ve been doing theater since I was 11 or 12, about two years before I ever picked up a guitar. To me, the visual and emotional aspect of live music is just as important as the music. For every show I—and more recently, the rest of the band—have tried to come up with something visually stimulating.”
A large part of the WCS visual, and the foundation of the sound the band produces, is the dual drumming of brothers Shawn and Greg Frazer. This is not one drummer providing the beat while the other augments the sound with auxiliary percussion—they pretty much both play full bore. And they don’t necessarily play in unison. Where Greg might do a rhythmic figure on the high-hat, Shawn might counter rhythm between his kick and ride. It seems excessive, but it apparently works, even if it might be challenging to sound techs and studio engineers.
“It was crazy!” says owner/engineer Cameron Kerr of Missoula’s Habbilis Records, where WCS recorded Forsaken. Gesturing toward the studio drum room, he says, “I think I had just about every mic and stand I own in there, with cables running everywhere. It was confusing to get set up, but the sound we got with the two kits is huge.”
WCS recorded Forsaken over three days in March. The result is thick, heavy and reflective of WCS’s live show. The band did not have the luxury of time or budget to record bits and pieces to a grid in ProTools; they had to make it happen as they would on stage and hope for the best. Playing together and laying down a couple takes of each song, selecting the best one, and then going back to add keyboards and vocals ended up in an expansive and immediate recording.
Casual listeners beware: That intensity may not be for everybody. Not exactly metal, nor entirely industrial, the band’s music can be overwhelming for people who have limited exposure to either genre. At times moody and ethereal, in the instant where a stick strikes skin, or a foot can press a button on a stompbox, the music can erupt and catch the listener unaware. Phlegm unleashes a guttural roar that belies his wiry frame, while William Sludge (of late, great polka-punkers The Shrimpers) delivers a manic energy whether he is playing the bass or the violin. Keyboardist DJ Estaroth provides not only the textures that tie the disparate instruments together, but also samples and sound bites to the cacophony. And a little bit of melody.
“People hear that we’re a metal band and the just think it’s all ‘Rawr! Rawr! Rawr!,’” says Bile, mimicking a metal growl. “Some of the stuff we like a lot is the more dynamic stuff like ‘The Devil Rides Alone.’ There’s a longer, slower, more atmospheric intro…It provides that contrast of a melodic atmosphere before it goes into a driving, more aggressive sound.”
Walking Corpse Syndrome plays two CD-release shows Saturday, June 21: At the Deer Lodge Skatepark at 3 PM as part of a skatepark fundraiser (cover TBA) and at The Palace in Missoula at 9 PM with Utterance and 7 Cycles for $7.