Attendees of this semester’s Battle of the Bands competition will probably remember their first acquaintance with student band Slag, a moment captured on video and uploaded to the band’s Facebook page: after the three musicians’ cover of ‘50s crooner classic “Earth Angel” is met with applause, they launch into an ominous heavy metal track as singer Robert Petruso grins at the crowd between death growls. For the past six months, Slag has shaken up Binghamton University’s music scene by putting metal back on the map and infusing the genre with this unique brand of fun-loving energy.
Slag is comprised of Petruso, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, on guitar and vocals, Wes Deixler, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, on bass and Jordan Finkelstein, ‘18, on drums. The band labels itself primarily as doom metal and post-metal, though it also draws influence from other subgenres of metal.
According to Deixler, the group’s style fills a void created by the absence of metal bands in the student music scene.
“A lot of the bands here are very energetic, which I love because Slag has a lot of energy also, but we also offer the more crushing aspect, the more heavy aspect,” he said.
Deixler and Petruso met at a party during their freshman year and quickly got along after talking about their favorite bands. They formed their first band, Apollo and Dionysus, during their sophomore year. The effort was short-lived — according to Deixler, the group’s lack of direction and vision caused it to fall apart. This past October, Petruso decided he wanted to play again after writing music over the summer, so he reconnected with Deixler and found Finkelstein through mutual friends in the student music scene.
Petruso said he started Slag with the intention of bringing metal back into the scene.
“Obviously I love all the bands that are here, but I’m huge into heavy music and the really extreme, raw stuff and there’s nothing like that here at all, so I wanted to have that here,” he said.
Slag occasionally plays house shows in the area and has taken the stage at Avenue DIY, a local venue that draws more alternative genres. The band has also played on campus at Battle of the Bands both semesters this year.
While both Deixler and Petruso have metal backgrounds, their musical palates are eclectic and include everything from jazz to ‘80s pop. According to Deixler, the group’s listening habits reflect a larger trend of people in metal communities branching out into other genres instead of devoting all their time to metal.
“It’s weird because it kind of feels like the genre is dying, but then it also keeps the genre creative because you still have all these people who are playing metal but not just listening to metal, so they’re bringing in outside influences,” he said.
Petruso said that the band tries to stick to one sound, but it also tries to incorporate a variety of styles into its set lists.
“We like to have a whole bunch of diversity in the mix, like you scream your head off during one song and it’s a nice lullaby right after,” he said.
The band’s live covers of ballads like “Earth Angel” and rockabilly songs like “Stray Cat Strut” contribute to a sort of B-movie horror aesthetic, which is sometimes supplemented by old Halloween-themed cartoons projected behind the musicians as they play.
Deixler said that while the scare factor of certain metal subgenres often turns people off, listening to an exaggerated, over-the-top horror-inspired song is no different from watching a horror film.
“A lot of people look at this music and say ‘oh my god, it’s so angry, it’s so gory’ but then they go to the movies and watch ‘Friday the 13th’ or something like that, so they’re still consuming this horror media,” he said.
The more unsettling elements of Slag’s performances are matched with an eccentric stage presence — the group’s most recent Battle of the Bands set, for example, saw Petruso dressed in white long johns, socks with flip-flops and his elementary school class shirt, speaking to the crowd in Italian between songs.
Petruso said his onstage goofiness is meant to ease listeners who might be intimidated by Slag’s music.
“We take the music seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” he said. “Wearing the long johns and speaking Italian, that’s just to try to welcome people as much as we can because it’s music they’re not going to know and music they probably won’t like, and if you just help them have an open mind and try to get them involved, then hopefully they’ll enjoy it.”
He added that although Slag fills a very specific niche in the campus music scene, the band finds enough support at BU to stay motivated.
“I like that we’re our own unique entity and there’s nothing like us, and I think it’s one of those things where either you love it or you hate it,” he said. “I don’t really care if you hate it, we have a lot of people who love it.”