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It's a Big Prog Party 

Portland's Danava gives hard rock an art bent

Wednesday, Mar 29 2006
Something amazing happens when you get over being a music snob. You discover bands that you wouldn't have given a chance when self-image got in the way. If you asked me ten years ago about prog rock, I'd have laughed in your face; I assumed seminal '70s sci-fi spaceheads Hawkwind played Renaissance Fair music for people juggling a stick between two other sticks.

A decade later I'm embracing all kinds of heavy shit with new appreciation, which has led me to love the awesome, face-melting, glammy art rock of Portland's Danava. Blending the '70s strut of the original Alice Cooper Band with Hawkwind's propensity for convulsing, intergalactic freakouts, Danava's songs soar skyward, sucking you into a dirty, druggy vortex before shooting you out the other end at full volume. Where yesteryear's Hessians relied on nothing more than wah-wah pedals, reissued Orange amps, and dragon-slaying lyrics, Danava kicks the bar up a couple notches with intertwining, harmonic guitar leads, innovatively mapped out song arrangements, and an empyreal and timeless production value. There's also the dark, sinister sneer of singer and guitarist Dusty Sparkles. Danava's front man is a bit reticent to use a certain genre tag, though, when describing his songs. "Honestly, when I think of prog I think of the shittier sides of Genesis, Yes, or the vast world of wanky fusion," he says, adding, "but I do believe the term Ôprogressive' can apply to all kinds of bands — Sparks, Arthur Brown, Zolar X, Queen, Magma, Comus — just too damn many to mention. I will say when we first started I thought we would be considered complete wankers, though."

Danava — currently working on a debut release — formed in September of 2003 while Sparkles was still strumming for the no wave dance outfit Glass Candy. "I just wanted to get back to playing heavy rock," he admits. "This is exactly the kind of music that taught me guitar. It's absolutely necessary for me."

The return of big riffs among the alternative set was imminent. Just tune your radio to commercial airwaves and you'll hear complex boulder-weight tracks in constant rotation. "The current resurgence of exciting bands like Wolfmother and Black Mountain — and more obscure acts like Dungen and the Sword — all stem from one important event," says Live 105 Music Director Aaron Axelsen, "the demise of Limp Bizkit and all the frat-rap-rock bands that soullessly and insipidly dominated the rock landscape for so many years. A renaissance followed and filled an important void for those who still craved 'rock music' but were looking for something that possessed more substance."

But Sparkles doesn't see this as anything new. "There are so many different languages of heavy rock that you can't really lump us all together," he says. "I think the new Invaders compilation [on Kemado Records] is pretty decent proof. Or look at [Motörhead's] Lemmy [Kilmister], man. He's seen the best and worst of times and he still plays heavy fucking rock and people still listen!"

Hey, I dig Mark Kozelek as much as anyone, but if I had to choose between going out to see hushed Nick Drake imitations or shirtless longhairs in metallic spandex pants and face paint rocking out like it was a 1973 apocalypse-cult orgy, I'll attend the latter. Not that Danava are that predictable. "Yeah, don't ever expect anything to come out the way you might think it will with us," Sparkles states. "We might all sit down at keyboards one day and do a record as a fucking synthesizer quartet. We will always do what we want as long as we are Danava."

About The Author

Eric Shea


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