Even witnessing it up-close and in person, the transformation is hard to believe. Grace Perry, a naturally pretty, soft-spoken 23-year-old college student and librarian, is about to turn into a monster.
On a Thursday night in late January, the five members of Landmine Marathon are rehearsing at their small, unadorned practice space near downtown Phoenix. Drummer Mike Pohlmeier delivers four quick shots to an open high-hat and the room explodes with sound. Guitarists Ryan Butler and Dylan Thomas start in on a sludgy, down-tuned riff in unison as bassist Matt Martinez maintains a thunderous, fuzzed-out low-end groove. Perry slips off her canvas shoes, clutches a microphone with both hands, leans back steeply and starts singing.
Actually, "singing" isn't really the most accurate word to use. On songs like "Bile Towers" and "Skin From Skull," Perry's guttural growls and demonic screeches sound like they come not from her abdomen, but straight from the bowels of hell. With sandblasted screams that many death-metal vocalists would envy, Perry is an anomaly in a genre in which ugliness is often a virtue.
The Sets in Tempe
Landmine Marathon is scheduled to perform Monday, February 23.
"I didn't grow up with death metal," Perry admits. "I didn't grow up with grindcore. I was into a lot of different music than this, but they asked me [to be in the band] and I got introduced to it and I love it now. I'm not an expert. I never will be."
Five years ago, Perry was a teenager cutting her teeth in a theatrical shock-rock group called Osama Bin SARS. When Martinez caught one of their shows at Modified Arts, the proverbial light bulb came on over his head.
"When I first saw her play in another band, it was kind of like a joke art-rock type band," Martinez says, "but she screamed with this death metal growl and I was like, 'I want to start a band.' It was this intense voice. It was her voice. It wasn't an image or a gimmick or anything like that."
The band members seem especially wary of the "gimmick" label, especially since garnering national attention after Perry appeared in Revolver's "Hottest Chicks in Metal" issue alongside such notable (albeit decidedly non-metal) babes as Evanescence's Amy Lee and Flyleaf's Lacey Mosley. With her slim, 5-foot-10 frame and piercing blue eyes, Perry seems better suited for the pages of Vogue or Cosmo than a metal 'zine. But the other members of Landmine Marathon insist that she's not just another pretty face.
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"If anybody wants to say we're just trying to capitalize on the fact that she's a girl or whatever, it's ridiculous, because her vocals are fuckin' sick," Pohlmeier says.
Perry, Martinez, and Pohlmeier formed Landmine Marathon in late 2004 along with original guitarists Mike Waldron and Eric Saylor. The band recorded its debut album, Wounded, in April 2006 at Butler's studio, Arcane Digital Recordings. Butler, a veteran of the Valley metal and hardcore scenes who has played with Unruh, Structure of Lies, and, most recently, North Side Kings, liked what he heard and ultimately joined Landmine Marathon later that year. Following a 2007 split EP with Bay Area retro-thrashers Scarecrow, Landmine Marathon released their second full-length, Rusted Eyes Awake, last October. Thomas is the rookie of the group, having just joined the band late last year. He's faced with the daunting task of simultaneously learning the band's back catalog and working on new material for an upcoming third album.
With a throwback sound that pays homage to early grindcore legends like Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, and Carcass, Landmine Marathon has drawn praise from the national metal community. Still, the band has gone largely unnoticed in the Valley, something Butler attributes the insular nature of the local metal scene.
"Being that I work with a lot of the bands from here, it's really strange, 'cause I've grown up here and I've been going to shows since 1990 or '91," he says. "It used to be a total small-town scene in a big town. Now it's just converted to, like, none of the bands even know each other. I'll talk to bands that I'm recording and I'm like, 'You guys should be playing with blah blah blah,' and they're like, 'Who's that?'"
Martinez points to a dearth of metal-friendly all-ages venues as another hurdle in the struggle to build a Valley fan base.
"When the Mason Jar was there, everybody hated it, but everybody went there," he says. "It was a good place to see a good metal show. All-ages venues [are important] because the metalheads start young. Most of the all-ages venues in town seem like they're art galleries that cater to indie rock or more underground music."
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Although they have no plans of relocating, Landmine Marathon have come to accept the local metal scene for what it is and are focusing on expanding their fan base nationally and globally. They're currently in talks with a respected indie metal label in hopes of securing European distribution for Rusted Eyes Awake as well as a vinyl pressing stateside. The deal was still in the works at press time, but the band is excited about the potential boost in exposure.
"(The label's) got some Billboard-charting stuff right now, which is pretty crazy," Butler says. "So we thought it would be a good move for us right now."
Despite the spotlight that international distribution brings, Perry remains a reluctant sex symbol. The Revolver cover featured Bleeding Through's Marta Peterson in skimpy lingerie and Lacuna Coil's Christina Scabbia in a red leather-and-lace dress, making Perry's ensemble of jeans and a clingy black top look downright tame by comparison. The contrast was no accident. Perry seems more interested in being a role model than a supermodel.
"I've never played the part of the hot chick," she says. "I've never dressed weird. I've never acted like a slut . . . If we can get in a magazine and they want to talk about me being a girl in a death metal band in the metal scene, I'm more than willing to, because there's a lot of good to it, too. All those girls out there that do like this kind of music can see another girl and relate to her, and maybe that will inspire them to make music of their own. I try and focus on that."