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By: Chris Pacifico
Naïve music journalists are proclaiming a progressive/art/jazzy/whatever you want to call it metal movement is spawning right now, and while it's starting to take notice with the rise of bands like Mastodon, Isis and Pelican, aficionados of loud music know that it all stretches back over a decade and a half ago to Neurosis, Tool, Kyuss and even Primus to some degree. If you bang your head regularly then all of the abovementioned is basic horse sense. But, it seems as if the self-proclaimed "doom jazz" instrumental trio Stinking Lizaveta never got their due and now is the time dammit!
Stinking Lizaveta by Christie Harrison
"We've seen metal change in our lifetimes a few times, from the glam-hair thing to Meshuggah and what have you. There's definitely a progressive metal trend," says Lizaveta guitarist Yanni Papadopoulos, who just recently appeared at this year's Bonnaroo playing with the Gypsy Hands Tribal Belly Dance Troupe.
"They all have the different veins that they draw from like whether it's the Slayer/Sepultura vein or the Neurosis vein," says Papadopoulos, speaking of the transparent influences of today's thinking man's metal bands. "Our band is trying to pick up the threads that a lot of people left untouched. We're more like an SST band. We're not trying to be super killer but just a good band."
Makes sense, but astounded impressions - and lots of them - is what Stinking Lizaveta has been getting since their inception in 1994 in West Philadelphia. Their newest long player, Scream of the Iron Iconoclast is their most exhilarating smorgasbord of heavy jazz transgressions and psychedelic wipeouts yet, with raids of metal menace, jagged post rock, mutated blues riffs and drummer Cheshire Agusta's esoterically woven, technically crunchy drum patterns that signal a sonic clutter in the middle of a black hole. Joined by Yanni's brother Alexi Papadopoulos - whose rapid fire upright electric bass lines force out the soul of Stinking Lizaveta's rhythmic bedlam - their live shows induce a lumbering hypnosis to the eyes, ears and minds of the crowd, especially when Yanni howls into his pickups and grinds his teeth against them.
Cheshire Agusta by Dan Beland
Live, their facial features seem chiseled and intimidating, sort of like Clint Eastwood before he fills someone full of lead, which makes it abundantly clear they've reached a bewildering state in their heads that feeds into their vigorous performances. Their body language is enraptured in a way that can't be fully explained. Agusta is quick to label the sensation as "desperation" when she is onstage but it's a bit deeper for Yanni, who remarks, "It's like you're trying to fit into this zone that's just about a foot off the ground, and you're trying to step on it and stay there. It's a feeling like levitating".
Taking their name from a character in the 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, Stinking Lizaveta had, in theory, planned to add a singer. "When we started the band we figured that within a few months we would have a singer, then it turned into a year and then it turned into like three years," says Yanni. "And we also figured, 'Who the hell would want to hang out with us?," chuckles Augusta.
With Augusta and Alexi both mastering their respective instruments for 20 years and Yanni for 26, Stinking Lizaveta's influences are as broad and eclectic as each of their songs. "We could keep going on and on so that's just why we say everything," says Alexi, who grew up in Washington, DC on a steady diet of punk rock. Aside from the obvious greats of metal, each member has a refined palette all their own. Agusta used to play in a band that was influenced by West African pop music and African club music, while Yanni is an admirer of jazz greats Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Thelonious Monk and "all the great and not so great guitarists of the world" are given props, to with special accolades aimed at Philly's local jazz musicians such as Elliott Levin, Rick Iannacone and Jeff Lee Johnson.
Continue Reading for Page II of our Stinking Lizaveta feature...