Castle's chemistry: thunderous metal in Dunsmuir, Europe next

Richard DuPertuis
Mathew Davis and Liz Blackwell play guitar during their gig at Spirits bar in downtown Dunsmuir Saturday. The audience erupted in applause, cheers and flashes of devil horns. Blackwell says the darkness in her music doesn't bother her. “I'm not a satanist,” she said after the show. “I'm probably closer to a pagan. Without darkness, there'd be no light. It's a balance. You have to have them both.” Also pictured is hired drummer Rae Amitay, who will be going home to Chicago next week when Castle heads to Germany to kick off a European tour. Photo by Richard DuPertuis

Fists flew in downtown Dunsmuir Saturday night. Possessed by their passion for a music called metal, patrons on Spirits' dance floor exploded into mosh, a form of dance that looks like hand-to-hand combat. Their fists waved harmlessly, if frantically, in the air, and though abrupt bodily contact was encouraged, most blows landed flat-handed, delivered solely to stir the mosh – all for fun.

Fueling the frenzy was a band named Castle. Drummer Rae Amitay laid down a beat that could churn butter, while guitarist Mathew Davis shredded riffs, high and low, punctuating his changes by bowing and straightening, which tossed a head richly endowed with hair. Fingering a bombastic bass guitar as she sang was Dunsmuir's own – "born and raised" – Liz Blackwell.

The trio played tightly, loudly, and the resulting thunder delighted a crowd of dozens, who howled and applauded and flashed hand signs that have been identified with heavy metal concerts for at least 40 years.

Castle's headlining gig at Spirits was the last stop on a 10-day west coast tour before heading to Europe for a spring tour to promote its newest album "Blacklands." With three labels on three continents and two albums full of favorites for the fans, the doom metal group formed two years ago in San Francisco by Davis and Blackwell is ready for the big time.

"Europe is everything for the metal world," said Blackwell after the amplifiers had cooled. "It's massive. It's like a giant cultural thing. That's how you create a career in the metal industry." She said fame isn't that important to her, but she is excited by the prospect of such wide exposure.

"Everything comes to a spearhead when you realize you have support to share your music," she said. "We're really into it for the music."

Metal fans were into it for the music Saturday night. Castle headlined about four hours of wall-quaking tunes, preceded by two local bands, one in Siskiyou named Beyond Doubts Shadow, and the other, from Shasta, calling itself by a twisted moniker that if read backwards would not be fit for publication in a family newspaper.

Beyond Doubts Shadow is comprised of guitarists Josh Julien and Eric Piltz, with Trevor Coxey on bass and Derek Birdsall on drums, and voiced by Tom Valenzuela. The other band features guitarists Brandon Moore and Jim Powell, bassist Rob Reusze, drummer James Lara, and singer Julian Freeze.

"We were really happy to get the crowd ready for them," Julien said Saturday, just before Castle blasted its opening chords.

Blackwell powered most of the vocals, but from time to time Davis added his voice, a hoarse, guttural sound emblematic of the metal genre. If there are any words, they're hard to hear.

Indecipherable lyrics didn't matter much to local Jaime Meredith, owner of the town's new tattoo parlor. "It's the feeling!" she shouted to be heard. "It's the emotion! It's the vibe!"

Jay Powell said he was there despite the singing style, yelling, "I do like the guitar and the bass and the drums, but I can't understand a lick of what he says!"

Later, Blackwell explained that it's not about the words. "It's like another instrument, to add a layer to a song," she said. "It adds that gritty texture." She also said that how it's sung. By controlling inflection, such a raw vocal can communicate a mood to listeners who speak any language.

Home girl makes good

Liz Blackwell was born about 28 years ago to parents and well-known Dunsmuir musicians Harry and Debbie Blackwell. Between sets Saturday, Harry recalled her introduction to music as being at about age five. "We used to have band practice at our house, and she would interrupt us," he said. "So we gave her a tambourine. She played it."

He said about five years after that, after the band took a break outside, they returned to the Dunsmuir Community Building to finish their gig and found a crowd of people standing around the stage watching Liz onstage. "She was singing with a CD we left playing," he said.

After that, Liz was encouraged. She said that in her last years at Dunsmuir Elementary School she played bass clarinet in the school band. "That got me into bass," she said. "The summer going into high school, my dad bought me a bass guitar."

Asked why bass, she said, "That's the melodic rhythm of the music. You're playing the rhythm of the drum beats. The bass is what makes you dance."

Asked why she chose heavy metal, she said that's because, in San Francisco in 2009, she chose band-mate and now husband Mathew Davis, who comes from Canada. "We were working at the same nightclub," she said. She was managing acts for a music festival; he was a bartender. He showed her some songs he'd been writing for years.

"I encouraged him," she said. "I told him he needs to get these out where people can hear them. We worked through them together. We hung out together every day after that." After six months, they married.

Two years later, their first album, "In Witch Way," was released. "Blacklands" came out a year after that. To promote it, Blackwell said, they toured the country, headlining 32 shows from Boston to Los Angeles. Next week they'll land in Aachen, Germany.

Blackwell said they'll be playing with a new drummer in Europe. Amitay was hired out of Chicago for the national and west coast tours but isn't going overseas with them due to other professional engagements.

"It's not easy to tour, to walk out of your life," said Blackwell. "It's hard, but it's meant for people like Mat and me. We rock together. We have chemistry."

Add a new element to the periodic table, Castle, under heavy metals.