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Harder, Heavier Burning Brides

From the first blistering chords of "Heart Full of Black" to the frenzied scream at the heart of "King of the Demimonde" to the Nirvana-ish wail of "Alternative Teenage Suicide," Philadelphia's Burning Brides push the throttle wide open, making an unholy noise out of guitar, bass and drums.  Their second full-length, Leave No Ashes (V2), is, if anything, harder and heavier than 2002's Fall of the Plastic Empire, referencing such '70s metal heavyweights as Zeppelin, AC/DC and Sabbath, as well as latter-day hard rockers from Nirvana to Queens of the Stone Age.

Yet listeners who write Burnings Brides off as headbangers are missing half the picture.  The album, structured somewhat like Led Zeppelin's III according to guitarist/songwriter Dimitri Coats, starts with its hardest, loudest metallic tracks, cresting in "King of the Demimonde," then makes room for the band's more melodic, pop-leaning side with "From You," "Last Man Standing" and "Pleasure in the Pain" in the second half.  A couple of the best tracks — "Dance with the Devil" and "Century Songs" — seem  to split the difference, raging hard in parts and breaking for blasts of pure songfulness, very much as the title track from Plastic Empire did.

Coats said his friend Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, QOTSA) encouraged him to go wherever his songwriting process led him, even if the results seemed not to fit pre-existing expectations for Burning Brides songs.   He added that he believes fans will be able to make the leap, too.  "Although we have a reputation for going out on stage and ripping people's heads off, we think we can take our fans with us wherever we want to go," Coats said during a recent phone interview.  "The best rock 'n' roll albums — Rubber Soul, Let It Bleed, Village Green Preservation Society — have a wide variety of songs on them.  That's what we tried to do with this record, and that's why every song seems like a curve ball, like where are they going next?"

Coats recorded Burning Brides' first album, Fall of the Plastic Empire, in his garage, spending less than $2,000 on it.  The album was released by Chicago indie File 13 but, supported by blistering appearances at SXSW and other venues, it began to gain a buzz.  A bidding war ensued, from which V2 emerged the winner. Burning Brides embarked on a series of high-profile tours: supporting Queens of the Stone Age, Marilyn Manson, and Audioslave, and playing Lollapalooza. "It was sort of like winning the lottery," Coats said. "You don't go into music to make a million dollars or to become famous.  You do it for the love of the music.  But it's always nice when your job becomes what you would have been doing in your spare time anyway."

That success meant that this time around, with V2's backing, the band had access to better facilities and equipment, as well as the assistance of seasoned producer George Drakoulios (Black Crowes, Tom Petty).  Coats said that Leave No Ashes' distinctive sound, both heavier and smoother than the first album, reflects those extra resources. "The additional money meant that we could afford to go to a real studio with some of the better analog equipment and get those sounds that make people like you say, 'Your new record sounds a lot heavier,'" he explained.  "That has to do with money, believe it or not.  You can get bigger drum sounds, bigger guitar sounds."

The larger budget also allowed the band to supplement its three-person lineup — Coats on guitar, his longtime girlfriend Melanie Campbell on bass and Jordan Kourkounis (Delta 72, Hot Snakes) on drums — with Roger Manning, who plays the searing Farfisa solo in "Vampire Waltz" and piano on "Dance with the Devil."   But perhaps most important, Burning Brides' second record gave the band the opportunity not just to record its live sound, as on Plastic Empire, but to completely reimagine itself, not just once, but track by track.

For example, said Coats, it was clear from the start that "From You" was more like a pop song than any of the album's tracks. "So, we thought, why don't we give it a different texture?," he remembered.  "Instead of using the same guitar I always play, why don't we try a janglier kind of Fender Telecaster sound?  And let's try it through this amp, and then how about we put some organ here?  And then I'm kind of hearing a slide guitar part here, to give it a lift, and of course, we have to have harmonies.  So we just started layering the song with whatever it took to lift it into a place where it could be fully realized."

Coats spoke to me by phone just before the next-to-last show on a tour with A Perfect Circle, during which, he said, crowds had ranged from 2,000 to 10,000 people.  The drawback, though, was that almost every one of those fans was there for Perfect Circle and had to be won over. "Let me tell you something, it's not easy to walk out on stage in front of that many people who have never heard of your band," he said. "But we're doing a really good job, I think.  By the second or third song, there are pits forming, and crowd-surfing. We get the crowd going, get everybody in the place to put their arms in the air and make noise."

Winning over the rocker kids isn't just about fame or money for Coats.  "One of the greatest things about Nirvana," he said, "is that they turned on their fans to bands like the Melvins and Mudhoney and Sonic Youth."

He added that he saw Burning Brides as a gateway to classic older bands and more genuine current ones.  "A lot of these kids that we're playing to, they've never heard of The Stooges. Probably none of them have ever heard the really good Black Sabbath records, and a lot of these kids are into Tool and Deftones and all that, Marilyn Manson, whatever.  They've probably never heard of Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave, and a lot of them probably don't even know the best Cure records.

"Kids shouldn't have their taste in music held against them,” he continued. “They just need an alternative, and we're more than happy to be that alternative for them." — Jennifer Kelly [Monday, August 2, 2004]

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