With its precise balance of complex song structures and swift, fluid changes in tone and time, Durham's Grappling Hook is a band for a live audience. Fantastical battle hymns reforge power-metal glory with noisy indie rock and tough-guy blues-metal. Onstage, the tunes inspire high theatricality and comic-book suspense.
That has a lot to do with the shape-shifting way they're built: Just when the band settles into the mathy opening of "I Judge You Not O Juggernaut," for instance, it morphs into dry-throated hollering and sharp proto-metal riffs. But it'd be hard to place Grappling Hook reductively alongside metal revivalist peers in the local scene (Valient Thorr and Colossus being the most fitting comparisons). No, this is different and divergent, which is to be expected from Hook frontman Dave Bjorkback, who recently retired his superhero alter-ego The Torch Marauder. The Marauder's comedic, operatic songs were an oddball local favorite, but his propensity for grandiose vocals and dramatic rock flair aren't lost in this new Grappling Hook oeuvre.
"A Closing Fist Can Crush Your Heart" begins with the sort of belted-out proclamation ("Shadows form a deadly circle/ A closing fist can crush your heart/ Destroying all you know") one might expect to give way to a breakneck verse and a gigantic, Maiden-fashioned chorus. But it doesn't—at least not instantly. Instead, the intro leans into a gauzy verse, with humming organ and restrained drumming abetted by tinkling glockenspiel and muted guitars. But a minute and a quarter in, Bjorkback unleashes a piercing howl, a harbinger of the change that sweeps in to gratify the glorious metal tension that's been building.
Normally, such toying with structural expectations is a means for a band to move beyond its genre's trappings. But Grappling Hook never seems to be working within or without any given category, so much as it seems to be directing its energy toward an imagined roomful of people with beer cans clutched in their raised hands. These people are listening to Grappling Hook simply because it sounds good. Rightly so.
Grappling Hook plays with The Travesties and Monsonia at The Reservoir in Carrboro Friday, May 1. The 10 p.m. show is free. Grappling Hook also plays Saturday, May 9, at The Pinhook in Durham. Minor Stars and Le Weekend open.