One of the greatest components of music on big-picture terms is its sheer unpredictability. Just when you think you've heard it all, or that a particular genre is in the toilet to stay, some band or artist comes along and blasts your cynical mind back to reality. Or, as the case may be when a genre actually has choked down its last breaths, a subsequent wave eventually sweeps over the death throes and reinvigorates all that was glorious about the past. Such is life.
Depending upon whom you talk to, New York City's Candiria are either resuscitators or revisionists of what's currently being bandied about—one would like to think for lack of a better phrase—as "New American Metal." They've either breathed new life into a genre overrun by masked and corpsepainted metal bands whose basic contribution to music has been getting kids to look as stupid as they do and buy their merchandise (some Scandinavian bands excepted), or they've constructed an entirely new metal subgenre out of materials that once served as a foundation for truly great bands who actually gave a shit about the music. To be either is to be noble, but most who've heard Candiria's music are likely to agree that their claim is the latter. Hyperbole aside, Candiria have done for the current state of metal what John Coltrane did for jazz in 1959 when he recorded A Kind of Blue with Miles Davis: turned it into an almost entirely new artform overnight.
Only it hasn't exactly happened overnight. Candiria formed 12 years ago, named themselves after the Brazilian "vampire fish," and set out to create truly new music outside the accepted confines of metal and hardcore. It wasn't until 1999, though, that the lineup solidified with the arrival of former Dead Air guitarist and bassist John LaMacchia and Michael MacIvor. Prior to that, Candiria had watched a revolving door of bass players come and go, forcing them to record their 1994 debut, Surrealistic Madness (Too Damn Hype), as a quartet and leading to the departure of founding guitarist Chris Puma soon after.
With nothing to easily compare it to, Surrealistic Madness established a new precedent and set into motion the beginnings of a departure into uncharted metal territory that would take a significant contingent of major players in the metal community with it, most notably among them being Dillinger Escape Plan and Killswitch Engage. Candiria's manic compression of jazz and hip-hop stylings into their metal crucible was stunning—shocking to some—to the point that it awakened a bored, cynical sector of the old school metal fanbase, not to mention more than a few tired old critics whose stringy ponytails were beginning to give way to bald spots. Sufficiently recharged, this previously slumbering mass of classic New York hardcore fans began whispering accolades to Candiria, and a rabid cult following was quickly established. Two years later, Beyond Reasonable Doubt (Too Damn Hype) appeared, ushering in another chapter in the band's thorough deconstruction of metal convention. With limited radio play and constant touring, the band were finally poised for greatness.
Candiria's third release, 1999's epic Process of Self-Development (MIA), proved to be their best to date, combining even more rock elements—thrash, psychedelica, progressive and the like—into one masterful, theme-driven album. It was also their biggest commercial success, enjoying plenty of college radio airplay, which paved the way for 300 Percent Destiny (Century Media) in 2001, an album that brought to clearer light the band members' peerless individual musicianship as well as the cohesiveness of Candiria as a unit. Then came the accident.
While driving to Cleveland on tour in the spring of 2002 in support of their fifth album, The C.O.M.A. Imprint, a semi-truck, for reasons that remain unexplained, rear-ended the band's equipment trailer, literally driving through it and into the back of the tour van, where several band members were asleep. The van rolled numerous times, sending bassist MacIvor and guitarists LaMacchia and Matthews smashing through different windows and out of the vehicle, which then skidded on its roof for 75 yards before coming to a stop. As a result of the accident, all five members of Candiria suffered critical injuries that came close to ending their lives. But after the better part of a year recovering physically and emotionally, Candiria found themselves a stronger unit than ever and re-entered the studio to record what would become their masterpiece.
"It's our most emotional album ever ... we all should have died in the accident. This album never would have been made. But we didn't, and I think this is going to be [viewed as] our best work yet," commented vocalist Carley Coma during the making of the aptly titled What Doesn't Kill You ... (Type A Records).
Indeed, Candiria's collective near-death experience turned the focus from genre-blending more toward individual songcraft, resulting in less overt jazz stylings and the arrival of killer melodic hooks and harmony vocals, and a newfound tightness that comes only from having faced life's most frightening moments and difficult challenges with the people right next to you.
"It's an up and down journey," explains MacIvor. "It's less quirky and less from the jazz side. We did that in the past and we don't want to make the same record 20 times. We did not want to become predictable."
There are many adjectives that can be used to accurately describe Candiria, but predictable has never been one of them. And the songs on What Doesn't Kill You ... serve to prove that even further. Most bands will tell you they've been through the proverbial ringer in one way or another, and most of them are being truthful. But what Candiria have been through over the past dozen years would have torn lesser bands apart at the seams, yet the quintessential Brooklyn metal quintet have trudged forward and continued to push boundaries through it all. And, in the process, they've made American heavy metal credible once again and given fans of the genre six volumes of the stuff that will be pondered, copied and revered for years—perhaps decades—to come.