Exploding Zombies ripen and pop at Dark Art of Michigan show

A heavy door creaks open, and a guttural growling sound rolls onto the steps like a severed head. You bravely whisper out the words “Trick or treat?” What are they giving out at this house? Do you really want to know? A leather mask, a sweaty (possibly) bloody apron and pure death metal — that’s what the Flint-based band Exploding Zombies keep in the candy bowl.

“I would say it’s just basically old school style death metal — fast drumming, guitar riffs that are very fast and the vocals are low,” said Zeek Wargnarok, the band’s drummer.

That classic death metal sound goes with a very specific visual style.

“Our singer, Brent Simstad, decided he wanted to do something more,” Wargnarok said. The band used to invite people to dress up as zombies and shamble around on the stage, but it got a bit crowded, with all the extended families, so the practice was put to a stop.

But Simstad wanted to carry on the dress-up theme, and that’s where the dirty apron comes in.

“He wanted to do kind of a zombie, kind of a Leatherface thing,” Wargnarok said. Simstad bought a halfmask, so he could sing, and found an apron buried in a pile of stuff in the basement. “It was dirty and nasty and it was perfect,” Wargnarok said with a laugh. “He basically hasn’t cleaned it since [the ‘90s].

That thing has been dirty for years and he keeps getting it dirtier and dirtier. He fits the part — he’s scary and stinky.”

It just so happens that Exploding Zombies is the perfect headliner for their next extravaganza on Saturday, Oct. 7. The four dark arts of burlesque, ghoulish visual art, sideshows and, of course, heavy metal, come together in spooky harmony at the Avenue Café at the Dark Art of Michigan’s 4th annual Exhibit and Show. Stage manager Jacob Nevin equates it to a Lansing-based horror convention, of which there aren’t many in Lansing, despite a large fanbase. “It’s a lot of driving to horror conventions and in a lot of ways, [Dark Art] is bringing that here,” Nevin said.

The Dark Art of Michigan is a group that celebrates uniqueness and uncommon artistry, something that Nevin found Lansing to be missing otherwise.

“It’s been able to showcase a lot of talent that may not be able to be showcased otherwise,” Nevin said. “You might have a fine art gallery somewhere else in Lansing and they may not want this very ghoulish painting.”

The show started small in 2014 and now features more than a dozen artists and vendors. Co-founder Tiesha King decided to create an event that showcased her love for all things macabre.

“There used to be a production that she started with her significant other,” Nevin recalled. “It was called Beyond Dead Productions and they started organizing shows in the area. One fateful Halloween concert, they started this whole thing.”

Since then, a few other events surrounding the creepy themes have sprung from it.

The October show is the biggest, but there is also another, craft-oriented one in May. Believe it or not, a Christmas show is in the works for this year. “I’m kind of excited to see the macabre Christmas happen,” Nevin said.

The first Dark Art show was at Mac’s Bar. When the show gained popularity, it grew out of the tiny venue and moved to the Avenue Café, a few blocks west on Michigan Avenue. Despite the Avenue’s generous size, Nevin said no corner of the new location is left unused.

“It’s way bigger, and they have the entire balcony area, where they display art already,” Nevin said. “A lot of stuff gets taken up and a lot of stuff gets put on.”

Horror aficionados can also get their Halloween gear on early at the show, because there will be a costume contest sponsored by local vintage shop Metro Retro. It will include a cash prize and 25 percent off in store.

In past years, each costume contest has had a particular theme, but this year, anything goes. “That’s cool, because I think some people would feel limited by the theme, and everyone can just wear whatever they want,” Nevin said. “I think it’s a good test run for what you might put out on Halloween.”

But be warned — the bloody apron is taken.

The Dark Art of Michigan’s 4th Annual Exhibit and Show Saturday, Oct. 7 8 p.m. $10, 21+ The Avenue Café 20201 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing ow.ly/m9Jl30fBlOG