It's not too often that we get to see Shramana vocalist and guitarist Reggie Herbert in a pair of sweaty black athletic shorts–sans shirt, socks and shoes. But when we do it's fairly certain that he is barking the lyrics to Henry Rollins-era Black Flag tunes played in a heavy drop-C tuning with the kind of aplomb and vein-popping vigor that old Hank himself would undoubtedly appreciate. Not that Shramana is simply a Black Flag tribute outfit. The band, which also boasts KBGA metal stalwart Duane Raider on bass and Levi Woods on drums, has been performing at downtown venues for roughly four years now with an evolving lineup and a sound that has moved from the self-described "shitcore," reminiscent of classic loud outfits like Choking Victim and Fudge Tunnel, to its latest incarnation in the post-metal, shoegaze realm of Kylesa and Neurosis.
Shramana means "to strive" in Sanskrit and lately the band has been true to its name. The musicians have created more challenging and complex songs in recent years. Instead of playing exactly what they know, they bite off a lot more and run with it. Tracks now clock in at over 10 minutes with multiple time changes and bellicose, crumpling refrains. The metal renaissance currently underway damn-near worldwide influences the group, but Herbert says that non-musical influences play an important role, too. Like, for instance, Herbert says, "The whole hegemony as it exists now where everything we're fed is wrong and people go around lamenting their own existence." That's a super bummer place to gather material from, but it can make for some chillingly good metal stylings.
Shramana has taken up residency at Missoula's VFW for January. Initially, their Thursday shows were to coincide with the release of an album, but that's been moved to February. No matter. Their five-week residency means a lot of time to get the unruly songs just right. They do have a few tracks recorded, including the elaborate "Toska," which is a song meant to define the title in all its layered sentiments. The word "toska" is Russian and has no direct English translation, so we'll leave it to noted butterfly enthusiast and English and Russian language expert Vladimir Nabokov to give us a peek into its meaning: "At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning."
So, let's see, area band accepts the challenge to define the indefinable using heavy music as a sonic dictionary of sorts with the intention to both demonstrate what toska is and relieve a little bit of its own morosity? That sounds like a bit of a knotty task. Still, we could all sing songs about doing grass, drinking soy lattes and humping one another, but a big fat 11-minute metal music banger is at least just as likely—if not more so—to solve a guy's torments as huffin' nugs of kind bud while seated on a banana yellow beanbag.
It's Shramana's desire to tackle the big ideas—to think loftily—that makes the members seem a bit self-serious to audiences at times. But why can't a band be serious and be cool? We're not all jesters; we're not all David Lee Roths or Miley Cyruses. Herbert's right when he says, "The kind of music we make demands fidelity." Metal fans can be some of the most faithful. Shramana's attempt to maintain its self-created set of principles could eventually be rewarded simply with a paid Bandcamp download from a faraway fan or, perhaps, a tour with childhood idols or maybe the chance to reinvent a more heady kind of cool.
Shramana plays the VFW each Thursday in January with a rotating lineup of bands. Shows start at 10 PM. $3. 18-plus.