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Rehab of a strung-out musical scene

A longtime heavy-metal hotbed (home to the likes of Metallica and High on Fire), the Bay Area is fast becoming host to a new breed of this music defined not by a particular style so much as by a willingness to experiment—call it avant-garde metal. It’s also wholly in tune with our NorCal sensibilities: dark and foggy, yes, but shot through with unexpected moments of light. Ludicra’s buzzing guitars, for example, seem familiarly “heavy” at first, but check out the King Crimson–esque song structures, the soaring female vocals, and the lyrics—nothing about the Dark Lord here, just meditations on the sorrows of city life, from the “narrow rented tombs” we live in to Golden Gate Bridge jumpers. Giant Squid features raging distortion and texts drawn from the Bay’s more sinister historical corners, like the Donner Party and the Gold Rush murder ballads, but with hummable hooks. And Grayceon, led by classically trained cellist Jackie Perez Gratz, mixes thrash and doom metal with chamber music, folk, and jazz. The result of all this iconoclasm is bigger crowds and, often, a new type of metal-curious fan. At many shows, the audience looks almost like an Outside Lands crowd, only with more black T-shirts.