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Shorewood band delivers symphonic metal with some mystery — and a diva

DeannWhalen (left) sings Jeff Ashcraft plays bass as they rehearse with their bMaid Mettle Wednesday October 10 2012 Shorewood IL.

Deanna Whalen (left) sings and Jeff Ashcraft plays bass as they rehearse with their band Maid of Mettle Wednesday, October 10, 2012 in Shorewood, IL. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 20, 2012 11:01AM



SHOREWOOD — Maid of Mettle begins the song with a searing guitar and piercing high notes before getting down to the business of a metal band.

A symphonic background — a spacious sound made possible by digital precision — gives a haunting depth to the composition, “Even Though.”

Deanna Whalen emerges in the first verse with gently echoing vocals, slowly building in tension until the refrain kicks in, driven by hard guitar, a bass-drum crunch and a bold voice full of urgency.

Whalen, like several other band members, has a classical background. For eight years, she studied bel canto — an Italian style of opera — working with Bronya Dvorak, an opera diva from the Czech Republic.

“She really gave me the key to being able to open up my voice,” Whalen said.

Maid of Mettle premiered Tuesday night on “Seven on Ridge,” the late-night talk show on Chicagoland TV station WJYS. The Shorewood metal band will perform Dec. 1 at Nite Cap on Irving Park Road in Chicago. The band also has released “Amulet,” a five-track CD.

The musicians aim for the stratosphere of symphonic metal, maintaining tight and sophisticated production values, while preserving the emotion of a live show.

The Herald-News visited a recent band rehearsal in Shorewood. Ryan Mack helps create the digital symphonic tracks that back up his guitar riffs. Bassist Jeff Ashcraft is a classical cellist. Jason Jaros balances the strength of his percussion sound with an acute sense of timing, so the digital tracks blend in perfectly. David John works behind the scenes with Deanna’s husband, Tim Whalen, to produce a full symphonic sound.

“It’s a whole art by itself,” Tim said of creating symphonic metal, which is prominent in Europe. “It’s really a beautiful genre. Metal, by its nature, is a lot of grinding. But this genre also has got this sense of melody and drama and beauty.”

Tension and grace

The band warms up with “Wicked Game,” the 1989 classic by Chris Izaak. At the calm beginning, Deanna’s voice is a wide seascape at night, echoing with the mystique that made this song famous. The sea turns stormy with the band’s metal clash, as Deanna’s voice — “No, I ... don’t wanna fall in love” — drives on, lone and resolute in the crashing waves. In the final soliloquy, Deanna is on a desolate quay.

“Nobody loves no one.”

That line’s double meaning — a cynical lament, a desperate confession — is a perfect example of the tension this band creates. Behind the ferocious metal, there is a hidden electricity, understated, ethereal, captivating.

“The concept of symphonic metal is highly skilled musicians who are putting together well-written and -arranged background tracks to basically fill out, and contrast, and enhance the strong guitar and rhythm tracks — drummer and bass,” Tim said.

Tim helped found the Chicago Producers Circle in the late 1980s. In this current project, he credits Bernie Pershey of Joliet for his role in putting the tracks together.

‘Do You Want Me?’

The rumbling of Ashcraft’s bass — along with Mack’s crisp lead guitar — begins the song “Do You Want Me?” Deanna and Mack then trade off the lead: confident voice, then thunderous riff. The band transitions seamlessly into the refrain, where the symphonic tracks create a glowing aura of sound.

Jaros’ incessant drums and crashing cymbals bring the song to a final peak, leaving only the misty intrigue of the symphonic tracks fading out.

Deanna has lost touch with her diva instructor, and would like to know if anyone reading has contact information.

“I’m desperately trying to get ahold of her. I miss her,” she said.

A sense of longing and searching. The diva, shrouded in mystery and just beyond reach. That is the essence of Maid of Mettle.



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