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Bully pulpit

Atlanta heavy rock's unholy trinity assails Elvis' temple

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STAR BAR, MARCH 24 -- Staring down from a portrait clinging for dear life to the wall of his Gracevault shrine, Elvis Presley looked as if he would break into tears. Either that, or scream in raw terror.

In what may well have been the loudest show in the Star Bar's history, Mastodon -- newly anointed local champions of extreme metal -- headlined a concert that couldn't possibly have deviated farther from the twangy country/rockabilly on which the venerable nightspot's reputation was built.

The demolition began with a surprisingly long set by Edgewood, a five-piece whose style ranged between Motorhead and the Ramones. Dressed like Rob Zombie -- complete with a banana-shaped cowboy hat pulled over ponytailed locks -- frontman Paul Prickett sang like Rob Halford and cavorted crazily with his microphone, never letting his dancing and kicking drift into self-parody. Edgewood's tightness was most impressive during the blazing "Hook Up," when drummer Troy King masterfully dropped the tiny clank of a cowbell into an infinitesimal eighth-of-a-second pause during the song's bridge. And although compositions such as "My Drunk Friends" will hardly crowd Holland-Dozier-Holland out of any BMI royalties, Edgewood delivered such numbers with commendable vigor, with Prickett enthusiastically leading the crowd in shout-along choruses amid a firestorm of hot licks from his two guitarists.

Between sets, Bully frontman Joel Burkhart moved slowly through the audience, dressed in a preacher's robe and collar, offering unholy communion to the faithful in the form of Jagermeister shots. It was midnight when his band took the stage, opening with the brutal "Quitter."

"We got a little darkness comin' on," Burkhart announced as he introduced Bully's grim power ballad about the warship "Indianapolis." A harrowing exercise in dark minor chords, it told the true story of an American vessel sinking in shark-infested waters during WWII. "Hear the screams as the sharks dragged them under/How I prayed, how I prayed for thunder," Burkhart sang, sounding as panicked and desperate as if a great white's jaws were clamped around his own leg.

Accomplishing the astonishing feat of being literate as well as loud, Bully concluded their set with "Lowest Common Denominator," a song about modern frustration that wrenched heavy metal back to its blues roots. During the final verse, Burkhart displayed his lyrics on cue cards, as in Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video, flipping them one word at a time. He ultimately hit the repeated word "fire," written in progressively larger and more desperate lettering until it bled off the edges, at which point Burkhart torched the final card, concluding Bully's set with a figurative and literal conflagration.

The club was at near-capacity with a black-leather crowd when Mastodon finally stomped onstage early Sunday morning. Frontman Troy Sanders hammered the strings of his bass guitar, growling and roaring into the microphone as if gargling battery acid. Kicking like its prehistoric namesake, the four-piece delivered crushing bottom end.

The precision of Mastodon's volcanic start/stop rhythm was impressive, though there was precious little melody from either of the group's two guitarists, who simultaneously flailed their over-amped Gibsons for a mighty, churning sonic effect. Behind them, the drummer worked feverishly to impose a percussive lead line, although the result often seemed as random as the crackle of popping corn. Sound bites -- usually profane insults snarled in faux-De Niro -- boomed over the P.A. between every few tunes.

By 1:45 a.m., the Star Bar's crowded dance floor had erupted into a skanking, slamming mosh pit. Leather-wrapped bodies swung limbs and collided with shuddering impacts. The band thundered onward, and Elvis was left crying in the chapel.

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