Becoming a beastly metal guitar player takes years of dedicated, callus-forming practice. But if you're Jadran "Conan" Gonzalez from Exmortus, it takes just one freak childhood accident.
Drummer Mario Moreno recalls the dangerous prank he played on Gonzalez. When he was 5, Moreno convinced his cousin to stick a bobby pin in an electrical outlet, which shocked his hands. "His fingers went black," Moreno says. "I like to say that's why he shreds–because the electricity still flows through him. Every time he plugs in, he's charged."
Together with guitarist David Rivera and bassist Aldo Bibiano, Gonzalez and Moreno blend thrash riffs, fretboard-searing solos and neo-classical technique. Having played local shows at every available opportunity, Exmortus built a steady following over the past decade. Last year, they were signed to LA label Prosthetic Records, and in February, they released the stellar album Slave to the Sword. Tours through North America followed, supporting such metal heavyweights as Dark Tranquillity and Destruction. Exmortus will take the stage at Malone's Bar and Grill on Friday before embarking on a nationwide run with Virginia band Arsis (they'll perform at OC Music Hall on Sept. 20).
According to Gonzalez, Exmortus were always mentally prepared for the transition from local heroes to relentless road dogs. "Signing to Prosthetic helped us go a lot faster," Gonzalez says. "It came as an avalanche, and we just wanted to keep it going. We didn't expect it to be this intense, but we are pretty stoked about it."
Gonzalez and Moreno say the desire to play music started as a natural impulse when they were both 10 years old. They remember spending plenty of time hanging out with each other in their Whittier hometown, banging on a Casio keyboard and an electronic drum set.
Eventually, they picked up guitars, bass and a real drum kit–and that's when their inner head bangers kicked in. These days, Gonzalez says, hair-metal guitarists such as Randy Rhoads inspire his playing. But even when given the latitude to twiddle his fingers endlessly on the fret board, he tries to not overdo it.
"I understand we're pretty over the top sometimes, and even I'm like, 'Why the fuck did I do that?'" Gonzalez says.
Slave to the Sword is a case in point, with tunes such as "Rising" and "Moonlight Sonata (Act 3)" showcasing flashy neo-classical solos. On the other hand, tracks such as "Immortality Made Flesh" present a more level-headed, hook-laden approach that was perhaps missing on previous albums.
Because of his guitar-playing background, fitting drum parts to go with his shredding has been a little easier for Moreno. "When I'm playing drums, I'm not even thinking of drum beats. I'm thinking of guitar, and I'm playing a whole different rhythm. [Gonzalez] is shredding; I hear a melody and think of a rhythmic riff in my head and try to apply a drum beat to that. I just follow the shred in an orderly fashion!"
In the midst of the busiest year of their career, Exmortus show no signs of slowing. "We've covered a lot of ground, reinforced our presence in a lot of places, and crowds have transitioned over to become our fans," says Moreno. "Everything is going the way we want."
Exmortus perform with Fueled By Fire, Crowned By Fire, Kaustik and more at Malone's Bar & Grill, 604 E. Dyer Rd., Santa Ana, (714) 979-6000; www.malonesbarandgrill.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $10 in advance; $15 at the door. 21+.