Mixed martial arts depend upon one simple premise: Develop your optimal fighting style by hybridizing multiple disciplines. Marry, for instance, the aggressive striking of boxing to the physical chess of judo or jiujitsu. Keep what works and discard the rest. Specialization makes one obsolete.
Sharing rounds of beers at the Raleigh restaurant Five Star on a recent weeknight, Bedowyn—one of the city's most exciting, young heavy bands—espouses a similar philosophy. The quartet of singer and guitarist Alex Traboulsi, guitarist Mark Peters, bassist Todd Parham and drummer Marc Campbell have developed a streamlined metal synthesis by drawing on influences both broad and deep during the past four years.
The only rule? No strict adherence to the aesthetic tropes of any one genre.
"That's what bothers me the most about metal," Parham says. "It's all fractured into all the little subgenres, and everybody's so rigid. If you don't play djent, you're an asshole. If you don't play true Norwegian black metal, you suck. It must be boring."
Though aware of and inspired by many strains of metal and hard rock, from the gusts and wails of black metal to the heady grooves of stoner rock, Bedowyn refuses allegiance to any of them. On their strong full-length debut, Blood of the Fall, the band crosses borders freely, taking and leaving elements at will but not at random.
"It's all about what works best for the song," Campbell explains. "A lot of those decisions get made when you're in the middle of it."
"We're not writing a grind song. We're not writing a black metal song," Parham continues. "We're just trying to write a good Bedowyn song."
To wit, the tunes on Blood of the Fall are adventurously structured and meticulously composed. Exercises in balance, the songs contrast scathing roars with soaring melodies, bold hooks with tangential escapades. "Where Wings Will Burn" opens with melodic death metal, while "Halfhand" invokes prog and Southern rock. With its meaty melody and thrashing rhythm, "I Am the Flood" scans as the spawn of Metallica and Rise Against. Sometimes, Bedowyn doesn't get heavy at all: The aptly titled "For a Fleeting Moment" provides a three-minute intermission where gentle keyboard swells and recordings of rain support delicate acoustic fingerpicking.
This omnivorous approach was apparent early on. On Bedowyn's formal public introduction, the 2013 EP Wolves & Trees, the members refused to be circumscribed by genre. The EP's sticky single, "Evil/Right," made an anthem of death metal heft and hard rock hooks. "O' Bitter Sea" and "Snarling of Beasts"—for the four members, an epiphany, the instant in which they feel like they found their niche—take a more progressive approach. The arrangements veer from smoldering classic rock vamps to rifle-shot speed metal bursts.
The members of Bedowyn developed their formative influences separately. The band began as a group of strangers. A mutual friend suggested that guitarist Peters contact the drummer Campbell. After a cold call, the pair started jamming and imagining a heavy, riff-focused hard-rock outfit. Campbell found Parham through another mutual friend, and Parham brought along Traboulsi, then a co-worker. None of the members had shared a bill before, let alone a band.
What they lacked in history they quickly found in close chemistry and a shared openness to outside inspirations. The combination fueled an active evolution. Four years later, they are quick to add to one another's comments, giving examples or counterpoints.
"We could write a really brutal album," Traboulsi says. "We could go in and be like, 'OK, we're writing this record and it's going to be super gnarly with blast beats and I'm going to scream the whole time and write about Satan.'"
Without hesitation, Peters adds, "We'd all be pretty bored by that."
What they do find inspiring, though, suggests a labyrinthine network of Venn diagrams; each member has his own preferences, but the overlap is broad enough to ensure they can work together. Traboulsi was raised on punk and hardcore before finding metal, while Campbell approached the genre from melodic rock. Peters and Parham grew up on '70s rock and grunge-era acts like Alice in Chains.
Campbell attributes the variety of influence, at least in part, to the members' different ages. At 31, for instance, Traboulsi is the youngest member. Earlier today, he's been listening to the decidedly not-metal songwriter Tori Amos, a fact he offers as evidence. (To be fair, Amos' cover of Slayer's "Raining Blood" is elegant, eerie and, in its own way, brutal.)
"What I was listening to at 16 and what was really driving me was totally different than what Mark [who is 44] was listening to at that age," he says.
Given those gaps and distinct vantages, no one dismisses an idea until it's been tried.
"I write from such a nonbiased perspective," Traboulsi says. "If it sounds good to me, I don't care. I'm not going to hold someone as not cool enough to be inspired by."
That defiant enthusiasm for genre hybridization, creative control and self-determination extends beyond the songs and into the recording process itself. Bedowyn meant to release an album last year but opted to allow for additional time to perfect the songs.
"We really were trying hard not to just go with what works, but to make sure this is what we want it to be," Campbell says.
The drummer produced and engineered the bulk of the album, largely recorded at Traboulsi's house. Aside from mixing and mastering, Bedowyn created Blood of the Fall almost entirely alone. The quartet continues to debate if that's the best path forward.
"We need unbiased ears," Peters contends. "I would really welcome that because I feel that we're too close to it."
But Campbell is wary of the idea.
"That's not to say I wouldn't do it as long as a producer has the same mind-set," he says. "I don't want something to just be good enough."
And Blood of the Fall is an unapologetically hi-fi album, full of rich textures, layered arrangements and crisp riffs that suggest the band labored and fretted over every second. The sounds complement the tempered, likable craft. It's not extreme, elitist or arrogant metal; instead, it's an uncompromising act of compromise from four musicians who have become friends and like responding to one another.
"It just happens that some of the stuff is accessible," Traboulsi says. "Some die-hard metal guys might be like, 'It's too accessible. These guys aren't metal enough. My mom can listen to this.' But who gives a shit?"
Preaching to the subgenre choir was never a goal. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, Bedowyn has freed itself from clinging to styles, patterns or molds and spent its formative years crafting a potent hybrid. It's a sort of heavy metal jeet kune do—tough and dangerous in its potent unpredictability.
Bryan C. Reed lives in Chapel Hill. He's written about music for INDY Week since 2008.