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The Sound

Powering through


Powerman 5000 isn’t what you think they are.

For nearly a quarter century, the Boston-based act has been confounding fans and detractors alike, mainly by refusing to be easily categorized. But for Spider One, Powerman 5000’s charismatic frontman and the band’s only original member, that’s what it’s all about.

Powerman 5000 plays the Val Air Ballroom on Thursday, Feb. 5.

Powerman 5000 plays the Val Air Ballroom
on Thursday, Feb. 5.

“I’m not even sure what we are, quite honestly,” Spider said during a phone interview. “But that’s how we’ve always existed. We’ve always had one foot in and one foot out, wherever we are.”

Spend any time on the online message boards, and you will find people who do not care for such fence straddling. In less nuanced circles, such genre bending is seen as a failure to grasp the core principals. The band’s haters will spit out the dreaded “nu-metal” tag and accuse Powerman 5000, which will take the Val Air Ballroom stage on Feb. 5, of trying too hard or just not “getting” what metal is all about. Spider is not having it.

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“The detractors feel like we’re trying to do one thing and getting it wrong,” he said. “But we’ve never been trying to do that at all. We’ve always been lumped in with metal bands, but that’s mostly because we’re loud.”

“Before we made (1999’s) ‘Tonight the Stars Revolt!,’ the term ‘nu-metal’ didn’t exist,” he continued. “I was more interested in my new-wave influences at that point anyway. At that point in time, heavy metal had become all army shorts and a black T-shirt. There we were in these bizarre get-ups, and people were looking at us like we’ve lost our minds, our record label included. But I’ve always felt like we have more in common with Devo than Meshuggah.”

Powerman 5000 did not just spring into this earth as a fully formed entity, though. Getting to where they are now has been a progression of both sound and outlook. Spider relishes the chance for his music to change and grow as the years have gone by but feels the band has found its wheelhouse now.

“Just like how people change and grow over the years, I feel like it would be strange, that you would be the exact same thing musically,” he explained. “Things change, band members change, your desires change. It’s a little more fun to not stay in one place. The band has always been this weird, eclectic mix and a mesh of influences. The past couple of records, though, it feels like we’ve sort of settled down with our experimentation. I think that finally I’ve realized that this ‘metal sound’ is kind of what we do and what we do best.”

Since the release of “Tonight the Stars Revolt!,” the band’s sound has been peppered with science fiction influences and an experimental, new-wave vibe that fans have gravitated to. It’s a big change from the stripped down sound of the band’s early albums, but it has allowed the group to grow.

“I don’t really remember why (the sound) changed,” Spider admitted. “I think maybe we changed the sound just because we had the opportunity. Before we got signed, we were making records in this practice space for a few hundred dollars. Then when we got signed, and suddenly we had a lot more time and money to experiment with. We released a couple of albums that were really stripped down, and it was completely rejected by our fan base. Sometimes the fans know best and can see more clearly then you can. You get wrapped up in your own agenda, and they’re just kind of standing there going, “What are you doing?” CV

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