From the depths

Philadelphia’s Surgeon rises at Cloverdale

By Gary Spencer

Photo: (l-r) Surgeon’s Josh Mustin, JT Wieme, Lydia Giordano, and Sean Bolton; photo: Jauhien Sasnou

Some of the most innovative, engaging, and just plain good music is often found on the fringe of popular music radars. This is especially true when it comes to extreme metal, a genre of music that is already pretty much on the fringes of the musical consciousness. Many people, including those who consider themselves musically-minded, seem to have preordained conceptions of black metal, in particular—stereotypes of psychopathic weirdos with criminal records from Europe in corpse paint who like to burn churches. But spend some time examining and listening to black metal, especially stuff coming out of France and even the United States, and you’ll learn the music has gone far beyond lo-fi noise, tremolo-picked riffs, and nonstop blast beats.

Black metal can be the most creative and artistically expansive subgenre of metal, especially when those artists eschew atmosphere and ambiance in favor of songcraft, artistic innovation, and expansion of the palette of sounds usually associated with that style of music.

One band who is doing such things is Surgeon, coming straight outta’ Philadelphia, featuring songwriter/guitarist Lydia Giordano, bassist/vocalist Sean Bolton, guitarist Josh Mustin, and drummer JT Wieme. While the quartet from the City of Brotherly Love has only been making waves in the extreme metal underground over the last few years, the band’s history goes much deeper. But like many other black metal outfits, the group resists offering too many details on their existence and prefers to keep some mystery to their origins.

“Surgeon has been around for quite a while,” Bolton explains. “Lydia and I have been collaborating since 2002. We’ve been through lots of different times in the music industry. We were both in bands prior that we were more of a secondary role. Lydia wanted to have her own band where she was the principle guitarist, and I wanted a band where I could sing and front it myself.”

This off-and-on collaboration between Giordano and Bolton creates chemistry and fluidity with Surgeon’s music. The interplay between the jagged, obtuse, and surprisingly melodic guitar riffs, with the bass serving as a steady anchor, alternatively thrusts Surgeon’s music between spacey and atmospheric to just going straight for the jugular. According to Bolton, this oscillation of aesthetics and tempo in Surgeon’s sound was most certainly by design.

“It’s definitely dark, but a little weird as well,” he says. “We’ve got a taste for the extremes. We’ve always had a fun time playing around with different textures and sounds to get the right blend. Lydia has a real talent for dark and untraditional harmony that really helps mold the music into what it is. I’ve always taken the approach of trying to find the best vocal sound or style that fits it best. We really wanted to take the time to experiment and make it the album we really wanted.”

This attention to detail on their sound that Surgeon has crafted is on fine display on their third and newest independently released album, Beast of Light, which was unleashed earlier this year and seems to have paid dividends for the group. This full-length slab of darkness has earned the quartet comparisons to black metal legends such as Enslaved and early Dimmu Borgir, and even earned them a rave review from Decibel Magazine, a publication often considered to be the authority on extreme metal. Despite the praise, the group seems to bristle a little from being tagged as just another black metal band, as their style also incorporates elements of prog rock and thrash, with some NWOBHM-influenced [New Wave of British Heavy Metal] flourishes.

“It’s funny, people will start categorizing music in their own ways that makes sense to them and I get that,” Bolton explains. “It wasn’t really what we intended 100 percent and I still don’t think we would qualify as one of those ‘trve’ black metal bands at all, but if it helps people unfamiliar with what we do, that’s fine with me.”

Categorization issues aside, the band has been riding this wave of upward momentum, touring a recent cross-country jaunt with death metal legends Master and appearing at the burgeoning Shadow Woods Metal Fest in Maryland. It might only be a matter of time before some of the heavyweight extreme metal labels, such as Relapse, Prosthetic, or Metal Blade, could be knocking at their doors. But in the meantime, Surgeon is content keeping it DIY and growing its empire.

“The biggest pro of doing it yourself to me is really to get to make the decisions that mold the way things come across and ultimately are perceived,” Bolton says. “To me, it feels like things are growing and getting better.”

Surgeon performs Thursday, Oct. 27 at Cloverdale, 101 S. Saint Clair St. in downtown Dayton. Choking and Well of Light are also on the bill. Show starts at 9 p.m. Admission is $5 for patrons 21 and over. For more information, please visit


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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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