Live in the Clubs: Amalgama not your average metal band

In the local heavy-metal scene, John Salka III is a bit of an odd man out.
Politically aware metal band Amalgama was photographed while playing at The Chance in Poughkeepsie.
Politically aware metal band Amalgama was photographed while playing at The Chance in Poughkeepsie.

In the local heavy-metal scene, John Salka III is a bit of an odd man out.

The 23-year-old vocalist and guitarist for local thrash band Amalgama spends his days working for a government lobby firm in Albany. He goes to work in a shirt and tie, his normally scraggly blond hair up in a ponytail. In fact, if you see audience members decked out in formalwear as opposed to leather and ripped jeans at Amalgama shows, don’t be surprised.


With: Repression, Hellfire

When: 9 p.m. Thursday

Where: Valentine’s, 17 New Scotland Ave., Albany

How Much: $5

More Info: 432-6572,

“It’s an interesting dichotomy when you’re playing in a metal band,” Salka said during a recent interview outside the Muddy Cup in Albany. “But everyone I work with has been extremely supportive; they sometimes come out to shows. We do occasionally get suits and ties at our shows.”

Bipartisan event

Salka’s job suggests more than a passing interest in politics. His band’s show at Valentine’s on Thursday with fellow local groups Repression and Hellfire is a voter-registration drive, dubbed “For Those About to Vote, We Salute You,” in advance of the Oct. 10 registration cutoff date for the 2008 election. Most metal bands aren’t really known for encouraging governmental involvement, but, as guitarist Nate Schied put it: “We’re not really your average metal band.”

“Is a metal band supposed to register people to vote?” Salka said. “We don’t care.”

The event is bipartisan; both the Young Democrats and Young Republicans will be at the venue. Although there is a $5 cover charge for the actual show, voter registration is free. Salka, who is involved with the Young Democrats, said the event is specifically geared toward college students, who make up the bulk of Amalgama’s audience.

“If you’re a student, you have to get an absentee ballot if you’re not from around here, but you can change your registration to up here,” Salka said.

Salka’s political interests often find their way into Amalgama’s lyrics. Songs such as “Dogs of War” and “A Brother’s Blood” off the group’s first album, “When the Dust Settles,” showcase a fiercely anti-war sentiment backed with rapid-fire guitar riffs from Salka and former guitarist Dylan Lindstadt, and pounding double-bass drums courtesy of Greg Laruccia. Schied played bass on the album, moving to guitar with the recent addition of Dylan Baldwin to the band’s lineup.

The nine-track CD, released in July through CD Baby — — was the product of two weekends of recording during late spring and early summer with producer Steven Goldman in Ithaca. Although many of the album’s songs are re-recordings of tracks from the group’s first EP, “Stainless,” some songs, such as album closer “Pride,” were written only moments before they were recorded.

“Greg and I had it out on that song,” Salka said. “I was adamant on the way it would end, and Greg was not. But if you listen, the last minute of the track is his most aggressive playing on the album.”

Despite some disagreements, Salka and Schied consider Larrucia to be the foundation of the band. When Larrucia joined Amalgama in the fall of 2006, the band had already played a few gigs locally with a revolving cast of drummers and bassists. Salka and Lindstadt first met as students at The College of Saint Rose in 2005, with Schied joining up soon thereafter.

After Larrucia’s addition, the band began to set its sights higher, playing out in New York City and Poughkeepsie. An eight-date July tour in support of “When the Dust Settles” took the band to New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Long Island and Ithaca this year.

Musical influences

The name Amalgama is a reflection of the band’s various influences, said Salka. Not surprisingly, Salka cites Metallica, Megadeth and Thin Lizzy as his three favorite groups. Early on, Salka’s mother had a big influence on his music tastes, playing classic rock albums for him when he was in elementary school.

“When I hit high school, I wanted to get a guitar,” Salka said. “My mom brought me to the store.”

Schied, who played violin for 12 years before he picked up a guitar, called himself “the least metal member of the band.” Although his influences include Dream Theater and Symphony X, he is also a Beatles and jazz fan with a “soft spot” for hair metal.

“I didn’t really start out like, ‘Man, I’m gonna be metal,’ ” Schied said. “The song that got me to switch to guitar was ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll’ by Joan Jett.”

But metalheads, fear not. The band is plenty metal, as an incident on the group’s recent tour proved.

“[Schied] split his head open on a cymbal during the tour,” Salka said. “He looked over at me, and I said, ‘Dude, you’re bleeding.’ He said, ‘I know.’ He played the rest of the set, though.”

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply