Triclops! performs Sunday, April 4, at Bottom of the Hill. 5 p.m., $10; 626-4455 or www.bottomofthehill.com.
Ten-minute songs? Check. Psychedelic soundscapes? Check. A singer with a nostalgic love for role-playing games? Check.
While a "progressive" genre descriptor often conjures negative associations with washed-up, Geddy Lee–adoring Guitar Center employees, in the case of local quartet Triclops!, the term warrants literal interpretation. Sure, singer Johnny Geek's open admission of being a committed Dungeons and Dragons player in junior high plays into the nerd rocker cliché, but this isn't your run-of-the-mill fantasy jam material.
Helpers on the Other Side, the band's third record, expands hardcore's boundaries with myriad influences. The album's six songs (clocking in at roughly 45 minutes) deliver onslaughts of otherworldly cacophony, piercing distortion, and echo-smothered vocals. These elements are woven through Eastern-inspired guitar lines, oddly timed rhythms, and sparse bursts of newfound radio-ready melody. Oozing and splintering, Helpers marks a new breed of freaked-out, future-ready brutality.
Imaginative storytelling has its place on the record, too, but there's no elementary babble about goblin wars here. Geek covers an array of material from a scientific — and often morbid — vantage point. His lyrics delve into the origin of the human species and the downfall of modern civilization, disease, and cultural disparity. While these subjects may seem vast, they're addressed with scoped aim. "Lyrically, I'd say that I was getting a bit more microscale rather than macro-," he says, "focusing on latent genes, ambitious viruses, slow decomposition of tissue, and the like." Geek has a background in anthropology, which shows in his vividly twisted references to Neanderthal RNA strands, the pitfalls of evolution, distant cultures, and humanity's push toward self-extinction.
Musings on politics and people are delivered as inventive, hypothetical narratives. In "With SARS, I'll Ride the Wind," an epidemic is personified within the context of an epic, perilous journey. The disease is portrayed as an adolescent, hungry for world domination: "I've got a poster here, on my cellular wall, of my viral idol since I was so, so young." Geek says he's inspired by the product of our "mean, selfish system eating itself." While he acknowledges that on any given day, ample evidence of this can be found throughout the news (think nature's wrath, political stagnation, starvation, or war) he argues that "stories always beat preaching, and by reading or listening to them, maybe even the converted can be made to think about their slogans in a different way."
The album's lyrics aren't solely focused on scientific doomsday scenarios. Geek also candidly delves into his own experiences. "There are some intensely personal issues in there," he says of Helpers, "pertaining to love and personal recovery as well as war and history as it relates to my late father, who was a hard-core leftist and WWII vet who became a lifelong pacifist."
Helpers is the band's magnum opus, but to truly experience the music, the live Triclops! experience is a must. Maniacal mirth and a sense of community bleed into the shows. Instead of masturbatory, self-indulgent sets, you get bare skin, sweaty musicians and audience members, sheer volume, and loving antagonism. There won't be any 20-minute solos here, and if you bring your 20-sided die, expect to lose it in the pit.