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Durham metal titans Tooth split into two bands; finally, one pushes beyond the past


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Hog's first release, the four-song EP Archetypes, isn't a starting point in the traditional sense. Rather, it's the last word in the complicated dissolution of Durham metal band Tooth. Hog is one of two outfits to emerge from that breakup; Lurch is the other. Only Hog, however, has kept and reinvented some of the old material.

"The first three songs [on Archetypes] we wrote right before Tooth broke up. And we kept going as Hog," Rich James says from his collapsing couch. Everyone in Hog but bassist Ryland Fishel—who is home with his month-old baby—sits in the living room. A dog named Bucket lounges on the floor. In the next room, a bass leans against the wall. It's early evening in the downtown Durham neighborhood of Cleveland-Holloway, and people drift into the yards and streets.

In Hog, guitarist and singer James' vocals hit like blows from a rusty hammer, but he's a soft-spoken conversationalist who espouses a live-and-let-live philosophy. A Durham native, as are most of the musicians in Hog and Lurch, James says he has seen his city go from a "hellhole" where "downtown was just death incarnate" to an exciting place to be any kind of artist. Talking about Tooth, he recants often, neutralizing his more zealous or cynical statements. Still, the slip-ups are revealing. "The last song is the first song," he blurts in a moment of truth, indicating his excitement to get past the Tooth canon and into new territory.

Echoes guitarist Alec Ferrell: "It's definitely the prologue to this band. But this is kind of a clearing out." As the only member of Hog who wasn't in Tooth, Ferrell's ready to record songs he was active in writing.

Conversing with the members of Hog, it's quickly apparent how intertwined everybody's lives are—and "everybody" seems to mean the members of both Hog and Lurch. "The way that it worked out," James says, putting out his left hand, palm-down, starting to count from the thumb, "is you have Ryland. And then you have me and Noah [Kessler], and we're Hog." Then he touches his thumbs together, indicating Ryland Fishel, the common member, before counting on his right hand. "And then you have Ryland, and J-ME [Guptill] and Ben [Wilson], and they're Lurch."

Even post-breakup, the two bands seem inextricably linked, like brothers who don't always get along. Long before they were a group of notable local metal musicians, these guys were friends. Kessler and Wilson, for instance, now play in separate bands, but Kessler has known him since he was 3 years old. Even the best of pals bicker, sometimes fiercely. "That was in no way, shape or form easy for anyone," says Kessler. "That was fucking tough. I was so bummed out that I didn't go out of my way to talk to anybody."

Even as peace largely reigns in this circle of removed or restored friends, there's not likely to be a Tooth/ Lurch co-bill any time soon. They once played together at a Durham house party, but no more. James muses, perhaps idealistically, "That'll be a great day when we can get those bands together and play some shows." For one, it would be an unfair strain on shared bassist Fishel, a high-energy performer. But that's only the practical obstacle.

"The thing is, I maybe felt like Rich wasn't completely honest about why Tooth broke up," says Lurch vocalist Guptill, who pulled the same duty in Tooth. Where James refers to personal complications, Guptill says his former bandmate's story omits an essential detail. "Rich wanted to kick me out of the band. There's not really a nicer way to say it."

Guptill doesn't pull his punches, but he doesn't take cheap shots, either: He's been friends with James since they were teens, he says, and even an apparently major spat like the Tooth split is insignificant in the long run. Several years out, he can see the division as a difference of vision. "It makes the most sense for [James] to be in a band where he is the main creative force, a bandleader. And it makes more sense for me and Ben to be in a band where it's a more collective thing," he explains.

But he doesn't want to listen to Hog, a band he sees as a retread or an obvious continuation of the old band. It propagates what several of these musicians refer to as the "Savannah metal" sound, exemplified by bluesy heavies like Baroness, Kylesa and even Tooth. Lurch has moved away from such Southern psychedelic art metal. Guptill has been listening to what he calls even sludgier stuff coming out of New Orleans. Owing to the members' collective tastes—and what he says is a democratic writing process—Lurch incorporates elements of punk, death metal and black metal into a confrontational, aggressive stew. In a way, it's a move back to more traditional metal.

"I don't have any interest in ever seeing Hog play, because they use old Tooth songs that are reworked," Guptill says. He is credited in the liner notes of Archetypes with writing those parts. It's impossible for him to hear James singing those words without remembering how he handled the same material. "There's no objective way for me to listen to it."

There's one musician who was never up in arms about the split: bassist Fishel. "From the beginning, I was always in the middle saying, 'I don't care what the politics are, I don't care who doesn't like who or whatever,'" he remembers. "I'm up to play with whoever wants to play." Even over the phone, the new father seems to glow. As the only common member of Lurch and Hog, a familiar live-and-let-live mentality is essential. "It's kind of fun to be able to fracture a band into two bands and they go in completely different directions and I get to be a part of both of them," he says.

Hog didn't go in a completely different direction, though. They still fill the same niche Tooth did of a Durham metal band that appeals to non-metal fans. Whether Archetypes is Hog's first record or Tooth's last is almost irrelevant. The three inherited songs possess gritty immediacy un-dulled by the three years since they were written. In the 10 swamp-prog minutes of closing track "The Fourth Facet," the only all-new cut, Hog transcends its origins by showcasing chops that have vastly improved since the time of Tooth. The next step—a record they aim to record late in fall—might be a more exciting prospect to the band than the current release. It will be completely post-Tooth material.

"We're writing stuff we almost can't play," Ferrell says, laughing with excitement about the dynamism and musicianship at work.

"I really like the fact that we're getting [the EP] out of the way and we're ready to work on something new," James echoes. He, Ferrell and Kessler are happy to leave the baggage behind. If that's closure for Tooth's story, so be it; Fishel is just happy to be playing music with his friends—all his friends.


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