Metal group Crom are defined by their intense live performances and their peculiar metal mash-ups. Oh, and their breathtaking lack of ambition.
Sure, they count members of famous groups like Mastodon, High on Fire and Slipknot among their fans, and their drummer has been lauded as one of the best of his generation. The co-founder of hip metal label Southern Lord, Greg Anderson, was their bassist briefly. And they even once opened for Beck. Yet the band have gone precisely nowhere in 20 years.
Success isn't just beside the point, it's diametrically opposed to who they are.
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Named for a (fictional) god worshipped by Conan the Barbarian, Crom routinely out-crazy their audience. Members have walked offstage midset more than once. Their rhythm guitarist (known simply as “Scottbag”) has performed naked. At a downtown warehouse show in 2001, an audience member threw a bottle at them, to which their frontman — who goes by the name Will Crom — responded by throwing it back. By night's end the band chased the entire crowd of 250 people into the street with beer bottles. “There was literally no one left in the place. We were kicking over trash cans. There were bottles everywhere,” he laughs a bit. “That was the ultimate Crom show.”
There's something of a too-insane-to-be-true quality to almost everything about Crom. The group itself began as an inside joke 20 years ago between Will and guitarist Phil Vera. In a Loyola Marymount University liturgy class, Will sketched surreal pictures of toilets with horns and bat wings, vaginas with teeth and fat women with four breasts, all bearing the logo “Crom.” The nun teaching the class was not amused, and often tossed the pair out of class.
Eventually the pair decided to write some songs, but that was about the extent of their ambition. “If our friend Kevin hadn't asked us to play his birthday, it never would have went anywhere,” says Will Crom, who is 41 and lives in Hermosa Beach. “We never sought after anything.” However, after this first gig, fans followed up with requests for them to play backyard parties and warehouse gigs.
Their imagery is all over the map: One of their T-shirts calls their fans “shitheads” and another demands the head of prolific '80s thrash producer Alex Perialas. The cover art on their album Hot Sumerian Nights depicts them as arctic warriors. Their second of two full-length albums, 2001's The Cocaine Wars 1974-1989, features a barbarian woman riding a giant polar bear. Their lyrics, Will says, are about “sex, drugs and bowel movements.”
“We're not a band doing performance art,” he goes on. “We're performance art in the form of a band.”
Their antics notwithstanding, the members of Crom are outstanding musicians. Drummer Jesse Appelhans has topped a survey by Modern Drummer of the best prog drummers, and Vera has an uncanny ability to play … basically anything. In fact, his proficiency allows the group to lampoon metal and its tropes. When playing live, Vera will lift riffs from Slayer, Venom, Blue Öyster Cult or even The Doobie Brothers. “Phil uses that to convey a certain levity,” Appelhans says.
Despite their musical capabilities, famous fan base and ability to pick up good gigs at corporate-sponsored shows, Crom always seem to blow it. Their biggest performance, for example — 2011's Scion Rock Fest at the Fox Theater in Pomona — was pretty much a disaster. “Stages don't work for us. We need to be eye-to-eye with the crowd. They're as much a part of it as we are,” Will explains. “People start doing [a band] because they love music, but it becomes a business.”
He concludes in typical Crom fashion, mixing the real and the absurd: “We're not a business. We're not even a band.”
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