Until the luminous but looming Carrboro trio Solar Halos formed about a year and a half ago, its three members had never played together. But none of them are strangers—either to one another or to local music zealots.
Rather, the components of this comfortably heavy trio have bounced around the Triangle rock scene for years, establishing and refining unflappable, related styles. Whether backing the blues-prog of Caltrop or the menacing fuzz-pop of Airstrip, John Crouch is a concussive and mesmerizing drummer, a hard hitter who locks into wide grooves. Eddie Sanchez's bass lines lend Solar Halos the same intensity that they've given to Fin Fang Foom and several other loud acts. And while frontwoman Nora Rogers is singing instead of screaming here, as she did with the damaged sludge duo The Curtains of Night, she still extends riffs like strung-out invective.
"We all have a beat and a time signature we kind of move by. I feel like certain players are on the same time as you," Rogers says. "It spoke to me in some way seeing them play. That always gets you excited; it leads you to think you might click with someone."
That hunch led Rogers and Crouch to begin practicing as a duo in the summer of 2011. A few months of woodshedding produced the skeleton for one song. That's when they decided they needed a bassist, and Sanchez quickly agreed. The three have known each other for years, with their bands going on tours together and sharing local bills, but they've also simply hung out on off nights—often with one of them slinging drinks from behind one bar or another. That friendship didn't necessitate an underlying agenda, other than seeing how their respective talents might cooperate.
"There wasn't a very direct style that we had in mind. It was just more or less the sum of the parts—the parts being us," Crouch explains. "Being friends with everybody, once you get in a room, things will kind of move forward just knowing the personality types; the alternative being posting a Craigslist ad and saying, 'Yeah, I like Iron Maiden. I want to start a band like that.' You could be getting into something a little risky."
Though familiarity can breed complacency, Solar Halos pushed to overcome this possible setback by giving each member room to flex, to explore new wrinkles within their personal styles. The trio's self-titled debut, out later this month through the British imprint Devouter Records, benefits mightily from intricate instrumental interplay. The songs stretch from five to eight minutes, allowing the sound to twist into surprising shapes and build upward from patient progressions into powerful crescendos. On the exquisite "Tunnels," for instance, Rogers moves from clouds of distortion into torrents of it; as the song climaxes, Sanchez melds his bassline to her melody, creating a sound that's nimble and dense. Rogers' transfixing vocals reinforce this feeling. Her singing is incredibly raw, her voice rasping against the back of her throat. Sanchez backs her, punctuating unhinged moments with his own gnarly belting. Those tools of constant momentum make these long songs feel at once endless and brief—sprawling epics packing the immediacy of singles. It's catchy and weighty.
That rejected binary syncs with Solar Halos' other great feat; for a heavy metal band, the trio exhibits an emotional range far greater than stereotypical aggression. While "Migration" initially explores desolation, it soon soars into determination. "Your strength, your courage withstanding," Sanchez screams, after talk of thunderstorms and terrible floods.
"I don't know if it's getting older and not feeling quite as angsty," says Rogers, "but I feel like being heavy is very emotional and very visceral in a way that doesn't necessarily mean anger. I wanted to try to figure out a way where we could have more breadth. One of those things in typically heavy music is that the vocals are screamed or yelled. I really wanted to try to get the vocals as another instrument that have their own melody."
As for the future, Solar Halos still have other projects and responsibilities. Crouch is newly married with a baby due in April, while Rogers and Sanchez have jobs and other creative pursuits to balance. They'd like to tour, but they aren't willing to hit the road blindly, hemorrhaging money in an endless attempt to make a name for themselves. Instead, they'll keep writing songs and ready another record.
"Given that we write such long songs," Sanchez says, laughing, "I don't think we need too many more for a full-length."After many years in the Triangle, Jordan Lawrence recently relocated to Columbia, S.C., where he works as the music editor of the alt-weekly Free Times. To see our illustrated Band Map of Solar Halos, visit indyweek.com. —>
This article appeared in print with the headline "Friendly fire."