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For The Esoteric, whose Lawrence, Kan., home/studio burned to its foundations in late February, the nomadic lifestyle of the touring act has become an indefinite necessity. Playing on donated equipment while wearing charitable-contribution clothing, the group started playing shows in support of its April release With the Sureness of Sleepwalking less than two weeks after the faulty wiring-provoked fire. At these gigs, The Esoteric exhibited the aggressive intensity of a desperate band funneling everything they have to live for into their sets – but then, they always have.

"I'm not sure what we'd do if we weren't in this band," says singer Stevie Cruz, calling from Chicago. "We're having fun, but it's also really necessary for our mental health. Being able to vent and express yourself through performance is therapeutic."

Cruz certainly needs the outlet. A few hours before this conversation, The Esoteric's van – stocked with the best gear benefit-show funds could buy – disappeared from a parking lot. Police informed the panicked band that their van was towed, not stolen.

Stressful situations such as this just add cathartic kick to The Esoteric's concerts. Drummer Marshall Kilpatric shakes his dreads like a seizure-stricken Medusa as he pounds out blast beats, and dual guitar harmonies thrive amidst the searing riffs like oases on the sun's surface. Solid breakdowns splinter into mind-melting technical segments that recall guitarist Cory White's earlier outfit Coalesce. On Sleepwalking, the group's most accessible effort, strong melodic undercurrents seem to foreshadow a gentler vocal approach during the choruses, but instead Cruz maintains his gruff howl.

"There are places where we could have pulled off that kind of crooning vocal, but that tough-guy-barking, into-emo-crybaby thing is so overdone," Cruz says. "Once we started experimenting with pop structures, it sounded really fresh and new, having these pretty guitar parts with screaming vocals."

However, Cruz places a higher value on enunciation than most of his grizzly-voiced peers. He stresses every syllable in phrases such as "a persistent minority within shadows of impossible light," spitting the consonants through clenched teeth and turning each "s" into a serpentine hiss.

"At first, it was a cryptic code, where certain types of people communicated ideas that they didn't want everyone to hear," he says. "But now, even if you weren't exposed to that culture, you can still understand the words."

The Esoteric
with Himsa, Full Blown Chaos, The Agony Scene

5 p.m. Thursday, July 14
Back Booth

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