Oginalii has delivered a measured and powerful waking blow directly to the chest of Nashville’s rock scene.
On the Nashville-based quartet’s latest release, “Pendulum,” trudging, desperate and angular riffing grooves paint internal struggle with post-hardcore and progressive brushstrokes by way of Tool.
And that sonic blow is delivered via the body’s most powerful muscle, the brain.
“I want to be hit hard with it, but I want it to come from somewhere unexpected,” vocalist/guitarist Emma Hoeflinger said. “I want to feel it punch me in the chest, all the sudden. ... There’s literally nothing like that feeling ever, as soon as something unexpected rips through.”
Oginalii occupies the not-for-the-faint-of-heart place between rock and metal in terms of mainstream accessibility, yet is still able to offer moments of power that will catch even the most attuned of heavy music aficionados off-guard and find them pounding the table.
And all metal detectors aside, no one can deny the primordial, chill-inducing howl of Hoeflinger, who provides a true melodic haymaker that bolsters the band’s sharp and rhythmic riffing disposition.
At its swaying core, “Pendulum” is a meditation on nature and nurture.
Hoeflinger has a story to tell on both sides.
For three years, age 5 to 8, the vocalist, the middle child of four siblings, lived in Norway with her missionary parents. Her father was also a talented and formerly touring blues and jazz fusion guitarist.
The family lived in the country at the height of the black metal church-burning scandals, but at that time, much more real and less obviously theatrical issues permeated the culture and news cycle of Scandinavia.
“We spent so much time with Russians and a lot of Bosnian and Romanian people. That was near the end of the Cold War and the Bosnian civil war,” Hoeflinger remembered. “We had tons of refugees in Norway, so I was constantly in refugee camps. I think that made me so appreciative and welcoming of any different type of person.”
In 2001, it was a hairpin turn from northern Europe back to the socially diametrically opposed American South.
“That’s an insane culture shock to come back to Canton, Georgia,” said Hoeflinger, noting it only bolstered her accepting nature.
There, a scene-active brother and sister would provide a punk-infused hardcore musical backdrop for her formative years.
“To them it was what it was to so many other people. It’s feeling like you’re left out and finding community,” Hoeflinger said. “To me, being younger, it was like ‘Oh my God, these people are so cool. My brothers are the coolest.’ “
Over the years, the family would welcome in nationally known hardcore acts like Terror, Evergreen Terrace and Hatebreed to their home.
Those are just a few of the many ingredients that went into the more general introspective journey of the lyrics of “Pendulum.”
“I was just thinking about the concept of nature vs. nurture and how we can take that for granted and how much importance we decide to put into it ourselves,” Hoeflinger said.
“It was me digging into all these reasons for why I am the way I am. Can I deny the things that are bad about it? And how can I grow and become better because of it as well?”
While she was living a life surrounded by music and musicians, Nashville native guitarist Ryan Quarles was diving headfirst into his pursuits.
Quarles is the son of automotive engineers, his father a veteran of the Vietnam War, who also served as Quarles’ entry point into music.
“I went to a school where everybody tried out an instrument as a side course,” Quarles said of his earliest school days. “I started out on violin, moved on to piano. I was one of those kids who couldn’t stick with one thing because I would just get bored with it and want to move on.”
When his parents took a fifth grade Quarles to see Steely Dan, the indecision ceased.
“I was so inspired by the music and the performance, I asked my parents if I could start playing guitar,” Quarles said. “Their initial reaction is: ‘Why would we get you a guitar because you’re going to stop playing in one or two years?’ That was the one time they were wrong.”
Thanks to his uncle, Quarles eventually got his hands on a Target brand Fender Starcaster and a practice amp. His brothers then dragged toward the gravitational pull of heavy music.
Hoeflinger and Quarles came to Nashville in 2011 to attend school at Belmont, he a business major, she a vocal music major.
There, they met Wisconsin native drummer Simon Knudtson and Texan bassist Emma Lambiase, who each came with their own formal music backgrounds and eclectic tastes.
“They give a technical expertise to the band,” Quarles said. “Once they joined our band that was where our musical exploration allowed itself to really bloom.”
Named for the Cherokee word for “my friend,” the band of two couples set out on a breakneck pace, averaging 100 shows in the Midwest, Texas, Florida and New York a year.
During each show, the band endeavors to bring its simultaneously technically impressive and flooring sound, along with the weight of its lyrics, to the listener.
“We all agree the best music is the kind of stuff that is a deep, personalizing experience when you listen to it,” Quarles said. “You either come out of yourself or have vivid mental images that come to mind that are generated by the music itself. That’s our desire for people who listen to our music.”
The lineup that met at Belmont is now three years in together on a Nashville scene that doesn’t focus too heavily on the heavy, forcing the band to make its appeal to those with open minds.
“It’s kind of a (expletive) spot to be in, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s always how I’ve been, too. In my life, I think I’ve always sit in between so many places,” Hoeflinger said. “I’ll have friends and people around me that sit on opposite ends of the spectrum. It makes life more fun and interesting. You get to meet and play with bands you wouldn’t have played with if you were a really heavy band or an indie band.”
But Nashville does have its metal roots, which reached up from the soil to nurture Oginalii.
Leading up to its work on “Pendulum,” the band received a call from Ben McCleod, guitarist of Nashville’s most recognized metal export, All Them Witches, who offered to work with Oginalii as a producer.
He then took them all to church to forge a portion of the EP, in the most literal sense possible.
“It was an old Baptist church that was built in the 1930s or 1940s, really small church in Woodbury, Tennessee. It’s just gutted out all on the inside, and they outfitted it,” Quarles said. “It was a really cool spot to get some recordings at. It had some natural reverb to play with.”
The vibe fit the sound they were going for with their collection of songs.
“I think we just pushed everything for as weird as we could get,” Hoeflinger said.
The group is now working toward an eventual full-length release, which is already looking more experimental than the last.
“It’s the ultimate dopamine rush, especially when it’s really loud,” Quarles said of his love for the genre. “With this stuff you’re getting smacked in the face one second, and the next you’re asking ‘Where am I?’ “