I’m trying to see if George Clarke will ever blink. We’re engaged in a staring contest across time and space to the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park, Sunday, July 20th, 2014. I’m thinking that maybe he won’t. To his right guitarist Shiv Mehra is strumming two heavily reverbed notes on the most beautiful Fender Jaguar I’ve ever seen, to his left Clarke’s best friend and closest collaborator, Kerry McCoy, the only person onstage wearing a piece of clothing that isn’t black, waits for his signal. Clarke is wearing an immaculately cut black shirt, black pants, black patent leather Oxfords polished to a reflective sheen, hair parted far to the left. He doesn’t speak, but he’s communicating – gesticulating wildly, almost conducting the crowd before the song has begun. He still hasn’t blinked, and I’d hate to be whoever he’s staring at. His stare is Old Testament wrath-of-God stuff.
Clarke may be one of the only frontmen in rock music, and definitely one of very few in extreme metal, who can be accurately described as ‘flamboyant’ onstage (he has been compared to everyone from Freddie Mercury to, and I’m not making this up, Hitler), but offstage he is thoughtful and reflective, particularly when it comes to his band and its music. He’s also an ordinary, suburban white guy getting into his late 20s, coping with fame, notoriety, newfound wealth, touring, not touring, moving cities, staying still. Being the vocalist of the band giving modern extreme music a dose of raw and unfiltered feeling.