MELYNDA JACKSON and Haley Westeiner are sitting in an upstairs room at Beech Street Parlor, sipping hot toddies. Members of the Portland avant metal outfit Eight Bells, the two began playing together five years ago, but it's easy to tell they're still happy they found one another.
The term "musical soulmates" is even bandied about, which doesn't seem at all farfetched. Eight Bells' live performances are intense affairs with Westeiner and Jackson locking eyes and instruments (bass and guitar, respectively). Their new record, Landless, is also a product of their years playing together—it's adventurous and taut, summoning the black metal of Immortal, the hooky prog of Rush, and even a little Pink Floyd psychedelia. All references aside, however, this is music that could only be made by these two women.
Their musical connection was perhaps inevitable, but Westeiner's sense of adventure is what made it happen. "For me, perseverance is basically not being afraid to go outside my established comfort zone and friend circle and try to meet new people who I'd get along with and artistically have stuff in common with," she says. "Living here and meeting people has gotten me back into metal."
Westeiner studied jazz bass, but was reared on Metallica and Guns N' Roses. Upon moving to Portland in 2001, she played in prog band Pom Pom Meltdown and later Gay Deceivers, which came to an end in 2009. Jackson's band—cult, improvisational weirdos SubArachnoid Space—had also parted ways around that time.
"It was super traumatic when I lost it," Jackson says of SubArachnoid Space, which formed in the Bay Area back in 1995. "I wanted to do something out-there, but I liked the idea of being reined in a bit."
Jackson and SubArachnoid drummer Chris Van Huffel formed Eight Bells in 2011, and Westeiner was the missing piece. They released their debut, The Captain's Daughter, in 2013. It's a record that effectively deals with the idea of isolation, but it's also an album that shows a band still in search of their sound.
Landless answers the call in a big way, smoothing out the edges—thanks in part to local metal producer extraordinaire Billy Anderson—as Jackson, Westeiner, and new drummer Rae Amitay (also of Immortal Bird) fuse the cerebral with the visceral. "Touch Me" floats on the strength of wiry guitars and vocals that sound like they're from a paranormal dimension. And the 13-minute title track creates a sense of despair, before lashing out at the end with guttural screams and a few surprise instrumental turns.
Landless contains more vocals than anything the band has done before, something that Jackson had to warm up to. "I like it," she says. "But I've always been annoyed with vocally driven music—it's just people hollering stuff at me."
The psychedelic nature of Eight Bells' music, along with its prog dynamics, made it an easy decision for space-metal pioneers Voivod to take the band on the road for a tour that kicks off in February (the bill also includes sci-fi technical metal band Vektor). That exposure will no doubt connect Eight Bells' music to more ears. Of course, listeners will need to be as adventurous as these women. "I don't want to try and get people to care," Jackson says, adding, "I just want people to care."