The Dragon & the Tiger
By Christopher Gray
July 14, 1997: Welcome to the shadow world of Glorium, a band shrouded in enough mystery to give Raymond Chandler writer's cramp. The Austin quintet's discography is subtitled "Evidence of existence," and their public profile is generally so low that their assorted singles, EPs, full-lengths, and compilation tracks are about all the evidence there is; none of their liner notes even mention what instrument the members play. When the band surfaces, as it has sporadically since relocating from San Antonio in 1991, it's with some of the starkest, most challenging, literate hard rock Austin has seen this decade. Popping up on a compilation now and again (Live at Emo's, the Austin Live Houses cassette comp, Speed Records' Krispy Chronicles, and KVRX's extraordinary Cooking by Strobe Light), they've gone from weekly residencies at the late, great Cavity Club to member Paul Vodas' booking new band night (Tuesdays) at the Manor Road Coffee House. Though the Rock Hudsons, 100 Watt Clock, and others on Austin's avant A-list have played to increasing crowds there, Vodas is ready to step down, saying he just wanted to get things going. Even the band's label, Golden Hour, which has put out cassette releases by ...And You Willl Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Prima Donnas, Andromeda Strain, Brownie Points, Antarctica, and others, operates out of the group's love of music and the local scene, not because they're trying to draw attention to themselves.
Nevertheless, Glorium emerged from the shadows briefly last month with Eclipse, their maiden release on Golden Hour and first CD since 1994's Cinema Peligrosa (a nine-song tape, Sound Recordings From the Front Room, came out in 1995). Now, they're gone just as soon as they came; Jorge J. Lara is already back in San Antonio, where he still lives, and Ernest Salaz is in Washington D.C. attending school.
But Vodas and Lino Max, who sing, play guitar, write lyrics, essays, and sometimes finish each other's sentences, are sitting around, picking at raw fish and rice at the Banzai sushi restaurant on the Drag adjacent to Quack's, which features a tasty bowl of shrimp teriyaki for only $5 at lunchtime. Smiling, soft-spoken drummer Juan Miguel Ramos joins us shortly, and we talk about the history of Glorium, which Vodas presents as such: "We came up here just to work on the band. So you know, end of story."
Contemplative and serene on Eclipse, the band has been known to be harsh, threatening, and ominous, as on Cinema Peligrosa, or back-alley raw like on Past Lives, a collection of early Glorium songs just issued on EV Records (vinyl only, available at Sound Exchange and 33 Degrees). More specifically, the band says the two sides of Past Lives, recorded separately, are the songs they were playing when they moved up from S.A., the ones they shopped to crowds at Steamboat and the Back Room. Their intense, psychological punk never caught on with people whose idea of musical exploration is a 20-minute-long "Freebird" instead of the 12-minute version.
Things went better at the Cavity, Blue Flamingo, and the then-nascent Emo's, where Ed Hall, Gut, Crust, and johnboy played Freddy Krueger with audiences' eardrums, constructing exhaustively jagged, musically complex brain-twisters that made Henry Rollins seem like Deepak Chopra. Lyrically, musically, and emotionally turbulent, Cinema Peligrosa came out of this time, a dense, blood-red picture of psyches clashing among jagged, woozy guitars, arrhythmic time changes, rubbery bass, and spring-loaded lyrics.
The vocal delivery ranges from barely coherent muttering to spat-out invective to almost playful taunting, never relinquishing control to the hellacious noise going on behind it, but never fully gaining it either. Other parts of the album are so sedate and tranquil that the sounds could have been piped over from a dentist's office. What's amazing is that for all the disparate directions Cinema threatens, it's truly cohesive in expressing a mood, even if that mood just happens to be total chaos. The recording of Cinema was very tense, agrees the band, and is well reflected in the album's aggressive tone and timbre. They shot the cover photo down at Cinema West, and the image of a guy looking into a movie theatre remains symbolic to Glorium.
