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Bang Your Head

An overdue appreciation of Missoula's unsung metal scene

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YOUTH GONE WILD

Thrash metal band Judgment Hammer seems out of place in the warm light of Liquid Planet, where the noise level never goes above the hum of laptop computers and rustling newspapers, or the occasional whir of a coffee grinder. Guitarist Jared Kiess wears an old-school Testament T-shirt, faded jeans and white high-top sneakers. Sid La Tray's big long hair hits past the shoulders of his ripped jean jacket. Aaron Gericke wears a Megadeth baseball cap, and Dustin Fugere, who has hair to his chin, sports an Iron Maiden shirt. It's not that the quartet are wildly out of place, but when they walk by, customers definitely peek from behind their books with curiosity.

Judgment Hammer is one of the youngest metal bands in Montana—if not the youngest—with two of the members still in high school and the other two just a few years graduated. Kiess and Gericke played in a band called the Four Horsemen who, in 2007, rocked the Palace stage at local indie rock extravaganza Total Fest. Not just metalheads, but indie and folk rock fans seemed enthralled by the young band's ability to pull off thrash metal originals, with all the gratuitous guitar solos, headbanging and hair whipping of a Metallica throwback.

"Our influences are definitely old-school," says Kiess. "Our main influence is old Metallica...and old albums from Slayer, Anthrax, Exodus, Testament, Death Angel. We proclaim ourselves as the only Montana thrash metal band."

Local metal promoter Cheryl Fullerton booked shows for years at The Other Side, but that came to an end when Tom Read, the venue’s owner, died suddenly in May 2009. “Everybody felt comfortable there,” she says. “Everybody knew everybody—kind of how Jay’s was for the punk scene, The Other Side was for the metal scene.” - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Local metal promoter Cheryl Fullerton booked shows for years at The Other Side, but that came to an end when Tom Read, the venue’s owner, died suddenly in May 2009. “Everybody felt comfortable there,” she says. “Everybody knew everybody—kind of how Jay’s was for the punk scene, The Other Side was for the metal scene.”

Judgment Hammer recently put out a debut album called Arbiter of Fate, full of speedy solos and driving, whirlwind riffs in songs like "Lightning War," "Swift Justice" and "Brazen Serpent."

"We have songs about war and violence and swift justice, and there's one about the blitzkrieg, and one kind of about Satan," Kiess says with a devilish smile. "I mean, we do need a song about Satan. But I don't focus on the lyrics. You just need a vessel for a melody. Who cares what the lyrics are."

Kiess says that he likes the fast, upbeat style of thrash, as opposed to some of the darker, downturned doom metal that's been popular with new metal acts (aka nü metal). He says he's noticed old-school thrash bands emerging from places like California and Europe, but not Montana.

"I don't know if it's just that the culture of our town is not suited to our kind of music," says Kiess. "And the thing is, if somebody comes into town like the Sword—I mean, they opened up for Metallica—people have heard of them, and they'll go. Maybe those people would like our stuff but they don't want to give it a try because they don't know who we are."

But the band has received support from outside the state. After Arbiter of Fate went up on Judgment Hammer's MySpace page, the band got invited to play Thrasheggeddon II, a metal festival in Albuquerque, N.M., that showcases high-profile thrash bands. Judgment Hammer's now looking forward to playing in front of hundreds rather than the five to 30 people they usually draw in Missoula.

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