Queens quartet Descends on the Heights

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Castle Heights at 83-11 Northern Blvd. in Jackson Heights is known to the Queens music crowd as a place where new bands can show their stuff at the start on their way to potential stardom.

It caters to "mostly the hardcore scene," according to John, a self-described doorman, bouncer "and all around nice guy," at the club. The nightclub has been around for about seven years, he said.

On Sunday night, Descend, a band composed of musicians in their late teens and early 20s, made its 15th appearance at the nightclub. Well-known bands like Canderia and Indecision have played at Castle Heights in the past when they were starting out.

"It's a place where young bands can get a start," John, who did not give a last name, said. "They can go on to bigger things from here. We're always willing to give new bands a shot."

On stage all the way in the back of the dimly lit "railroad-flat" club, a band called Heavy Petting Zoo was indeed laying it on heavy, thrasher-punk style, as three televisions in the bar area near the front flashed pro wrestling. One wrestler, with makeup making him look like Kiss frontman Gene Simmons pumped up on steroids, was tossing another guy around the ring like a limp duffel bag.

The punk music in back - which, thanks to a powerful sound system, could be heard loud and clear up front- went perfectly with the head-banging taking place on the television sets. A gremlin-sized gargoyle sat on the bar, in front of a hard cider tap.

"I think this place is great for bands like us," Cliff Levine, lead singer for Descend, said.

Levine looks a little like a young Axl Rose with his bandana on. But with it off, his long, golden bleached locks hang freely, and unlike Axl's, they have natural curls in them. Descend's song lineup for the night was Conspiracy, Blame, Struggle, Never Wait, Addiction, and Won't Break.

Descend has been together for about a year and a half. In addition to vocalist Levine there is lead guitarist Cesare Cauiglia; Savva, the bassist; and Doug Lessem on drums. The group has a four-song demo out, the mixing and mastering of which they all described as a laborious process that took three straight agonizing days. "It takes so long to do and you have to listen so close," Savva said.

The band members described their sound as alternately progressive grunge, heavy metal, and progressive rock, although Levine said his leanings are more diverse. While he counts old Black Sabbath, Fear Factory and Pantera as influences, he said his listening range also runs into the house, progressive metal, and hip-hop realms. "It doesn't matter. I'm versatile. I'll listen to anything," he said.

"We've got one guy from Bayside, one from Flushing, and two from Whitestone," Levine said of his bandmates. The four met in high school. Three of them went to Bayside High School, and one to Cardoza. The band practices in a studio in Whitestone, and has played at CBGB's in Manhattan.

"Everyone contributes," Levine said, of the band's creative process. Cauiglia is into '80s metal, classic metal rock, and "mostly everything." Drummer Lessem's influences range from Dream Theater to progressive, and house. "I throw it all in," he said. "We're more like a hole in the wall kind of band," bassist Savva said.

"We have signage potential, but we're not signed yet," Lessem said. The band will play at the Bayside Battle, a talent show at Bayside High School, on March 31.

On stage, Descend broke into their first tune, "Conspiracy" the vocals and melody of which can be described as Creed-like. Then Gauiglia, the guitarist, launched into a fast solo - like Ozzy Osbourne on speed, before it turned into something else - and forget crying or weeping, Gauiglia makes his axe scream and howl!

"Struggle," which Levine said had its inspiration from a dream, "where you have a dream, but you're not the dreamer," might be described as a mix of Tool with a smattering of Creed.

"Never Wait" has a Red-Hot Chili Pepper feel to it, including the vocals. "Misery" starts off with a beautifully melodic opening.

Looking toward the band's future, Levine said "we want to go full force." He said they would like to be part of the College Music Journal Review, a concert series, he described as "a huge thing in the city" that has shows at Lincoln Center and other parts of the city in the summer.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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