The description “psychedelic D&D rock” might seem par for the course for your average high-school band. But there’s something admirable about a group of grown men–two of them in their fortiess–who describe themselves that way, while rocking out (and geeking out) with enthusiasm to rival any teenager’s. The hard-driving Ann Arbor four-piece Blue Snaggletooth’s devotion to the more obscure elements of sci-fi and fantasy culture extends to its name, which derives from a rare, incorrectly painted edition of a 1978 Star Wars action figure. And the foursome’s love for old-school metal is clearly evident in their live show, which is equal parts raw power, nerdy enthusiasm, and good fun.
Blue Snaggletooth first coalesced in 2009 around vocalist, guitarist, and primary songwriter Chris Taylor, whose musical resume includes stints playing with Sonic’s Rendezvous Band member Scott Morgan. The group released its debut album, Dimension Thule, in 2011, complete with a blue vinyl pressing and album art by local nerd design wunderkind Jeremy Wheeler. The musicians backing Taylor have changed completely since Thule, but given the front man’s distinct creative style, the spirit has remained the same.
At the risk of overcomplicating a band whose essence is unpretentious fun, Snaggletooth’s live show can be enjoyed on two different levels: as a display of sheer hard-rock majesty or as a thinking geek’s call to arms. If you’re going for the former, Taylor’s rough-edged guitar hooks and visceral vocals bear favorable comparison to old-school Black Sabbath and the heavier portions of Led Zeppelin’s discography. He’s a ball of controlled fury onstage, ripping off blistering leads in between throat-shredding vocals, his eyes closed in what seems to be transcendent bliss. Bassist Joe Kupiec and drummer Mike Popovich provide a formidably heavy rhythm section, and Casey O’Ryan makes a fine guitar foil to Taylor, whether joining him in chordal assault or playing a harmonized lead in an entertaining dueling guitars bit.
For those fluent in classic geek, the lyrics and subject material behind the earth-shattering riffs are a treasure trove of fun. “Fireball Island” is a wild thrash-punk tune about the 1986 adventure board game of the same name; “Zweihaender” is a tribute to a Renaissance-era sword. Other tunes, like “Swords of Atlantis” or “Death of the Time Lords,” seem to conjure an original mythology all Snaggletooth’s own. And for anyone who appreciates weird tales and fantastic journeys, there’s a certain pleasure in hearing a song introduced with the words “This one’s about the reptilians.”
Although there’s a lot of sci-fi in Taylor’s material, it’s not all silliness. There’s an adventure-novel literary feel to many of his lyrics and genuine personal introspection in a few. With a fresh album in the works for next year, Blue Snaggletooth feels like the pure, unvarnished musical expression of Taylor’s nerdy rock ‘n’ roll soul. And it’s always fun to be present for a big, noisy slice of that.
Blue Snaggletooth plays Woodruff’s on November 1, with Black Note Graffiti, Lava Moth, and Cosmic Throne.