"If you look at the [theater] door it says, `Adults only,'" says Max. "Cinema is a very violent record, a very chaotic record. I think part of it is about entering this adult world. Look how violent and chaotic that can be. I say `Adult World,' I mean this world where you're on your own, where you have to make your own thing, and some of the choices involved in that."
On the new album, Eclipse, the intensity remains; the sound is tough, but also reflective and open-ended. The songs beckon without pummeling, and the most important sound is just as likely to be a ringing silence as a rumbling guitar tsunami. At the core of the lyrics is a kind of self-reliance that isn't passive but rather assured.
"Now, we don't have all that chaos in our lives," Vodas says. "We're more in control of what we're doing. We have more of an artistic hand on our art. We're more focused, so the music's gonna be more focused. Whenever I see a band that gets up there and they're over-the-top, aggro for 45 minutes or something, I'm not impressed at all. I would rather see someone up there who could show a variety of emotions instead of just one."
Liner notes by Vodas say the album speaks of "lights, shadows, myth, the power of the mind"; Eclipse radiates inner strength and power. Cinema is a dark and feverish work of rock poetry, an important transition for Glorium, but obviously not their final destination. Neither, one suspects, is Eclipse. Yes, Glorium is much more at peace -- centered, if you will. Though they won't call it maturity, "growing up," or a sign of "adulthood," they will admit to crossing a threshold.
"I think tastes within the band changed," Ramos says. "We started to be less and less into such aggro songs, and more and more into songs that had a little more room and space. Also, part of it was where we started practicing. We had to play quieter in the practice space. Maybe we just got used to that, and started coming up with songs that didn't have to be so loud."
This time, the album's cover features an illustration of an astronaut marooned on some faraway, desolate planet, his only companion a winged, demon-looking thing on the other side of the distorted sphere, casting a cross-shaped shadow in the earthling's direction. The demon occasionally rears its head on Eclipse, as on Cinema where the players sometimes seemed at the mercy of the music, but here it's the band that's most often in control.
One song, "Dragon-Tiger Fight," ends with both dragon and tiger dead. The source of the tune is Kenpo karate iconography; the dragon represents inner, mental strength, while the tiger symbolizes outer, physical power. Glorium's great quest seems to be uniting the two. In this light, the band -- still together where their early contemporaries (save for Stretford and Gomez) aren't -- say it's fine that they don't play out live much anymore.
"I think one of the reasons we've stayed together is that for us, making music has always been more of an artistic process," says Max. "It's really important to everyone in the band. So making music and being in a band is just kind of something that we continually do. It's not like we're doing it to become this big thing."
For one thing, they can't -- at least not until they're all in the same city again. Another thing is the spate of local bands that echo Glorium. Some of them, like 7% Solution and Enduro, are fellow Cooking by Strobe Light alumni. Nobody who's seen a Wookie, Trail of Dead, or Goin' Along Feelin' Just Fines set would deny that at least some parallels exist. So, the elusive band, who say their most current recording is the Golden Hour 7-inch "Black Market Hearts/Walkie Talkie" (see "7 & 7 Is" ) is happy in the studio, recording a couple of tracks here and mailing the tape to Ernest for him to lay down his part.
Come September, they'll release another full-length, Close Your Eyes, recorded with Grant Barger of the Softs, a veteran of studio time with the equally poker-faced, intense, and self-reflective Palace, the For Carnation, and Windsor for the Derby. To the members of Glorium themselves, and maybe them alone, the band's longevity is no great mystery.
"I never wonder why we're still together," Vodas says. "I don't think anybody's wondering about that. We're true to it. This is what we do. We make music, we're artistic, and it's just our thing. People don't know what to make of us. They're like, `Well, they're not really this, but they're not really that.'"
"I like that about our group," says Max. "It makes us like a puzzle, almost like a monster -- the monsters in Greek mythology who had all these different parts. We're like this riddle or this puzzle. To listen to one of our records might be to combat one of these mythological monsters in your dreams."
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