There's a moment I've come to anticipate at a Death Pilot show: The last movement in the song "The Treatment," in which lead singer "Midian" proclaims, "The dead will rise!" over a steady, intricate blast of drums, bass, keyboard, and guitars. The interlude is at once hypnotic and stirring. But what really gets me is that I'm never sure what it means for the dead to rise. Yes, there's the obvious gothic horror reference. But every time I hear that proclamation--made so effective with "Capt. ?'s" gorgeous backing vocals--I want to interpret it as a positive. A sliver of optimism in a hell-tastic world. Like, maybe the dead whom we miss will rise so that we can be reunited.
I might not be off the mark in perceiving this dichotomy in Death Pilot's music, in seeing a juxtaposition of love and nihilism. "I'm glad that's how it's coming across," Midian tells me as we're parked outside Dream Street in San Diego after the first show of Death Pilot's first national tour. "Like, there's a negative tone yet at the end of it all, there's hope. I've always had this mentality that out of bad things, good things can come out."
Death Pilot, based in Los Angeles, is clearly Midian's brainchild. Yet the singer-songwriter has allowed many other talents to shape and hone his vision. There's the production company Dirty Icon (Logan Mader of Machine Head and Soulfly, and Lucas Banker; 30 Seconds To Mars guitarist Tomo Milicevic also produces the band), who hand-picked Midian to evolve his music and his voice well beyond the initial DP lineup. And then there are seasoned musicians "Ares" (bass) and "Diamondz" (drums), whose skills and musical maturity have turned DP's rhythm section into a formidable, unstoppable weapon. Finally, there's talent mixed with youthful vigor, in keyboardist/backing vocalist "Capt. ?" and guitarists "Machine" and "JD."
Those last two shine onstage during the song "Do Or Die"--though it's as metal as all get-out, the dual guitar lines are more classic-sounding, dare I even say evoking George Harrison? Come to think of it, every Death Pliot song, to me, sound as much like classical composition as metal: There are separate, specific movements, like a Beethoven symphony or Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, each evoking a different emotion: Anger, protest, love, despair, hope. Accordingly, Midian's voice often turns on a dime between sonorous and screamo.
On their MySpace page, two demo tracks are most recognizable from their shows: "Wonderful Life" (an enjoyable smack in the face) and "Sea Of Faces" (heavy yet romantic and somewhat upbeat). My favorite on the list, though, is "Until The End Of The World," which starts out understated with lolling minor or diminished guitar lines and a barely-perceptible voice, and suddenly speeds up enough to please the most dedicated headbanger; especially when played live, all components come together in beautiful polyphony (see what I meant by the Mozart comparison?).
The funny thing about DP is, they're not yet on a label, haven't really started recording their first album, and don't have any music videos--and yet have gotten loads of buzz for both their live shows and the demos (recorded with different musicians) posted on their MySpace page. Part of it could be how perfectly "cast" the lineup is, in terms of what they bring both onstage and in the studio. "We found that the people who could play the songs well kind of already fit into these personas," Midian says; while he's been working with Dirty Icon for almost two years, current bandmates have only been in Death Pilot since early this year.
I don't think the chatter surrounding DP is just because they've got props and light boxes and stage makeup that helps the band represent escapees from a crashed aircraft. See, all of it is part of the larger back story portrayed by Death Pilot: Dead military pilots come to life to so that the living can learn from their wisdom, or at least that's how I interpret it. And that imbues their music, and their performance, with an excitement that's hard to describe. Yet all these visual components aid in ultimate goals--how to best represent the songs, and how to craft songs that best represent the band. Says Midian, "Every song we write, I go into it picturing a video in my head, and a story in my head. If we get (stuck) on a song and there's no visuals, we scrap it."
While I do enjoy a relentless aural assault, not everyone is open to anything called "metal." But I do think DP could be one of those heavy acts that appeal across charts and genre-snobs. "We're trying to start something really different and show that just because we're metal doesn't mean our music isn't for other people, too." Midian says.
He drills it down further: "I want people to come to the show and feel empowered."
(Note: Death Pilot is currently touring the United States. For show dates and demo tracks, see the band's MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/deathpilotmusic)