"They are simultaneously the best and worst band in Turners Falls," says Turners Falls music impresario and Flaming Dragons of Middle Earth documenter Neil "Neeel" Young. "I would argue that what they do is pure magic."
Describing FDOME's act is like trying to talk about a tornado tearing through a mobile home park—from the center of the tornado. The high-energy, out-there collective is the brainchild of Danny Cruz, who serves as band shaman, lead singer and psychic hub. The ensemble mines the amorphous realm of outsider music, and sits comfortably in the psychedelic garage freakout school inhabited by the likes of Captain Beefheart and Roky Erickson.
"The group has always been a cast of oddball collaborators irregularly orbiting around the demented genius of Danny," Young says. "Early every Thursday evening they gather at the Brick House Community Resource Center in Turners Falls during their youth drop-in hours, and, while random neighborhood kids are updating their MySpace pages or playing foosball, the gang pummels away at whatever instruments they can find while Danny tries to shout his lyrics over the din."
The band formed at a Brick House open-mic session two years ago. While its membership is too vast and fluid to enumerate, current collaborators include Cory Matthews, Coco Schachtl, Bob Schachtl, Cathe Janke, Nick Williams, Zach Phillips, Sam Phillips, Danny Bissette, Zack Zucker, Jeremy "T", Loren Burke and Jeremy Latch. Cruz says the group recorded a demo entitled The Beth of Madness, but did not have their sound down. Until, that is, they created their own genre, which they subsequently dubbed "Mud Lightning Metal."
According to Cruz, his band's aesthetic is a heavy metal mix, with, basically, every possible genre and emotion thrown in: "Mud Lightning Metal is about love and heartbreak and anguish, and about falling in love and losing a lover; about happiness in the world, and destruction."
Cruz describes his group's sound as "all styles mixed with funerals and zombies and animals and being stupid and going to school and pretending you're dropping out and all the cool stuff and peace and hippies and getting mental disorders and being a man who is in a nightmare, but he enjoys it."
FDOME's tunes are often ramshackle affairs: atonal free-for-alls with players and singers going off in every direction at once. Yet somehow Danny keeps it together through sheer force of will, often shouting out instructions and acting as a manic maestro.
"Danny and his hodgepodge stir a cauldron of words and sound," says Young. "The concentrated assault on their instruments with musical and nonmusical intention is their ritual theater of transformation. The results of this alchemy can be wildly ecstatic or completely damaging. I have seen them clear rooms and I have seen them get a few folks dancing, but mostly I've seen them clear rooms. The world may not be ready, but every time I see them I am usually paralyzed in amazement by their heavy mist."
Cruz gives his songs names like "Devil Worship Bugaloo," and fills them to the brim with surreal, absurdist imagery and apocalyptic Mayan folklore. Again, Young: "Danny's effusive and inventive use of language, with his ever-shifting permutations of themes reminiscent of Don Van Vliet, are predictably unpredictable."
Local DJ, musician and concert curator—and sometime FDOME co-conspirator—Chris Dooley is equally effusive in his praise: "Danny Cruz is one of the most charismatic lead vocalists I've ever seen perform. The first time I witnessed Flaming Dragons of Middle Earth live, Danny called for a mosh pit to start for an a cappella song they were performing. Of course, everyone heeded Danny's command and it was good times."
Both as spectator and participant, Dooley is a fan of FDOME's live sets, which tend to feature costumes as outlandish as the sounds. "It's like Sun Ra's Arkestra meets the 13th Floor Elevators or something," he says. "I like the fact that there's many elements of spontaneity that can evolve during a Flaming Dragons performance. With a rotating line up of about a dozen folks, just about anything can happen during one of their shows."
There is rumor of a CD box set compiling recordings of their indefinite Thursday night Brick House residency. (The band's Google scheduler stretches their commitment to that venue and time slot to, at the very least, December, 2014.) A full documentation would create an assemblage to dwarf all box sets that have come before or likely will ever arrive hereafter.
"There is also a FDOME tape club coming soon," Cruz promises. "Also, I do the art individually for every physical album—tape and CD, so far—that is made, and that will probably continue to happen."
To witness the phenomenon in action, head to the Brick House this—or any—Thursday. Grab an instrument and join in.
"I want people to come on Thursday afternoons," says Cruz. "And people should know that Flaming Dragons want to play more day shows in Franklin, Hampshire and Windsor counties. All right!"