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Austin trio shreds, with poetry in soul

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

Austin prog-metal trio Megafauna makes a stop in Denton on Saturday night.

The band is touring in support of its sophomore album, Maximalist, released in April.

Bandmates Dani Neff, the lead singer and guitar shredder-in-chief, and drummer Zack Humphrey said the new record shows a band that’s put in some hours and sweat equity.

“It’s tricky because, when you have a lineup change, it throws things into disarray,” Humphrey said, musing over the evolution from the band’s debut. “There are a lot of questions when you have a new lineup, about playing with one another. Just having new players in the band, it will distinguish this record from the first. I think Megafauna has gotten a little tighter. The first one was looser, more improvisational. I’m excited to be working on this.”

Megafauna made the record with producer Dwight Baker (Blue October, Bob Schneider), and Humphrey and Neff said the producer pressed for their best, even when they thought they were spent.

Maximalist plays like a concept album, as if Neff sings from the point of view of a vulnerable soul who’s stumbled into the dangerous side of town only to find it’s as fascinating as it is frightening.

But Neff said the record is broader than that, and that the songs are about searching for yourself and seeing yourself in half-shadow. The trio wanted to bring the intensity of its live show to the record.

“It’s a lot easier said than done,” Humphrey said. “I think we know you have a connection with the audience. I think it’s important to me to be confident in the music. Even if you play a show for five people, in my mind, you try to really match it. I feel like it’s almost like Method acting. You get into this head space. It can be hard to capture — part of that is the skill of the engineer.”

Neff said Maximalist will probably read a little less prog to the band’s followers.

“I think I’ve gotten more confident in my singing,” she said. “These songs are a collection of songs I’ve written over the years — some of which I wrote five years ago. ‘Haunted Factory’ was total collaboration. Most of them, I had the lyrics and the melody.”

The record has the dark, moody industrial feel associated with Evanescence and Machines of Loving Grace. Neff’s vocals surprise in their choir-girl innocence and purity.

“I guess that’s just how my voice is,” Neff said. “I’m very attracted to Nirvana and hard rock. It just so happens that my voice is the way it is, I guess. I do scream certain parts of some songs.”

Neff said the songwriting is both a response to inspiration — she’ll feel a vocal melody — and stream of consciousness.

“Or I’ll have, like, a poem and I’ll work around it,” Neff said. “My lyrics are based on personal experience.”

Fans of Denton’s I Am Man, I Am Monster would appreciate the musical through-line of Megafauna’s Maximalist. The album is alternately obsessed with the cold, mechanical nature of culture and pulled toward human connection. It’s apparent even from the titles “Hug From a Robot,” “Haunted Factory” and “Touch the Lion.” The guitar work is intricate and musical, often mimicking the interplay of orchestra and violin in concerti.

“I think that comes from our musical background and what we listen to,” Humphrey said. “When you listen to Megafauna, you’re getting some depth. We try to push ourselves — I think we crave that depth and complexity.”