Singer adds new dimension to Vegas doom metallers Spiritual Shepherd

The effects pedal on the garage floor has been rendered obsolete by the woman sitting across from it.

The small rectangular box is a guitar looper, which allows you to play a rhythm track, loop it and then solo atop it, essentially mimicking the sound of two guitarists playing off one another.

For Vegas doom metallers Spiritual Shepherd, it was once an essential piece of gear, back when they were an instrumental three-piece, enabling guitarist and band founder Sean Van Haitsma to lay down his verbose, expressive leads over steamroller riffs simultaneously.

But Kaylee Jade has made the thing an orphan, left to rest near a motorcycle that doesn’t look like it gets used much either these days, both items sitting in the garage where Spiritual Shepherd is rehearsing on a Monday afternoon.

A singer and guitarist, Jade has added resonant, melodious vocals to Spiritual Shepherd while also thickening the band’s already dense tangle of guitar and anchor-heavy bottom end.

On Spiritual Shepherd’s new record, “Devil’s Tower,” which they’ll celebrate with a release show Wednesday at Dive Bar, Jade announces herself on seven-minute slow burn “Unblinking Stone Eye,” her voice initially floating atop a gentle breeze of notes, but then, after a gorgeous, aching solo from Van Haitsma, a tribal-sounding drum break ushers in a riff that Jade wraps her vocals around like vines gripping a trellis.

She adds a distinct new dimension to the band, though it’s one that they initially resisted: Upon hearing Spiritual Shepherd’s 2013 debut, “Monkey’s Paw,” Jade contacted the group multiple times to see if they were interested in collaborating.

They weren’t.

And then, after a year and a half, they finally agreed to give it a try.

“I think the last five shows before she joined us, we had everyone going, ‘We hear singing in your music. Your music’s good enough, no one doubts your musicianship, but you guys have to grab a singer,” drummer Ian Henneforth says. “It was a hard pill for us to swallow, because we were like, ‘We’re gonna stay instrumental forever.’ We were all hard-core, gung ho for that.”

It ended up being a good move: Jade’s presence expands the band’s expansive sound and brings still more rhythmic girth to the mix, an addition of heft akin to saddling an elephant with a Frigidaire.

“Since we did add the second guitar, it makes it sound a lot heavier,” understates bassist Omar Alvarado.

“Devil’s Tower” is still largely instrumental, with ragers like the air guitar-catalyzing “Wisdom Unknown” ranking high among the jams of the year. But with Jade in the fold, the band has a better shot of resonating beyond the doom die-hards, which has always been their aim to begin with. One of Vegas’ more steadily gigging bands, they’ve done plenty of scene outreach, playing with punk, ska, rockabilly and screamo bands, to name but a few, seemingly never turning down a show.

“The way we were trying to spread the word, ‘Oh, there’s a doom scene here,’ when we were coming up was to hop on any show. We even played a Christian rock show,” Van Haitsma chuckles, smiling through an impressively woolly beard. “ ‘Oh, your guys’ name is Spiritual Shepherd, you’ll fit this bill.’ And I was like, ‘Well, it’s their fault, they’re not listening to ‘Monkey’s Paw.’ ”

Before this bunch could begin their perpetual hunt for new converts, though, some of them had to be converted themselves, namely Henneforth. He and Van Haitsma have been friends since high school when they were in marching band together. But when Van Haitsma initially approached his buddy about starting a doom project, the more death-metal-minded Henneforth was far from interested.

“I was so death metal. I hated doom,” he says, perched next to his drum kit. “Everything slow to me was garbage, because I had the playing-at-241-beats-per-minute-is-the-only-way-to-be type of attitude. It took me forever to train myself to stop playing that way. It was hard in the beginning, the first year especially. I was just like, ‘What the hell am I doing? This is difficult.’ ”

But eventually everything coalesced, solidified further still by Jade, who sits with her back to a stack of amps.

In this small room they make a big sound, one that swells out to the street in front of the house.

If you’re out and about in this westside neighborhood when the band is rehearsing, you’re going to hear it.

The idea is to make you want to hear it again.

“If you don’t like doom metal,” Jade says, “we’re going to give you a reason to.”

Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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