N17 kick-starts "Kontrol," the second song on the band's first album, Trust No One, which was nationally released May 27. A synthesizer sequence flares and strafes like B-movie laser fire. Guitar distortion and drums hit with visceral, piston force. "Fucked life dominated by control!" Askew sings, howling with such guttural menace the words translate, roughly, to "FURRGHD LUF DAARGH B'CRRUULRRGH!"
A lot of people say N17 sounds a lot like Ministry, which aggravates the Phoenix band to no end. "We are not like Ministry," says Cannella. The number of times an N17 member echoes this declaration in a recent interview (three) is overshadowed only by how many times Askew says he isn't afraid of death (four). But N17's right--sort of. It doesn't sound that much like Ministry. It's just that most bands who play its brand of industrial rock--looped, buzz-saw guitar riffs, ominous synthesizer sequences, sirens, slasher-flick screams, thunderous drumming and werewolf vocals--sound alike on the surface. Ministry's just the best known of the lot; hence the easy, shallow comparison. But Ministry's also getting tired, figuratively and--judging by the industrial demigods' by-the-numbers performance at Mesa Amphitheatre last summer--literally, as well. In contrast, N17 played the same night as Ministry at an after-party, and, in the genre's parlance, ripped shit up. "The kids were doing back flips off the monitors," Askew says. "We had an overwhelming number of people tell us we blew Ministry away that night."
Formed in the summer of 1993 (the band met through a New Times "musicians wanted/available" ad), N17 has understood from day one the importance of theatrics for industrial bands. Lights, costumes, mayhem. For early shows, N17 draped the stage with the black innards of disemboweled videocassettes. For lights, it used a few well-positioned Radio Shack strobes. "Our philosophy has always been to give a kid an arena concert for five bucks," says Kowalski.
Partly as a result of N17's taste for spectacle and relentless street-promoting, partly because the Valley is a proven market for heavy rock, and partly because goth/industrial fans are a bit obsessive by nature, N17 has developed arguably the largest, most rabid following of any local band. Next time you drive I-10 east out of Phoenix at night, check the massive electronic hotel billboard near the Warner exit. Every three cycles, a series of messages touting room features and rates is interrupted by N17's logo, clearly visible in changing colors for about eight seconds. The band pleads innocence. "We had nothing to do with it," says Cannella. "Our fans are crazy, and they just do crazy things." Things like the N17 tattoos and, gasp, scarifications visible on some fans at shows (try picturing some sorority babe with the Refreshments logo branded on her stomach). "I don't feel it's necessary," Askew says of the body modification, "but it's certainly flattering." Keltner disagrees: "Oh, come on. If someone wants something on their body, I'll be happy to write my name on their butt. Jesus. Some people should just buy a tee shirt."
One N17 fan infused the term "diehard" with new meaning during the band's showcase spot at this year's Foundation Forum, the metal-and-industrial-music conference held every spring in Los Angeles. N17 played a Saturday-night show in Hollywood at the Dragonflye, and during its set, one fan in the pit crashed to the floor and had to be revived by paramedics after his heart stopped. Keltner waves off the incident. "He fell, he hit his head, he flatlined, they brought him back, he's fine now, that's it." Well, not quite--the guy spent 50 hours in ICU, then had to catch a Greyhound back to Phoenix because he missed his ride. Askew says he paid the fan a bedside visit to drop off a get-well note and bus fare, and two nurses asked if he knew how to remove the man's Prince Albert (penis ring). Evidently, they wanted to insert a catheter. Askew, a professional body-piercer, declined. "They didn't have the right equipment. I told them to just go around it."