It's Saturday night and Himsa are trapped between realms. Not in the vast netherworld between hardcore and metal where the band has frolicked, happy as winged octopi, since forming eight years ago. "We're right on the border of Texas and Arkansas," bassist Derek Harn explains from a hotel room in Texarkana. Week one of the Undoing Ruin Tour is behind them and the band, Darkest Hour, A Life Once Lost, Acacia Strain, and Dead to Fall are enjoying a night off—sort of. An attempt to find a bar showing tonight's Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view bout has fizzled. A few guys are doing laundry. Everyone else is just taking it easy. "We saw Final Destination 3 this afternoon," says Harn. "It was amazing. I laughed so hard, tears were coming out of my eyes."
HIMSA With Darkest Hour, A Life Once Lost, and the Acacia Strain. Showbox, 1426 First Ave., 206-628-3151, www.showboxonline.com. $12 adv./$14. All ages. 7 p.m. Sun., March 19.
He doesn't seem to mind Texarkana's dearth of nightlife at all, probably because the band's spring endurance test has only just begun. Sunday's release party for Hail Horror (Prosthetic) at the Showbox isn't so much homecoming as quick visit in the midst of an extended campaign that finds Himsa winding around and across the country twice, with a quick visit to Europe in the middle. But there's a method to their madness.
"We're taking summer off to work on our next album," says Harn. "We can't afford to do Ozzfest." (Note: Revolving, second-stage bands pay $75,000 to play the tour.) "We were up to play [the] Sounds of the Underground [tour], but they passed on us for whatever reason. We'll do it next year, or the year after. There's so much emphasis placed on those things, and so many bands that play so early. Who wants 20 minutes onstage at 9:30 in the morning? Who cares? It's all about, 'Ooh, we did this and this tour, so we should be selling this many records.' We're just kind of staying away from those games at this point."
They're also garnering more undivided audience attention for Hail Horror than they would as part of a 30-band circus. While Himsa still honor their hardcore roots, album number four finds them slouching ever more metal-ward. Opener "Anathema" even features a classic church bell intro just long enough to herald the lurching riff that begins the song proper. "Come close to the unfamiliar warmth/Coy gesture to paralyze beloved," singer Johnny Pettibone rasps, his all-purpose extreme-music-guy voice an amalgam of croak, growl, and roar.
Much of the multitempo track churns atop meaty, made-in-U.S.A. thrash rhythms driven by Harn and drummer Chad Davis, but Kirby Johnson and Sammi Curr's ornate guitar interludes partake more than a little of the melodic death-metal gestures pioneered by the Swedish likes of At the Gates and In Flames. Himsa reconcile song and album's divergent tendencies so adroitly that you'd think they were playing only one style of music—rather than both—largely thanks to producer Tue (rhymes with "phooey") Madsen, a veteran who's spent much of his tracking, mixing, and mastering career with one foot in hardcore, the other in metal, and both in Åbyhøj, Denmark, where Hail Horror was recorded and mixed.
"Tue really took care of us," says Harn. "We'd had something set up with another producer and it all kind of fell apart a couple months beforehand. We called Tue, and he was able to move some of his schedule around for us. Basically, his recording studio is in his garage. We stayed in a room off the side of his house and did nothing but record and sleep."
The band's European tendencies often surface unexpectedly, as on metalcore anthem "Wither," when the brittle guitars that dominate the gentle, melancholy intro make a surprise appearance toward song's end—minus drums. It's exactly the sort of gesture that gets most metal hearts pumping and confuses hardcore kids more concerned with pit dynamics than interesting twists.
"The dance floor has nothing to do with what we do," says Harn. "We'll give you just enough mosh to let you go out for a little spurt, then we're gonna take it away from you. We'd rather have that really close connection to the crowd—people singing along and stage-diving. We're there so you can bang your head and sing along and have a good time, not so you can swing your arms and break someone's nose. I'm not against moshing at all. A lot of bands are into it and that's great for them. We never really embraced it at any point in time."
Himsa's manifest disinterest in pandering to purists of any persuasion is drawing new fans from cracks between the genres—hardly surprising, despite predictions of metalcore's imminent decline. Hail Horror—a metal album first and foremost, but one fueled by hardcore ardor and anger—dominates the band's set list. "We're starting to get the misfit kids," says Harn, "kids who don't really fit into hardcore but like metal. The other night in Nashville, there was a big brawl: All these hardcore kids jumped some metal guys. Same old clashes, and the metal kids always get their asses kicked. It's getting really annoying. One day, they'll figure out that musically, it's just all one big thing."