Bringing black metal to the QC: Student screams for band Sept of Memnon

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Black metal band Sept of Memnon performs at one of their concerts. Photo courtesy of Alex Mahaffey.

Black metal band Sept of Memnon performs at one of their concerts. Photo courtesy of Alex Mahaffey.
Black metal band Sept of Memnon performs at one of the band’s concerts.
Photo courtesy of Alex Mahaffey.

Sweat, blood and tears are familiar to Alex Mahaffey. While screaming at the top of his lungs in a crowded, sweaty room, Mahaffey knew he was where he wanted to be.
Mahaffey, a junior at Augustana, is the loud, screaming voice behind Sept of Memnon, a black metal band located in Rock Island. He joined the rest of the band, local musicians Travis Scudder, drums, Tom Curry and Evan Tucker, guitars, and Karl Shuh, bass, after they released an EP in 2011.
“Standing in front of a wall of sound, coming from the other guys in the band, and screaming at the top of my lungs is intensely cathartic and thrilling,” Mahaffey said.
He described black metal as fast, pounding beats with a rough, “buzz-saw” noise over shrieking vocals. The sound is something he’s always wanted to create.
“We have all been listening to this style of music since high school, and it is a thrill to be able to play it ourselves now after many years,” he said.
There’s a point behind the noise, though, Mahaffey said. He explained black metal often comes with a “cold feeling,” while giving him the opportunity to express other strong emotions as well.
” I have arguably the most fun– easy– part to play in the band, so I get to really have fun with it,” Mahaffey said. “Doing vocals in a metal band enables me to pretty much say whatever I want (since most people won’t be able to discern the lyrics anyways).”
He said it was unexpected, but Sept of Memnon has gained a following, eager to watch Mahaffey lose control and strain his voice to the limit.
“We have played quite a few shows around here, and our reception has actually been very positive, better than what I expected,” he explained. “I guess we have the market cornered on black metal music around here, but I still have been really excited to hear feedback from musicians and others in the area who have been involved with the scene much longer than I have.”
Currently, Sept of Memnon is working on a new EP with recording engineer and producer, Spenser Morris, from Mystery Street Recording in Chicago.
“He’s done excellent work and the new songs sound phenomenal so far,” Mahaffey said.
When Mahaffey is not practicing and recording with his band, he’s found a new interest: throwing his own house shows.
“I went to my first house show a few years ago in Silvis, and I was immediately drawn to the intimacy of the place,” he explained. “There was no pressure to spend money or look cool there, just a bunch of sweaty, excited bands crammed into a basement with a few dozen others. I’ve always wanted to replicate that feeling and I think we’ve done that.”
With his housemate, Sergio Aguilar, senior, the two realized they could make an impression on the local music scene.
“Having house shows started off as a fun idea that we then came to realize, we had the space and connections to local bands and artists so all we had to was organize and make sure we had adequate equipment,” Aguilar said. “We love live music, and figured if we could provide the means for these shows then we would.”
This year, Aguilar said their house in Rock Island has hosted several bands, including Sept of Memnon, and local screamo and metal bands, like Cool Off, Ice Hockey and Lord Green. The bands play for free on a makeshift stage in the old basement.
“While (the bands) are more on the loud and aggressive spectrum, (they) provide a collaborative community that helps to build interest and draw in other artists from all over the area,” Aguilar said. “Bands such as these wish to share their musical endeavors, and that kind of proactive collaboration leads to growth.”
And, the music scene in the the area is growing quickly, according to both Mahaffey and Aguilar.
“The music scene in the Quad Cities is currently thriving,” Mahaffey said. “When I first started going to local shows, most of the ‘cool’ bands were breaking up or had already disbanded so I missed out on a lot of cool music, but I’ve seen a lot of those musicians form new bands and help out younger guys, like us, get into shows and learn how to sustain a scene.”
By creating their own music and hosting shows, they’ve brought a new (albeit noisy) sound to the area.
“It’s a way for us to contribute to the music community by providing an opportunity to perform in a very casual environment that we could then share with our friends,” Aguilar said. “It’s been a great experience so far, as well as a great way to expose people in our area to the music that’s available.”
Mahaffey said jumping into the local music scene isn’t as challenging as one might think.
“It’s really all about grabbing people’s attention and networking as effectively as possible to make sure you’re reaching the biggest audience you can,” he explained. “It’s remarkably easy to do once you start talking to other musicians and people involved in the scene to get good turnouts to shows, host touring bands and showcase local talent too.”
Even if people dislike black metal, Mahaffey encourages everyone to explore the music available in the area.
“There is no better way to break the ‘Augie bubble’ than going to local shows,” Mahaffey said. “The QC area gets a remarkable amount of touring bands, as well as hosting…talented bands itself. Places like the Rozz-Tox, Los Montes (a new venue that is part of a Mexican restaurant with excellent food!), the Blackhawk Room/Bier Stube and the River Music Experience in downtown Davenport often host multiple shows a week. These shows aren’t usually more than five or 10 dollars and feature pretty much any genre or style of music that you could imagine.”
Mahaffey and his band Sept of Memnon plan to release their new EP later this year.