Photos by Riki Feldmann

Oakland’s Judgement Day Invites The Verdict

I shoveled the last of my Best Wurst bratwurst into my face and walked to the corner where a large crowd had gathered to watch a band that had set up shop on the sidewalk. This was SXSW, so it seemed like nothing out of the ordinary–until they started playing. Deep, guttural tones from a cello rang through the noisy crowd while blistering violin tones followed close behind. A drummer was hunched over an orange bucket and pounded out the rhythms–staying in line with the song’s changes. A white poster board sign with black marker writing rested behind a violin case that was ajar. “Judgement Day,” it read. Their bows flew from side to side as their heads violently thrashed, and all the while a flutter of photos captured the moment.

Every once in a while, a band comes along that redefines the way that we think about how music can be played. Our stereotypes are shattered, and we become intrigued by this strange anomaly for a brief period of time until our attention is stolen yet again by something else that sparks our interests. In short, we write it off as a novelty because it‘s not what we‘re accustomed to seeing or hearing. Judgement Day is not one of these novelty bands. Their music isn’t cute; it’s intelligent. They don’t just “get it done,” they fucking smash on their instruments like the best of them and the result is great music. Music that is brave in its attempt to create something innovative while still kicking so much ass. Oh yeah, and there’s no singer. It’s one thing to be a metal band with strings and no guitars, but then to also tackle the music world as an instrumental band is no easy undertaking. When you don’t have a vocalist, the ceiling for success is usually a whole lot lower than it is for a band with one, and critics don’t take kindly to reviews, as Anton Patzner, Judgement Day violinist, points out.

“It has been somewhat of a struggle to convince critics to write about us, because critics are writers and they like words,” he says.

As discouraging as the media’s reluctance might seem, it has only added fuel to their fire. In the face of all this, they say “bring it on.”

“I’m excited to tackle this challenge,” says Anton. “I want to do something totally different and I welcome the challenge of winning over an audience of press. We’re two brothers doing something completely different with completely different instruments, and I think it’s a great story.”

Anton, a classically trained violinist, and his brother Lewis Patzner, a classically trained cellist, are the founding members of Judgement Day. In the beginning, Anton was hitting the streets by himself, playing his violin and earning a little pocket change. This was working out all right until one day his mom said, “Anton, take Lewis out.” And he did and they made a lot of money.

“We kept doing it, and we realized that it was a pretty good response, so we decided to turn it into a band,” recalls Anton.

The “metal” part wasn’t necessarily the direction that the Patzner boys were aiming for at first. It was merely what worked.

“We were just playing hard and fast; because the harder and faster we played the more money we’d make,” says Anton.

“And the louder we played the more people could hear us,” adds Lewis.

Lewis’ early inspirations weren’t metal at all, but rather movie soundtracks. Scores like John Williams’ Star Wars as well as others by this highly influential composer were what got Lewis’ creative juices flowing. Later on, hardcore bands like Refused helped spice up the cello with a little edge. Judgement Day isn’t to be pigeonholed in the metal category, although, and a little sense of humor really punctuates this fact.

“When we play with metal bands, it’s these very masculine dudes and when they get excited about [our music], it makes you feel like a man, you know?” jokes Lewis.

Judgement Day seeks to appeal to a much broader audience than just metal fans. They aim to speak to music fans. Take their recent trip to Austin, Texas, for SXSW. Although littered with performances, exposure to industry hot shots and the wildfire heat of video and camera footage, it was the fans who made the trek like Muslims to Mecca that made it all worth it.

“I really felt like we reached a lot of music fans by what we were doing. And in the end, I think they’re almost as powerful as the music industry is,” says Anton.

With their new album, Peacocks/Pink Monsters, a work of art in and of itself, their message is loud and clear. The creative boundaries that were pushed during the studio sessions were a leap of faith brought about by disagreement. Each member of the band, including newly added drummer Jon Bush, had completely different ideas of how the record should sound. With the time ticking and not much progress being made, they decided to head into the studio. What followed was the birth of an album through improvisation and experimentation. A beautifully mixed record that seamlessly integrates the drums and showcases how this band can sound like a huge rock band to the point where the liner notes read, “There are no guitars on this record.”

During that same performance in Austin that I had the pleasure of witnessing, Anton put down his violin and addressed and the crowd.

“I think that this is a really exciting time for music that we’re going into right now,” he bellowed to the crowd. “More and more it’s a time when we don’t hear about the cool new bands from the radio or from MTV; more and more we hear about it from our friends. When we like something, we can share it with all of our friends by just clicking a button on our Facebook page or our Twitter,” continued Anton.

The crowd stood silent, listening to what this frizzy-haired violin player standing on a corner had to say.

“I think as music fans we have never had more of a voice then we have today. We have this great power. And when we do that, when we share, we give independent art a stronger voice than it’s ever had before,” concluded Anton to a now mesmerized audience.

Applause followed and the boys sparked up the band, shredding another track for their new fans.

Judgement Day will play Luigi’s Fungarden on April 25, 2010. Prepare to get your face melted in the most sophisticated manner possible.