Featured Music: Wednesday, February 18, 2009
They don’t care what’s “cool” — Urizen’s gonna bring their rocket ships and robots.
Saturday, Feb 21, at The Boiler Room, 101 W Hickory, Denton. 940-566-5483. With Bat Castle and Islamic Sex Secrets
Bending Metal

Urizen breaks the rules — including the one that says all metal bands have to lack a sense of humor.


Apocalyptic Nintendo music? That’s what happens when the members of the happy-black-metal band Urizen started fiddling with the technology. When envisioning the North Texas group’s 2007 EP Universe, songwriter Thomas Drinnen bought a converter so he could elicit sounds from an original Nintendo console.
Creative? Definitely. Twisted? Somewhat. The constant structural changes at mind-bending speed showcase a band that’s deadly serious about playing tight, technical music. But Urizen’s primary goal is to entertain, not stoke any egos. Proof: the seven-foot robot that accompanies them onstage.
That’s been true since Drinnen and his younger brother Daniel began creating musical theater in their elementary school days in Colorado. By the time they hit their teen years they’d formed a “novelty Halloween cover band” named Dunwich Horror, with Thomas singing and playing guitar and Daniel on keyboards. With (ghoulish) fun being their first thought, they paid more attention to constructing a guillotine prop than to perfecting their performances of Rammstein, Megadeth, and Marilyn Manson songs.
Thomas eventually fled to a Kansas City art school. Their music survived, but they lacked a few key pieces — namely, a drummer. In 2001, the brothers met up in Arlington to catch a show by Norwegian symphonic metal band Dimmu Borgir. Arriving early and hoping to meet the band, they bumped into another teenage straggler, Mexico City native Julio Escamilla, by then a drummer in Fort Worth.
By the end of the show, their common musical destiny had been forged. Escamilla sent drum tracks to Colorado, which the Drinnens sent back to him overdubbed with guitars and vocals. A few months later, the drummer boarded a Greyhound bus, arriving in Denver in the middle of a gay-pride parade. The threesome spent a solid week playing and creating music. On a subsequent return visit by Escamilla, the trio began recording drum tracks for what would eventually become Urizen’s first full-length CD, autocratopolis, released in 2005.
The week after Escamilla finished laying down the drum tracks, the entire Drinnen family relocated to North Texas, and the primary incarnation of Urizen took tangible shape. For several years, the trio continued practicing and adding material to autocratopolis. Finally, in 2004, they decided to step up the pace: Urizen booked its first show at the Ridglea Theater in August. Only a week before the gig, Thomas Drinnen found bassist and now-guitarist Matt Garrison to join their ranks.
“Anything we do, we force ourselves into a deadline. It’s the only way to get anything done,” Daniel Drinnen said. The same strategy worked to get autocratopolis finished after four years of work: The band booked a CD release show. On the absolute last day to get the accompanying text to the printer, they mailed the material that became a professional-looking booklet decorated with lyrical poetry and stories told by desaturated photographs.
In contrast to Universe, the older CD contains more soaring, epic-tinged moments, although both are punctuated by Escamilla’s pounding, fleet-footed drumming, like rows of exclamation points. Unlike other bands that fall into the various “metal” categories, Urizen relies on intelligible lyrics and eschews flashy guitar solos — almost like the heavy without the metal.
Being a band unaffected by concerns about what’s “cool” has somewhat cursed Urizen as far as finding a place in the local scene. “It’s a weird contradiction,” said Thomas Drinnen. “We want people in the crowd to have fun ... there’s a side of it [the metal scene] where people want to keep up appearances. They want to mosh around and hurt people.”
The guys in Urizen enjoyed being the go-to opening band when European black metal bands rolled through town. But otherwise, they grew pretty tired of the grind in the North Texas club scene. After a couple years of weekly gigging, including “soul-crushing” metal fests, they put live shows on the back burner.
“Lately we’re finding alternative forums for presenting ourselves,” said Daniel Drinnen. In October, they rented a booth at a sci-fi convention, bringing music into an environment where most people were looking for futuristic visual art. “We were the only band there,” he continued. “We dressed in costumes, had a TV with live footage. ... It was a totally different group of consumers. We’re creating a market for ourselves.”
For three days in March, Urizen will be the only band at the All-Con fantasy fiction convention in Addison. In between talks on anime, science fiction, and costuming, Urizen will play six shows. They will be the representative musicians in a sea of people dressed in Star Wars and other fantasy fiction gear.
As part of the convention, the band, which now includes James Wicks on bass, will participate in a panel discussion about the lives of musicians in North Texas. They’ll probably talk mostly “about coming to terms with the fact that there will be no money,” Thomas Drinnen said. “We just want to make enough money to keep doing what we do.”
Being a band of mostly sober people, they feel a sci-fi convention is a better venue than a smoky club when it comes to finding new listeners. No matter where they play, however, Urizen brings its space suits, robot, hanging keyboard, and soon, a rocket ship. “If you let your inhibitions down,” Thomas Drinnen said, “it translates to the crowd ... .We do it on our terms, which are the only terms we know. It’s like a drawn-out tragedy, but it’s very entertaining.”

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