The Fucking Champs' Metal Without the Mess

The Fucking Champs' Metal Without the Mess
Not really metal, but certainly not indie rock either, one might think that San Francisco's the Fucking Champs live in a world of contradiction. With a solid eight-year history of self-financed cassettes, seven-inches, and three CDs, these cunning stuntmen have ducked in and out of epic '80s hair metal, experimental, and progressive rock while constantly retaining a distinct indie edge. One thing's for sure, though: these guys play heavy metal better than most metal bands, yet they eschew all normal genre trappings. "We've never been overly concerned with looking a certain way," says drummer Tim Soete. "We're too busy working on the music to go shopping for bullet belts."

Their new album, the straight-shooting V (on Drag City), much like its predecessors III and IV, brings the house down with Queen-like harmonics, Yngwie Malmsteen-styled arpeggios, and a proggish ambience heretofore unheard since Rush's masterwork Hemispheres. "We are definitely influenced by Iron Maiden, Carcass, and Death as well as '70s rock acts Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, and Led Zeppelin," says Soete. "But we're also influenced by classical music, soundtrack music, and experimental electronic music, and I think it shows on our records. I don't think there's any shame in being called ‘metal,' but in general we'd prefer not to have the band's music lumped under a single classification."

With no lyrics and the bass guitar replaced by guitar synths, their metal chops are bewilderingly good — of the type that inspires bedroom air guitar-fests until the wee hours. Distilled as thus, the album V simultaneously invokes the Scorpions, Metallica, and Van Halen while zipping alongside the like-minded C Average, Don Caballero, and Trans Am (with whom, not surprisingly, the Fucking Champs collaborated on last year's Double Exposure EP on Thrill Jockey). Yet some still think that the band's a joke, which Soete refutes. "In theory, a musician's intentions shouldn't have any bearing on whether or not the music is good. I think that if the Fucking Champs were ‘kidding,' then it would be a really elaborate and stupid joke."

The band's music remains vocal-less, despite the soaring Randy Rhoads-like soloing in nearly every song that screams for death growls or piercing falsettos. Soete adds that this approach often confuses fans. "On our last US tour, we played a metal-fest in Memphis. I think we played just before Soilent Green, who are a fairly big name in the death-metal circuit. I think some of the metal-heads at the show were a little vexed when they saw three dorky guys taking to the stage. But most people seemed to like it when we cranked up the guitars and let it rip."