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Eighteen Visions Walk the Tightrope Between Underground Buzz and Popular Success

By Mikael Wood | Posted 7/13/2005

Eighteen Visions play the Ottobar July 18 with He Is Legend, the Black Maria, and Love Hate Hero.

They were born in a punk-rock underground that values showy acts of rebellion only slightly less than tight jeans, but Orange County, Calif.’s Eighteen Visions want to satisfy all the people all the time. “We don’t want to be one of those bands that just has one type of song, and there’s 11 or 12 of that type of song on the record,” frontman James Hart says with the conviction of someone who’s heard plenty of those records. Speaking by cell phone from the metalcore quintet’s tour van as it rolls across Washington state toward a show in Spokane, Hart says he and guitarist Ken Floyd, with whom the singer formed the band in Huntington Beach in 1996, think about audience diversity “a lot” when they’re writing. “We want there to be highs and lows to the record as far as the moods that are set. Having a slower song or a piano ballad creates those moods—it brings the record up and it brings the record down. Doing stuff like that gives us a chance to be free musically and do what we want to. We feel like we can do different things and create different sounds in our songs and not have kids be like, ‘Yo, what the fuck was that?’”

Of course, there’s always a group of listeners wondering what the fuck was that. Especially in the underground cultural hothouse that is metalcore—one part metal, one part hardcore, if you’ve spent the last few years without Fuse TV—and especially as that hothouse slowly makes its way aboveground thanks to record deals like Eighteen Visions’ with Epic: Their fourth album, Obsession, was released by New Jersey indie Trustkill in 2004 and picked up by the Sony Music subsidiary for wider distribution shortly thereafter. You don’t have to search long to find the kind of naysaying that always greets an ascendant band—Amazon.com’s Obsession page contains numerous calls of “crap” and “selling out.” These comments raise the question: If you are a good band lured into becoming a bad one by the prospect of filthy corporate lucre, have you sold out well or have you sold out poorly?

It’s a crucial question for Eighteen Visions. The five members are straight-edge—no drinking, no drugging, no smoking, as laid out in the seminal D.C. punk band Minor Threat’s ideology-defining 1981 anthem—but Eighteen Visions are not a straight-edge band. Minor Threat produced minute-long explosions of politically engaged fury untainted by the stylistic trappings of heretical genres such as glam-rock and pop-metal. The band was an exercise in musical and philosophical asceticism—all function, no form.

Though they don’t imbibe, Eighteen Visions are drunk on form. On Obsession, the outfit augment a standard metalcore foundation—crushing guitar crunch, high-powered percussive pounding, screaming that could attract a neighborhood task force—with, well, the stylistic trappings of heretical genres such as glam-rock and pop-metal. Floyd and second guitarist Keith Barney routinely stitch catchy riffs into their curtains of compressed chug, while Hart complements the screaming with the sort of sneering alt-rock whine that’s defined rock radio for the past decade. Obsession’s best cuts are its most accessible: “I Let Go” erupts into a buzzing bright-lights chorus that imagines Sunny Day Real Estate as fronted by Scott Weiland. “This Time” contrasts a soaring vocal melody against several layers of stop-and-start amplifier fuzz. “I Should Tell You” slows things down for a deliciously overwrought power ballad perfect for a punk-rock prom.

Lyrically, Hart details the same kind of emotional turmoil most of his metalcore brethren do, but just as the music ventures into shinier territory, he’s unafraid to bust out the occasional bit of The O.C.-worthy imagery. “I watched the falling rain splash upon your face,” he heaves over dramatically reverbed guitar arpeggios in “I Should Tell You.” “I know those aren’t your tears.” He gets downright yearbook-worthy in “Tower of Snakes”: “You told me no apologies/ but ‘I’m sorry’ couldn’t cut the mustard, and it’s absurd.”

Hart says that attracting an audience comfortable with the range of sounds Eighteen Visions deploys has always been the band’s goal. “The first real test for us was the first tour we did promoting this record, with H.I.M. and Kill Hannah,” he says, referring to last year’s trek opening for the Finnish “love-metal” act and the goth-pop group from Chicago. “We’re completely different than both of those bands, with our last record and with this record. H.I.M. have a total cult following of metal kids, rock kids, goth kids—there were so many different kinds of kids there that it was really, really easy for us to connect with most of them. You see kids coming to the show with a Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir shirt, or skateboarding gear because they heard about H.I.M. through Bam Margera. And those kids are open-minded. Those are the kids that we want to play to.”

If a band could choose whom it plays to, Hart would have it made. But the reality for an up-and-coming group such as Eighteen Visions is a chorus composed equally of cheers and jeers. Plenty of old fans are stoked to see the band embrace its big-time aspirations, as well as new ones excited to have discovered this unknown group called Eighteen Visions that have a really cool video and a kick-ass guitar player and, OMG, have you seen how cute the singer is!? But player haters have loud voices, and misguided accusations of opportunistic Stone Temple Pilothood have a way of carrying.

Hart says the negativity is “easy to shake off. We expect it. We want to experiment and evolve as musicians, and doing new stuff is always gonna have people question what’s going on, especially if it’s a lot more mellow or a lot more melodic—not quite as heavy and not quite as metal. People are gonna get bummed and they’re gonna have some things to say, or they’re not gonna come to the shows, and that’s fine.” The singer sighs. “There’s always gonna be somebody that has something to say about your band, and you just try to take it with a grain of salt.”

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