Canvas Solaris: Instrumental metal

by Amy Kingsley

The Statesboro, Ga. based band Canvas Solaris sounds more or less like the sum of its parts: four metal-obsessed music nerds who are also wildly proficient instrumentalists. It is the things that aren’t part of the equation that make them notable as alumni of Tribunal Records. Four years ago the quartet of drummer Hunter Ginn, guitarist Chris Rushing, guitarist Nathan Sapp and keyboard player Donnie Smith decided to part ways with their vocalist.

“When we had a vocalist we weren’t really able to do all the things we wanted to do,” Ginn said. “We thought if we got rid of the vocal element we’d be able to do a lot more of what we wanted.”

What the former death metal band wanted was to incorporate elements of jazz, experimentation and discord into their music. The result is metal that is exotic, angular and full of holes.

But as challenging as it may sound, their music is not at all difficult to listen to. Canvas Solaris has mastered the art of musical seduction, stringing its audience along with intriguing tidbits that end in bursts of aggression or head-nodding catchiness. Smith’s Moog transforms the bass element to ethereal; both guitarists subvert the shred and Ginn’s precision drumming conducts the musical ebb and flow.

The Aug. 19 Tribunal Records showcase is the first time label owner Matt Rudzinski has ever seen Canvas Solaris play. The quartet drags a wooden ground sloth cutout onto the stage to make their announcements via posterboard. Their song titles include such techie-sounding gems as “The Unknowable and Defeating Glow” and “Psychotropic Resonance.”

Canvas Solaris signed to Tribunal Records in 2003 and recorded two releases for the Greensboro label before jumping to prog imprint Sensory Records in 2005. The band has been influenced by the likes of King Crimson, Voivod, Cynic and Universe Zero, Ginn says.

“The great thing about what I do is that I get to put out bands that I love,” Rudzinski says.

He watches the entire performance from beside the stage.

“Watching that band play, you could see that they really love their art,” he adds.

To their credit, the band is also staunchly part of the progressive wing of the modern metal resurgence. They’ve got at least a couple of advanced degrees between them, and wear nerdiness on their sleeves in a scene more often noted for its political earnestness.

Ginn will be making a permanent move to Winston-Salem to attend grad school at Wake Forest University. He and his fiancé plan to settle in the area after their wedding.

“But you don’t need to talk about that,” he says. “It’s not very metal to get married.”

“Oh, and a ground sloth is?” Smith adds.

Of course, a band with chops as strong as Canvas Solaris’ has little need to worry about image. In every release since they’ve become an instrumental band, they’ve mined new musical terrain. They’re becoming better known in prog and metal circles, despite schedules that limit their ability to tour.

And their former vocalist is doing alright as well. He just won on “Jeopardy,” Ginn said.

– Amy Kingsley