Who: Elliot Jay Cunningham (bass, vocals), Ethan Conrad (guitar, vocals), Zack Trani (guitar, vocals) and Malcolm Luis (drums).
For fans of: Melvins, Black Sabbath, Sleep.
Sounds like: Baby whales pushing a nuclear submarine into the Mariana Trench.
Once upon a time, being a teenager in a heavy-metal band would have been a cause for alarm for parents and schools. Not anymore.
"It's still kinda cool to be in a metal band, but it's not the same effect as it used to be," says Ethan Conrad, 17, "especially in Portland, because everyone is in a metal band."
Still, Conrad's metal band, Saola, is pretty special. In an age bracket that considers the compact disc a medieval format, these four young men have forsaken metalcore and thrash to focus on de rigueur leaden riffage with a level of musicianship far beyond most shredders 20 years their senior.
"I got introduced to the Melvins by my dad," says singer-bassist Elliot Jay Cunningham, whose father was an early member of death-metal cultists Black Witchery. Conrad's gateway was a bit different. "Oh God, it was all bad," he laughs. "The game Rocksmith got me into 'diet metal.' That's what I call it. Three Days Grace. I got into Avenged Sevenfold."
This summer, Saola will release its debut album, Black Canvas. It's still in the mixing phase, but even the rough versions display confidence and vision. Guitarist Zack Trani brings bluegrass finesse to the opening arpeggios of "Cosmonaut," which tumbles into a waltz of descending riffs that recall doom darlings Pallbearer. "The Deep," on the other hand, is pure pummel, with a wall of sound that lumbers along without straying into the sounds of suburban metal.
The only problem: What happens to the band once everyone graduates? "Well, that's what we're all kinda worried about," Conrad says. Drummer Malcolm Luis is moving to Europe this summer, and Trani is going off to college. But the band is resourceful.
"We have a hopeful replacement lined up," Conrad says, referring to the open guitar slot. "He's a freshman right now. He's really talented. I taught him lessons for a while. And he, like, looks up to us a lot."
SEE IT: Saola plays the Black Water Bar, 835 NE Broadway, with Year of Nothing, Gidrah, and Where Lovers Rot, on Sunday, May 1. 7 pm. $5. All ages.