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TESTAMENT, RED SQUARE BLACK 11/25, VIC Like so many other old-timers lately, veteran California metallurgists Testament are playing catch-up to the ruling thrash-sopped strains of bands like Slayer and Pantera on their recently released sixth album, Low (Atlantic). To their credit it's not a particularly awkward transition, nor is it complete: beneath the aggression-sharp grooves, loaded with tightly registered staccato riffing and speeding, marchlike beats, remain flashes of self-indulgence and the occasional whiny lead. Chuck Riley's vocals occasionally jump from merely gruff to laughably satanic, but the kids seem to like that stuff. Red Square Black are an LA foursome mining some warmed-over industrial-spackled metal, and their debut EP Square (Zoo) handily proves the pitfalls of imitating late-era Killing Joke. Wickerman are also on the bill. APACHE INDIAN 11/26, NAVY PIER A chart-topper in his native England and a bona fide star in India and Pakistan, Apache Indian attracted notice a few years ago with his debut, No Reservations (Mango). Hailing from multiracial Birmingham--which also produced Steel Pulse and UB40--he's a dancehall artist whose incorporation of elements of bhangra music, the modernized Punjabi dance music of Indian emigres in England, sets him apart. Sung with a heavy Jamaican patois, the music relies on contemporary reggae production; the twist is the presence of such traditional Asian percussion as tablas and dholaks. Apache Indian's greatest impact, however, has been in India, where most pop music is sound-track material from the country's massive film industry, an odd blend of soap-opera sentiment and cross-genre splicing that never breaches societal standards. On tunes like "Arranged Marriage," Apache Indian openly confronts strict ancient customs, thus helping westernize India's next generation. This is his Chicago debut. SKY CRIES MARY 11/26, METRO On their recent This Timeless Turning (World Domination), Seattle's Sky Cries Mary fine-tune their billowing, spaced-out folkish goth rock. Amid well-crafted streams of ethereal new-age textures, postprog guitar overkill, and a postindustrial rhythmic wallop wafts the translucent vocal blend of Roderick and Anisa Romero and the band's frail melodies. It's all a bit too cosmic, but some people need their mysticism watered down, just as babies need their food prechewed. SCM open an early show by Pigface; Evil Mothers open the midnight set. ECHOBELLY 11/28, DOUBLE DOOR This year's prime recipients of the British music press's fickle adulation, Echobelly have yet to turn an appearance at this summer's New Music Seminar into a ticket to stateside fervor. But it's clear from their debut album, Everyone's Got One (Rhythm King), what the buzz has focused on: the vocals of striking frontwoman Sonya Aurora Madan, a former kick-boxer born in India. She combines the flittiness of Morrissey--who'd chosen Echobelly as his U.S. support before canceling the tour--with the full-bodied theatrics of Debbie Harry. The band's moderately rocking instrumental attack is thickened by the punchy, coloristic guitars of Glenn Johansson and Debbie Smith (the latter used to swirl her effects-laden crunch in Curve). While Echobelly don't warrant the hyperbole of Melody Maker, their melody-drenched, semidynamic debut asserts that they can't easily be dismissed either. Their Chicago premiere is opened by Rhode Island's Scarce. BIG AUDIO 11/29, VIC Exactly what dropping "Dynamite" from their moniker is intended to accomplish is beyond my comprehension, but if Mick Jones and his pals are trying to disguise themselves, one listen to their new album, Higher Power (Columbia), quickly explains why. Now more than ever, making their palsied pop tunes slaves to production technology can't hide the fact that their only inspiration seems to be fulfilling their contractual obligations. On top of that, the inside of the booklet's just a glorified ad for Sony, which owns Columbia. STEEL PULSE 11/29, PARK WEST On their tenth album, Vex (MCA), the venerable reggae band from Birmingham, England, continue to mix sharp-edged political commentary with the concerns of black culture. Always open to the latest technological developments, Steel Pulse manage to sound thoroughly contemporary while retaining their fluid, slinking grooves and the rich, soulful vocals of David Hinds. Purists may scoff at their populism (which is both lyrical and musical), but few reggae bands have demonstrated Steel Pulse's perseverance or resilience. EVERCLEAR 11/30, DOUBLE DOOR In some ways this Oregon trio is the model indie rock band even though its debut for T/K Records, World of Noise, was recently reissued by major label Capitol. The album is a scrappy but lean mess of semidirected noise and melody; the mix of these elements is often disproportionately tuneful, but the ever-shifting emphasis suggests Everclear aren't sure which way they want to go. "Fire Maple Song," for example, finds them emotionally invested in an almost catchy melody, even though for the most part they keep plenty of distance from extroversion. And they're yet another band allowing themselves to get sucked into the machine too early; they have palpable potential, but a year or two more without a corporate hand squeezing them on the shoulder would've let them improve at their own pace. COME 12/1, EMPTY BOTTLE On their second album, Don't Ask Don't Tell (Matador), New York's Come continue exploring the blues as a feeling instead of a form. Thalia Zedek's smoky vocals, exuding pained, concentrated pathos, are set amid a gorgeously distended slathering of brooding guitars (played by Zedek and Chris Brokaw) that surge from clean articulation to sullied, down-and-out decay. The tunes are eloquent and surprisingly liquid; the waves of guitar seem to corrode time, but bassist Sean O'Brien and drummer Arthur Johnson manage to hold down a consistent pulse. Come's stop-time emotionalism will be better heard in a small club like this than in the larger venues they recently played opening for Dinosaur Jr. And maybe this time the fans won't be more intent on mirroring the drooling stupor of J Mascis than on listening to the music.

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