Eli-Stone’s second disc, Driven, shows plenty of strength, and what’s missing won’t be much missed in a live setting. There’s little finesse or complexity in song structure or sound, and the hooks aren’t unique or abundant enough to distinguish most tracks from others; it’s largely undifferentiated hate, which shouldn’t matter much to an audience unfamiliar with the material. The band’s music is eminently moshable, more than competent, and certainly quite a few steps above the norm.
That makes Eli-Stone the perfect candidate to headline this weekend’s Cornstock metal festival in the parking lot of Halftime Sports Bar at 4201 North Brady Street.
Cornstock was conceived as a nearby alternative to the Pig Pen’s regular (but distant) all-ages metal shows. On the one hand, the day-long, two-stage show is a great showcase for local metal bands – including Ill-Bred, Head Held High, Purkle, Purge, Provoke, Division Theory, Fabrication, Fear of Falling, Stonefish, and Rust. (Unfortunately, Circle 7 has dropped out of the lineup.) The show also features hard-rock purveyors Blue Ash Ink, whose relatively softer edges are meant to appeal to an older audience.
But Eli-Stone, as the only nonlocal entry, will be the biggest draw for curious ears. The band has opened for an impressive array of acts, including Kid Rock, Slipknot, and Staind, and has emerged from a crowded field in the Gateway City’s metal scene as one of the promising bands in the genre.
Certainly, Driven has a lot going for it. The album has a polished, clear sound with appropriate bite and energy, the tracks are mean and efficient, and the band is effectively ferocious. Many metal bands sound too sterile and deliberate on record, or come off as too muddy, pitfalls Eli-Stone avoids well on this album.
Faint praise? A bit. The trouble with Eli-Stone’s brand of metal is that when it’s limited to three-minute bursts of fury without interesting form – as it is on Driven, dominated by a soft-loud-soft-loud dynamic – “competence” is about the best one can say. The genre isn’t much for subtlety or texture.
Drummer Justin Schmitt and bassist Lonnie Dunham stand out in the din, carrying the songs just as often as the riffs with boundless energy and a healthy dose of innovation. Scott Pingel contributes programming and samples, but he primarily provides ambient introductions out of which rage erupts. Singer Scott Stoltz has perfected a harsh, confident, and powerful bark without yet growing distinctive; his pinched, affected sneer during quieter moments reveal his limitations. He certainly shows signs of something more interesting; he can invoke Ozzy at his most dramatic.
Guitarists Loren Bruns and Mark Willaredt are generally relegated to glorified amped-up rhythm guitar. They won’t be confused with Rage Against the Machine’s inventive Tom Morello anytime soon, but when they’re given some room – such as on the title track, “Conform,” “Hate,” and “So Called Right” – the band emerges from its chosen cage. These songs have genuine promise, something on which to latch when pure power won’t do.
In its first year – and organizers hope to make it an annual event – Cornstock couldn’t do much better than Eli-Stone. These six guys will surely rock, and if they haven’t made a great record, that won’t diminish the audience’s enjoyment.
Cornstock will be held from 2 to 11 p.m. Saturday at Halftime. Tickets are $10 at the door and $8 in advance.