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Thinking man's metal

The melody, math, and chaos of BML

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The guys in BML aren't trying to be obtuse. They're as perplexed as you are when it comes to trying to pigeonhole their sound --- music that's powerful and angular with shifty progressions that beg for Ritalin. Music that's progressive, that's heavy, funky, and complex. Call it thinking man's metal.

"I call it 'fried-chicken core,'" says guitarist Brian Mason.

OK, so maybe he's a little obtuse.

"You know what?" says drummer Ronnie Lickers. "I don't know. Prog is definitely involved. But there's also funk, there's blues, there's jazz."

Either way BML is ominous, hard, and at the same time pleasant. It hits you like a good-natured punch in the face with its authority coming from way, way down.

BML started off three years ago as a bass exploration, and continues as such with all its tunes originating from the four fat strings on Toby Bailey's neck.

"It's Toby all the way man," says Mason.

"It's all based on his stuff," Lickers seconds.

According to Mason, that bass instinct helps the band from getting too jam band-ishly masturbatory.

"When guitarists start writing instrumentals I think they lean towards solos," he says.

Bailey had done time rumbling the bottom end in heavy outfits Bughouse and Withered Earth. But his bass playing was moving in other directions.

"I had a buncha material I had written over the years that just didn't fit any of the styles of the bands I was in," he says. "It was more out-there type stuff."

Bailey had been diggin' on cats like Victor Wooten and Bootsy Collins. "So it didn't fit that exact style obviously," he says. "It wasn't the traditional roll of the bass. And I thought it was by far the best stuff I had written and I didn't want it to go to waste. So I asked Ron and Brian to play."

B needed the M and the L in the composition process.

"I'll have a million different parts that I'll bring in," says Bailey. "But I'm actually terrible at putting together a complete song by myself."

"He actually called me to play guitar on this stuff," Lickers says. "And I'm like, 'I can't play guitar over this. I'm a one-finger chord guy.'"

But Mason could.

So the band kicked off simply as a side project to flesh out Bailey's explorations and riffs and to give them legs. No plans. No name. No singer. Turns out they didn't need one.

"I think after we wrote, like, three songs we decided that no vocals were gonna be involved," says Mason. "The songs stood alone."

"Originally it wasn't even supposed to be a real band because we were all involved in different projects," Bailey says. "A couple people heard it, we did a coupla small shows and the reaction we got was really surprising."

It's not surprising if you take into account the band's talent. The music is demanding and precise. It's as large as it is intricate. It dwarfs the band on stage. Bailey's bass is speedy and thunderous. His playing has lift and a graceful upper register to help him steer clear of the tap-dancing-elephant sound bassists often get when attempting serious speed. Mason's guitar playing is loud and electric; he shreds, noodles and kerrangs metal riffs to filet the sonic wash. Then in almost an act of defiance you've got Lickers on a throne behind a four-piece kit. He doesn't overcompensate for his abbreviated gear. This is all he needs as he snaps, pops, pounds, and syncopates.

On the new BML CD Indicative Of Obnoxious Behavior, the trio plays with a sort of loose precision; the bolts ain'ttorqued too tight. When enjoyed as a whole, Behavior plays out like an apocalyptic symphony full of thunder and speed and brief but rapturous lulls. And when melodies emerge from the math and chaos you can almost sing along. It's intense and honest --- there is no sugar coating or words to sway the story. BML plays the truth. And it's still a lotta fun, even if you can't decipher all of it.

"Whatever we write," says Bailey, "no matter how technical or complicated or weird the structure may be, you can always bob your head to it."

They are all players' players, but nobody's the star.

"All three of us have been around long enough and been through it so many times that we realize nobody needs a superstar around here," Bailey says. "Just have a good time and skip the bullshit."

BML won't even fuss 'n' fight with other bands to jockey a prime time slot on a gig. "We're always the guys [to say] 'Just put us anywhere,'" Lickers says.

Granted, BML appeals to fans of the heavy. But when playing out of that presumed element, the band still manages to shine. In 2003 the band opened for The Alex Skolnick Trio at Montage. BML felt like a hooker at a garden party.

"We were playing in front of 40- to 60-year-old people," Mason says, "eating dinner with suit and tie and dresses on, candlelit tables..."

BML pulled no punches and played its set.

"They loved us," says Lickers. "I couldn't believe it."

More love is on the way for BML as Bailey continues to explore the fringe with his bass, twisting it into BML with Mason and Lickers. There's no end in sight.

"He's got 100 riffs we ain't even done nothing with yet," Lickers says.

BML celebrates the release of Indicative Of Obnoxious Behavior with guest Ted Eddison, Saturday, May 6, at Montage, 50 Chestnut Street, 232-1520, at 9 p.m. $6 ($12 gets t-shirt and CD). All ages. www.bmlrock.com

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