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Scorched-Earth Policy
March 14, Covered Wagon Saloon

Between Lucifer's Hammer at the Covered Wagon Saloon and Black Church at Kimo's, local bands exploring the dark corners of metal (whether black/doom, thrash, or traditional styles) have a couple of solid outlets for their craft. Promoter Chris Lommori's recently established Thursday-night weekly at the Covered Wagon aims to give heavy acts with more of an alternative edge a proper venue.

While the latest generation of chart-topping headbangers tends either to shamelessly ape successful bands or combine the worst elements of metal, hip-hop, and pop into a sonic shit sandwich, one can always find interesting and original hard rock at a grassroots level. Oakland's Scorched-Earth Policy have been developing their sound off and on since 1997 under the direction of principle players Mark Lamb (guitar and vocals) and Lance Lea (drums). Five years of practice, experimentation, and shifting lineups have paid off in spades for this unheralded powerhouse unit. Taking the stage following a competent (if somewhat too reminiscent of Alice in Chains) set by San Jose quintet Krenshaw, the group didn't let the inexplicably dwindling crowd distract them from delivering a fiery performance.

Pushed close to the lip of the Covered Wagon's smallish stage by the sheer size of Lea's drum kit (his mammoth bass drum could serve as a suburban family's second garage), singer Richard Perot was forced to set up his monitor at floor level on top of a milk crate. The shortage of real estate had no apparent effect on the ferocious sound the band unleashed. "Slaveboy" sprung out of the gate with a complex, chugging riff that owed as much to slide-rule math rock as it did to classic thrash metal. Lamb and guitarist Carlos Santiago (ex-Bonecrusher) locked up for the tune's intro and verse before Santiago veered off into more atmospheric territory during the slower off-time bridge. Perot added his echo-drenched vocals to the mix, building the tension and intensity until the song twisted into yet another groove that it rode until its finish.

Barely pausing to catch a breath, Scorched-Earth Policy dove directly into "Politics." Damn-near pugilistic drum triplets and guitar parts gave way to Perot and Lamb barking out tandem lyrics over a steady, head-nodding rhythm: "Fuck all these politics and cliques / You get down / You stay down / You work hard / And pave your own ground." Similar in tone to some of Pantera's ass-kicking anthems, the song showed off a bold sense of dynamics and dissonance not often heard from metal bands. "Sludge" followed with an appropriately heavy riff underpinned by a propulsive fretless bass line provided by local four-string workhorse Terry Goss (also a member of 401K and Sourpuss). Perot once again dipped into his sonic bag of tricks, punching a delay pedal and tweaking his vocals to give the tune a more dramatic edge. Unlike many singers who rely on heavy delay and reverb to cover up their deficiencies, Perot used his effect pedals judiciously, letting his solid range and potent vocal chords speak for themselves.

A broken guitar string brought the band's momentum to a screeching halt at the end of the song, and as Santiago made repairs, Perot indulged in a bit of small talk (it turned out this was only his third gig as the band's singer) while Goss did his best to entertain with a solo take on the theme from I Dream of Genie and a couple of Primus bass licks. Finally the band lumbered through the open chords and thick atmospherics of "Dissatisfaction" before lurching into a pounding, hook-laden chorus that brought to mind defunct NYC hardcore act Quicksand. Armed with skull-bashing songs and a commitment to hectic, heavy music, Scorched-Earth Policy have emerged from the metal woodshed poised to cause serious damage. Scorched-Earth Policy play Sat/30, Bourbon Street, Concord. (925) 676-7272; Fri/5, Kimo's, S.F. (415) 885-4554. (Dave Pehling)