Two guys walk into an Atlanta bar. One of them—bassist/vocalist Brent Anderson of doom-metal trio Zoroaster—has long hair, a scraggly goatee, and is covered in fading tattoos. His face is gaunt, hollow, one step from the grave. And his friend looks even worse. At least, that's what a drunken patron tells them.

"He was trying to pick a fight," says Zoroaster guitarist/vocalist Will Fiore, recounting the incident that would inspire the name of their debut full-length, Dog Magic. "So our buddy asked him if he knew what 'dog magic' is." The patron said "no," which is not the correct answer (especially if you're near a pool table).

Heed the metalhead's words: "What's dog magic? If you have a dog, you know what dog magic is. If you pretend to throw a tennis ball and then hide it behind your back—that's dog magic." Fiore swears the trick can be altered to fight off a bad dude. He lists five easy steps in staging a Zoroaster-style beatdown: (1) Ask your enemy about dog magic (he'll never know). (2) Grab two billiard balls and slowly move the balls together in front of your enemy to each of the four cardinal compass points. (3) Move them back to the middle of the man's face. (4) Separate them to either side of his head.

Drunken eyes can only follow one ball, Fiore claims. So what's the punch line? "Clock him in the head with the other ball, and knock him out."

This mysticism/barbarism also happens to be the sound of Dog Magic, a black hole of skull-fracture guitar and sleight-of-hand wizardry. Skyscraping effects keep headbanging epics such as "The Book" and "Tualatin" from drowning in their own muscle-memory excess. Fire and thunder are actually analog synth, theremin, and oddball brass. Such twists would be par for the course if Zoroaster were sophisticated prog-rockers, which they aren't.

"I'm a shitty guitar player," Fiore proclaims, "and I don't know how to play solos." They tour with stripped-down gear, approximating the psychedelic fringe of their chamber-blast CD with delay pedals and a Micromoog. Though not sophisticated, they might be progressive.

Zoroaster are part of a subset of American metal moving beyond archaic band affiliations and ghettoized subgenres. Like labelmates Nachtmystium, who tore away from "true" black metal with 2006's EBow-manipulated Instinct: Decay, Zoroaster recorded Dog Magic without borders. Fiore says most of the songs were improvised, with the band planning to edit the often-expansive material. "But we just ended up doing some guitar overdubs and ended up liking how it sounded," he says. "We just kept it all."

Fiore met Anderson while attending a rural high school outside Atlanta. Their first band, Terminal Doom Explosion, formed in 1990. The guitarist describes one of their initial meet-ups: "We were smoking weed out of this bong that was 14-feet tall. You had to go upstairs and lean over the loft and have someone down in the living room light it." The two mutated into Zoroaster in 2003 under a similar influence, eventually adding drummer Dan Scanlan. Fiore struggles while explaining the lyrics of "Tualatin," a tribute to the vintage amps of Oregon's now-defunct SUNN Musical Equipment Company. "We were pretty high at the time," he acknowledges.