You can't really call Sonus Ventorium a metal band. Nor can you call them a jam band. Or a funk band. Or even a reggae band.
Sonus Ventorium, from left: Marshall Kreebs, Dave Rich, Altus Edwards, Phil Altum and Josh Rich
At one time, the group described itself as "Rasta metal," a description which has morphed into "funkdafied hippie-metal," a more accurate description of how they mix different elements together while adding their own distinctive sound.
You'd be best off just calling them a rock and roll band and leave it at that.
But they're a rock and roll band from the old-school way, when success was measured by the amount of sweat pouring off the musicians and the way they reach the crowd, whether it's 20 people at Tailgators or 1,000 at the Vogue.
Seeing Sonus is an intense experience, not something for the faint-hearted. Between Altus Edwards' searing lead vocals, the tribal drum work of Dave Rich, the congas of Phil Altum and the groove-heavy bass of Marshall Kreebs, the group comes raging towards you like Ron Artest in a bar fight.
"Some people see us and their jaws just drop to the floor," says guitarist Josh Rich. "You can tell by their reaction that they're offended by us, or - and I don't want to sound like a prick - but they're jealous of us, or they straight up just don't like us. It's a love and hate thing with us."
The group has enough fans to have made it to the 2003 Battle of the Bands Finals, though, and more than enough to have survived in the rough-and-tumble Indy music scene for many years.
The group's third full-length album will be unveiled this Friday night with a release show at the Melody Inn featuring an all-star bill of the Malcontents, the Nancy School and others.
The group not only is one of the most senior acts in the city, but also one of the most respected. With their new CD, Sonus is looking to take their career to the next level, which they plan to shop around in hopes of finding an appropriate label.
One of the problems with that, however, is that because their sound crosses so many boundaries, it's hard to make the band fit a specific niche. "Maybe we're like heavy metal with a little oil and grease added to it," Rich says. "I don't know how you sell that."
"We don't write to a formula," Kreebs says. "We play from the heart and forget the rest of it."
Putting the album together took many months, with recording sessions at various locations and stitched and mixed together. Some of it was recorded in Kreebs' living room, in front of his TV.
"Cost is one thing that drives a band to record on their own," Kreebs says. "Another thing is just giving yourself the time that you need to do the things you want. That was a big part of recording it the way we did. None of us have thought that we're a band that would sound well recorded like every other band."
"We don't want it to sound like Green Day," Rich says.
Like most bands, Sonus Ventorium started small. "We were pretty much a cover band playing in a garage to nobody," Rich says. "We didn't care. I think most people thought we were idiots."
From there, the band played a few shows in Fountain Square and advertised for a lead singer. Their audience built slowly but steadily, a mix of metalheads, bikers and tattoo artists.
"The local musicians here are really good about keeping up with us," Edwards says. "That's the main thing about a band anyway; you want to hang out with your friends and have fun. We have a lot of friends. I'm comfortable with having a fanbase like that. We make an effort to meet every person that comes to see us and make them our friend."
While some bands might have folded after seven years, Sonus' reason for sticking around has been simple, says Rich: "We just love the music. It would be too much of a shame to let it all go down. I personally don't give a crap whether I ever make a million bucks off this or not, although I would like to be able to make a living at it."
"The feeling Josh has when he's standing on stage with a guitar in his hand is the same feeling I have when I have a microphone in my hand," Edwards says.
"Put it this way," Rich interrupts. "I work five days a week. We have a gig and then I'm a superhero on the weekends."
"When the microphone is my hand and my mouth opens and notes come out," Edwards continues, "it's like my soul is opening up and pouring out."
At that, Rich's wife says, "Aww," and the rest of the band laughs. "But that's really the way I feel. Sometimes I can actually feel me coming out. I don't feel that way with anything else I do."
A Sonus show can be an aggressive affair: guitars get broken, cymbals destroyed, amps unplugged. More than once, Edwards says, he's almost passed out on stage. "I have to catch my breath between notes sometimes and tell myself not to faint," he says.
But that's been the reason for their success, too, the band members agree. "A lot of our music is physically hard to play. But I think that just shows how much we want to play," Kreebs says.
Another reason for their enduring success is their affability and willingness to share the stage with bands from any genre. The spunky frat-ska sound of The Malcontents, for example, is about as far removed from Sonus' music as possible. But they invited them to share their CD release show because they like the band members and want to have fun with them.
"When we play with them at the Melody, we always draw well and we always have a good time," Kreebs says. "God bless Dave Brown [co-owner of the Melody Inn]. He basically gives us a date and lets us book it."
"We're basically friends with everybody, which makes us kind of a rarity," Kreebs says. "We don't care if this group of bands doesn't get along with another group of bands. We'll play shows with them all. It's all about the music with us. We're friends with all of them. We know everybody in almost every band in Indy."
"I think it's easy to feel neglected sometimes in Indianapolis, because the band has played here an awful lot," Edwards says. "I think it's more about playing other cities, because if people can't go see you here every weekend, it makes the other shows more special."
"I definitely feel appreciated here, but I think we have a big challenge in front of us to get more people interested in the music," Kreebs says.
"The true fans we have would go through fire to see us," Rich says, "but sometimes I feel like we're the black sheep of the scene. Hopefully that will change in the future."
One definite change coming up for the band is the departure of Kreebs. Friday's show will be his last with the group, at least for now. But the band will continue on.
"We can't be stopped," Rich says. "We just keep on going."