Onstage, the members of Untapped Fury look to be all of 15 years old, three baby-faced and shaggy-haired boys dressed in a mismatch of clothes that may or may not have been found in the clean pile on the bedroom floor. In truth, guitarist/vocalist Jason Kaye and drummer Bryan Kaye are 18, Bryan being the elder twin by all of two minutes, and bassist Alex Burchuk is 16. The trio may be too young to buy a pitcher of Rolling Rock, who sponsored this night at Rusty’s Surf Ranch, but is definitely not too young to hold its own in the Santa Monica Pier eatery’s fourth Battle of the Bands on January 26.
Jason’s Pantera t-shirt functioned as a signifier of the band’s sound: technically precise, guitar-driven rock played at a blistering volume. The band opened with a few selections that brought to mind Pantera-related supergroup Down, a melding of blues riffs and metal crunch played with a sense of sophistication that belies the bandmembers’ youthfulness. Vocally, Jason is reminiscent of Kurt Cobain. He sings in short yelps that expose the cracks in his natural tone. It is not a pleasant voice, but it is one that conveys an appropriate amount of raspy conviction needed to offset the precision of the music. All three members of Untapped Fury are first class musicians. Jason, who claims to practice between three and seven hours a day, is the youngest person to be sponsored by Manne guitars, while Bryan came in fourth place out of 10,000 hopefuls in NAMM’s fastest drummer competition. Given this background and each member’s knack for nailing complex solos, Jason’s limitations as a vocalist give the band its edge. Were he able to sing with a Freddie Mercury sort of range, the sound would be too perfect and ultimately unappealing to anyone outside of a music conservatory.
In terms of songwriting, Untapped Fury is hit or miss. “Heavy Metal in My Brain” is ultimately the band’s strongest number, a sharply constructed slice of metal with an infectious chorus. Other songs, however, did not match the immediacy of this piece. During various portions of the set, it felt that the band was so caught up in playing well that the songwriting was set aside, allowing the work to drag on for minutes at a time. This was definitely the case when Jason filled space with a solo that worked as an homage to both the late Dimebag Darrell of Pantera and Eddie Van Halen.
As performers, all three members exhibit excellent charisma, but the band relies primarily on Jason’s skill as a frontman. Jason has a natural connection to the audience and a knack for making a small club crowd feel the excitement of a large-scale concert. He is prone to coercing the audience into rousing choruses and emitting shouts for applause that seem inspired by Bruce Dickinson’s legendary cries of “scream for me” on behalf of Iron Maiden. The band is not all rock star swagger and serious musician ambitions, however, and its playful side was exhibited in a drastic reworking of the theme song from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and an ode to the computer game Warcraft.
Although Untapped Fury is undeniably talented, it was not enough to win this qualifying round of Battle of the Bands. Perhaps the band was hindered by its adherence to one genre. Nowhere in the band’s set was it evidenced that the members drew on anything other than the greats of heavy metal.
Contrarily, the night’s winners, The Sindicate, exuded a wide breadth of influence with a set that incorporated rock, hip-hop and Cajun sounds. At times, this was an unfortunate mix, such as a moment when the band embarked on a rap-inflected jam band jaunt that functioned as the aural equivalent of being trapped in a patchouli-laden room with nothing but a hacky sack to occupy your time. The band, however, redeemed itself by the set’s finale with an epic-length, fiddle-driven piece that would make Doug Kershaw beam with pride.
The qualifying round of Battle of the Bands continues at Rusty’s Surf Ranch through March. Semifinals will commence on March 23.
Editor’s Note: Because of their Battle of the Bands performance, Untapped Fury has been invited to play on a regular basis at Rusty’s.