I've only lived in Indianapolis for a year, but there's been one thing I've heard consistently regarding the scene: If you're a metal fan, you've got to catch a Dahlia Presents show. The Indianapolis-based metal promoter built its reputation on bringing major acts to the city, and giving local bands a chance to shine on bills that respect their fans. So when I heard Indianapolis' Sacred Leather and R'lyeh were opening for Bongripper, Pelican and Goatsnake at the 5th Quarter Lounge, and that it was potentially R'lyeh's last show ever, I had to make it my mission to be there and document it.
Both Sacred Leather and R'lyeh focus on music better first felt than heard, because if you're doing it right you feel the grooves long before your ears figure out what to do. From the moment they took the stage, each Indianapolis band tackled ear-catching metal riffs with intensity and a strong sense of melody — all of which made them the best one-two punch I've had at a show this year.
I'd wanted to experience Sacred Leather's live show, and it did not disappoint. Although newly minted lead singer Dustin Boltjes was performing at his first-ever live show with the band, it was impossible to tell this lineup had not been sharing a stage for years. Boltjes has a lot of respect for classic '80s metal in the Judas Priest vein, and that shows in his stage presence. Witnessing a theater-worthy show in an intimate venue is always a plus, and if you sleep on the chance to catch Sacred Leather soon, you may miss that chance forever.
R'lyeh was already a trusted metal source in my book, as their album Color Out Of Space has been a regular part of my listening rotation all year. With guitarist Anthony Hampton leaving for Los Angeles immediately after this show, however, it took on more gravitas, and the band delivered — “a dream show doubling as the best goodbye I've ever experienced,” as Hampton described it later on Facebook. The band's blistering set of instrumental prog-metal brought together every performance of theirs I'd seen into something that finally exceeded what they'd managed to achieve on tape, delivering the ultimate live distillation of their sound.
I caught up with Boltjes before the show for more details on his (very) new band.
NUVO: What is Sacred Leather trying to do that maybe other bands in the area aren't?
Dustin Boltjes: Anything and everything that is classic heavy metal. You really don't hear that around here. Classic in the sense of Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, old Ozzy, that whole great wave of heavy metal that existed in the early '80s.
NUVO: What's the band's songwriting process? Do you write as a group?
Boltjes: It's a collective thing between our guitarist and the bass player, they'll write full songs on their own and record them with a drum machine initially to get all the ideas down. From there it goes into the full band stage, where we iron everything out. I'm speaking from only observing for a couple weeks, because I've only been in this band for three weeks.
NUVO: What's that like coming in? You're getting to participate in writing the new songs, but you're also putting your stamp on the old songs.
Boltjes: I haven't really delved into writing with them yet but as far as how things feel, I love the band and it was a natural fit for the material they're currently writing, for someone like me to be the vocalist. I'm involved with an early-80s metal tribute band that I sing for, so the voice is already there. Now it's a matter of transposing what I do in that band into crafting some original material. Joe, the guitar player, was the lead singer before me, and they went through a few member changes, added a new guitar player and once that happened they started from scratch from a writing perspective. It got to a point where they really wanted a front-man, rather than Joe focusing on playing guitar and singing.
NUVO: This is your first show live with Sacred Leather. Based on your past experience with other bands, what's your stance on the Indianapolis metal scene? Are people receptive to different things?
Boltjes: I do. It comes and goes in waves. I've been involved in this scene for 20 years, which shows my age, so I've seen it come and go while being involved in a lot of important bands in this city. I'd say right now the scene's kind of in a lull, but it's at the point where it's growing. There are people like R.J. Wall with Dahlia Presents, who are bringing in more national acts, and venues like the 5th Quarter that really support underground metal — they know what it's about, what you need to do to have a successful scene in this town.
NUVO: Is there anything else you'd want to tell fans about Sacred Leather that they might not already know?
Boltjes: I'd say just do your part, man. These bands in these small towns they work really hard to build a name for themselves and get their music out there. And if I could say anything it's that if you're sitting at home bored on a Saturday night and you see there's a show going on, get the fuck out of the house! Don't sit on Facebook all night, go see these bands and support them! It's a fucking rough business and everything's different live.