Savien Davis had to learn to love heavy metal.
The drummer for metalcore power trio Den of Wolves initially found the genre’s harsh vocals, technical riffs and whiplash time signature changes cold.
“I was into blues, rap and soul,” says Davis, now 31. “When I first heard metal, I thought it was all screaming and yelling. It was like scratching on a chalkboard.”
Chris Deitz, lead vocalist with progressive metal and tech death quintet Kairos. (punctuation intended), admits that he once briefly shared some trepidation about performing heavy music: “I thought I would never listen to [metal]. Now here I am onstage.”
The two will be on the same stage March 18, when Kairos. and Den of Wolves share a bill at The Milestone to celebrate the release of the latter’s first full-length album, Lovesdead.
Deitz joined Kairos. — comprised of himself, bassist Jackson Owens, drummer Dalton Holland and guitarists Tony Davis and Kevin Pearce — four years ago when he replaced original vocalist Nick Geerken. At first the music afforded him an outlet for teen angst, he says, but he quickly embraced the genre’s challenging, virtuosic playing and its intricate world-building and storytelling.
“I like to think we’re like the universe,” he says. “Once we create something we start zooming outward like the Big Bang.”
Davis has also made the adjustment to grinding riffs and growling vocals since forming Den of Wolves in 2015 with brothers Tristen (lead vocalist/bass guitarist/backup vocalist and Khalil England (lead and rhythm guitarist). He compares the progression to adjusting to a relationship: The genre may require more effort from a musician, but the music rewards the effort in abundant ways. Playing with Den of Wolves continually keeps Davis on his toes.
“You never know when you’re going to slow down or speed up,” he says. “You have to be versatile and you have to play with talented people.”
In 2013, Den of Wolves members first came together in a band called New Religion, an alternative rock group that combined disparate concepts. Khalil says the project never jelled. When the band dissolved, the England brothers and Davis decided to stay together and strike out in a new musical direction.
Tristan, at 24 the older of the two brothers, started getting into the metalcore genre, an offshoot of grindcore that mixes frenzied breakdowns with slow and intense passages.
Khalil, 21, who got into rock through grunge bands like Rage Against the Machine, pinpoints Den of Wolves’ music as heavy alternative with hardcore punk influences. While Davis had to come to grips with the trio’s seesawing musical switchbacks and relentless bone-crushing grind, Tristan had to make a different kind of adjustment when he switched from backing vocal for New Religion to lead vocals for Den of Wolves.
“Oh my god, it was freaking awful,” Tristan remembers with a laugh. It took a while before Tristan was fully comfortable playing an instrument while singing at the same time, he continues. “I have immense respect for any musician that sings and plays an instrument proficiently. It’s an amazing talent.”
With learning curves passed by and adjustments made, the trio is poised for a breakthrough, the brothers say.
“The past four years we’ve been writing and working on the direction we want to take as a band,” Tristan says. “It’s come to the point where we’ve finally figured out the kind of music that we want to make.” That music will be featured at The Milestone release gig, where Den of Wolves will debut Lovesdead.
Deitz grew up in Lenoir listening to country music before Evanescence and Linkin Park plunged him into a nu metal rabbit hole culminating in metalcore outfits like Underoath. He’s the first to admit that all these metal terms can be confusing. On the band’s website, Kairos. calls their music a mix of progressive metal and tech death.
But what does that mean?
Deitz explains that progressive metal started in the 1970s with groups like Dream Theater, which focused on tricky time signatures, key changes, complex themes and long-format songs. “That’s always been a big draw of that genre for me,” Deitz says. “You listen to something and you have no clue what’s going on, but you give it another few listens and you begin to understand. It’s a learning process.” As for tech death, it’s an evolution of death metal, Deitz continues.
“You’ve got a lot of black beats, some guy roaring over the mic, and a lot of shredding and technical arpeggios,” he says.
Kairos., which takes its name from the ancient Greek word for an opportune time and/or place, used to focus on lyrics pertaining to Greek mythology, Deitz says, but the band has moved on to develop their own mythology, telling a longform story that carries over from subsequent releases to their 2018 full-length album Simulgression.
The band continues to follow an increasingly heavy and technical path. Deitz says he can probably count on one hand the number of times the band has played a song in four-four times.
Both Kairos. and Den of Wolves feel their experimentation and musical development is supported by Charlotte’s metal fans, an often misunderstood community.
“They’re the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” Deitz says. “I can’t tell you how many shows we played in Charlotte where our friends from other bands are out there supporting us, taking pictures and making videos. It’s really a circle of life.”
Khalil England also touts the health, variety and energy of the local fan base. He believes the North Carolina metal scene is currently overpopulated with talent, and many bands are incredible supportive of one another.
“There are so many amazing bands doing amazing things,” Khalil says. “It’s basically like we’re sharing the same $15 for a t-shirt amongst each us,” he adds laughing.
Despite the positive prognosis, Den of Wolves and Kairos. accept that they still have to educate listeners about heavy metal and clear up misconceptions about the genre. The most common error people make is thinking that the music isn’t saying anything, Deitz says. Listeners think it’s just meaningless banging and yelling, but Deitz believes metal can be the most beautiful and articulate music.
“There are many different genres and so many different ways for metal acts to express themselves,” Deitz says.
Khalil maintains that a lot of people may be intimidated by metal’s abrasive edge. They believe the genre is about anger and violence, he explains, when it is often a therapeutic outlet for releasing frustration.
“It’s not a scary thing,” he says. “I think people don’t take the time to understand it, or they just don’t want to,” he continues. “But I believe that the more open you are to everything around you, the better you are as a person.”
Tristan believes there is beauty in all genres of music. If artists are putting their emotions and a part of themselves into their music, no matter if it’s country, rap or K-pop, they’re creating something from their souls, he says.
“If it means something to them, it can also mean something to any number of different people.”