James Lewis has spent the better part of the morning trying to drain the swamp on his small ranch in Nova, a town some 50 miles south of Cleveland. Between working as a physical therapist assistant and rehabilitation consultant, and keeping up the ranch where he and his wife raise American Saddlebred horses, Lewis barely has time for Antithesis, the local metal band in which he plays bass.
"We just don't sleep," Lewis says, his long brown hair tucked under a mud-caked green hat embossed with the logo of the horse ranch. "I get up in the morning and do some band promotion and then go to work. I fix what gets broken -- because the horses are always breaking something -- do the yardwork, and help with the breeding." But it's worth it. "I love it out here -- I love the peace and quiet."
Lewis says that he sometimes tires of driving up to Brooklyn to practice with the rest of his band, which also includes guitarist Paul Konjicija, guitarist Sean Perry, singer Ty Cook, and drummer Paul Kostyack, but playing heavy metal is something he can't get out his system -- even though he's tried. Several years ago, he considered selling his equipment when he decided to focus on his healthcare career more than his music, but his wife talked him out of it. "I think she regrets it now," he jokes.
Lewis initially started playing in the late '80s with a cover band that could do "every song Metallica had written, up until that point." After a short stint in Maryland, where he worked as a teacher, he joined a more modern rock band when he moved to Pennsylvania. But it proved to be short-lived, because "the guys in the band smoked too much dope before shows and would screw up the Iron Maiden songs we played." Again Lewis took a break, before joining Antithesis in 1997 by answering a "musician wanted" ad placed by Perry.
"I had auditioned, and since I'm pretty off-the-wall in my writing, Sean [Perry] said, 'What is that you're playing?'" Lewis recalls. "I told him it's jazz, but it's metal-based. And he was okay with it."
Lewis admits that Antithesis -- which last summer performed before crowds of several thousand at festivals in Minnesota and Wisconsin -- plays a style of music that was more popular in the '80s, when bands such as Dream Theater, Queensryche, and King Diamond were popularizing progressive metal, a style of music characterized by complex chord changes and esoteric lyrics.
"It's very '80s oriented, with more of a '90s progressive edge to it," he says of Antithesis, which will release its second album, Dying for Life, this month. "The only thing we don't have from the '80s is that high-pitched, squealing metal voice. I hate that."
One additional difference between Antithesis and other metal bands with progressive leanings is that all of the members of Antithesis are Christian and write songs that reflect those beliefs. The band has started to attract a strong Christian following, even though its music is the kind of bombastic stuff you wouldn't associate with the Christian rock scene.
"For every style of secular music, there's a Christian band that is its counterpart," Lewis explains. "There's a lot of Christian death and black metal bands. They play super-fast black metal -- but with a positive message. That genre of the Christian scene is growing very quickly. I like those bands, but I can't handle the vocals."
Ironically enough, it's the band's Christian fans, not the headbanging hard-rock contingent, who give Antithesis the hardest time.
"It's kinda funny," Lewis says. "The Christian community is really harsh. We played with King Diamond last summer, and a bunch of people sent me hate mail asking why we would do that. I don't have time for shallow people. They should just go away. 'Why would you go play with a known Satanist?' they said. But it's just another religion, and if you don't agree with it, that's your problem."
One fan has even told Lewis that he's a practicing Satanist, but Lewis didn't write the guy off. "I don't care what you believe," he says. "You don't have to believe what I believe."
As a truck filled with hay rolls up to the Amish-built barn in his backyard, Lewis contemplates the band's future -- it's almost as if he's trying to predict the season's harvest. Antithesis, which is negotiating a licensing deal in Europe, has been featured in metal magazines in Germany and Holland, places where old-school metal still thrives, and Lewis is confident that with the right record label, the group could sell twice as many records in Europe as it does in the U.S.
"There's too much growling and barking," he says, of the domestic metal scene. "Everyone wants to be Pantera. I can't hear the f-word every other sentence; it just irritates me. Not that I don't use it. But I think it's rude and unprofessional. I don't see the point of calling the crowd a mother-effer. I understand why they did it originally, but it's over. Let's do something else. You look at the new metal bands, and their names are Anal this and Anal that. Why? Marilyn Manson has broken the shock value. I don't know why everyone is trying to be meaner and nastier."