Elijah Blue sounds like a stage name, and it was almost certainly intended to be one, but it was also bestowed upon its bearer at birth. And so when Elijah Blue Allman performs with his new-metal band Deadsy, he calls himself P. Exeter Blue I, a name he picked because it suggests a spoiled evil brat whom you’d find at an ultra-exclusive New England prep school. The son of Cher and Greg Allman (of the Allman Brothers), Elijah spent his childhood in a succession of such places, and Commencement (Elementree/DreamWorks), Deadsy’s long-delayed superb debut album, is set in a kind of boarding-school-of-the-damned. The lyrics are filled with allusions to Stanley Kubrick and Aleister Crowley and Walt Disney, and there’s a coherent sci-fi concept to the whole, but what comes through most is the detachment of a melancholy latchkey millionaire, someone with an intuitive distrust of the privilege and celebrity that has been his peculiar birthright. Mystical keys are obtained, doors swing open magically, and in an abstracted, hermetically-sealed-mansion world, Elijah searches for an identity, and for love, amid the dull inertia of the upper classes.
With their spooky-kid eyeliner, futuristic fashion sense, and coat-of-arms-patched prep-school jackets, Deadsy look and occasionally sound like a cross between Mechanical Animals–era Marilyn Manson and the Strokes. (Without getting too Freudian here, you have to admit that Marilyn Manson, when dressed in an androgynous breastplate, bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Cher.)
Heavy metal generally seeks to magnify its rough dissonance with jagged edges and grinding guitars, but Deadsy’s music has a sleek, aerodynamic exterior. The guitars are tuned excruciatingly low, as with Korn, and are compressed into a dense, synthetic buzz, as with Manson; in lieu of a bass, Carlton Magalodon plays a hybrid synthesizer/guitar he calls a "Z-tar." On Commencement, the guitars and the bass/synth sound so similar that you apprehend them as a single dense throb, and the main work of color and melody is handled by a keyboardist called Dr. Nner.
This instrumentation has caused some metal fans to think that Deadsy are ripping off new wave in general and Gary Numan in particular, but Nner’s synthesizers are locked on a more ethereal and florid setting. "Winners" samples a theme from Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, and indeed that album’s dry, twinkling, institutional airiness is a major touchstone here. If you had to invent a genre to describe the result, you’d end up with something like grindcore synthpop — yet Deadsy’s hauntingly pretty music doesn’t juxtapose polar opposites but rather soars dramatically from heavy to weightless in a single chord.
On the album’s second half, the riffs turn more ominous and the synthesizers begin to recall the jarring echoes of scores from 1980s Z-grade horror movies, but for the majority of the disc Elijah takes his inspiration from less obvious (for metal, at least) sources. There are two covers: Deadsy’s fans are more likely to recognize Rush’s "Tom Sawyer," even though the song gets a complete overhaul. Less remarked upon has been the group’s take on "Brand New Love," from Sebadoh’s 1991 Bang Your Head on the Punk Rock. (Pre-Nirvana Massachusetts indie rock is suddenly doing pretty well in new-metal circles — Papa Roach cover an old Pixies tune on their new Lovehatetragedy.) With the exception of a cascading synth line, Deadsy don’t radically rework the song, and they don’t have to. Elijah’s voice and his taste in pop hooks are far closer to Lou Barlow’s than to Jonathan Davis’s; on "She Likes Big Words," a wiggly, Duran Duran–like synthesizer workout, he does a pretty good Simon LeBon impersonation (John Taylor played bass in an early incarnation of Deadsy.) And on "Flowing Glower," he sounds a bit like the archetypal maudlin synthpop singer of our time, Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt. "Mansion World" begins with a line that could have come straight out of a song by Merritt’s Gothic Archies: "Once upon and once up high/A dandy dreamed what means to die."
"Mansion World" is the disc’s most triumphant moment: produced by Orgy’s Josh Abraham, it replicates with uncanny accuracy the cold, mechanical atmosphere of ’80s dance pop — which in turn mirrors the frictionless, consequence-free universe Elijah finds himself unable to escape. Orgy managed something similar with their cover of New Order’s "Blue Monday," but not with this degree of accuracy. In "Mansion World," everything feels motionless and pristine — frozen in time, its warmth beyond even the reach of nostalgia.