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Conservatory students start a trailblazing heavy metal band

One summer evening in 2018, two best friends were hanging out and talking about the one thing they were most passionate about: metal music. Little did they know that was the beginning of Pacific Heavy Ensemble at University of the Pacific.

Music composition major Peter Altamura ’22 and music major Brandon Lindner* ’18 were inspired by Pacific’s 28/78 New Music Ensemble, recently founded by students at the conservatory. They wondered if it would be possible to start their own trail-blazing metal band.

“We were just coming up with these crazy ideas,” Altamura explained. “And then I said, ‘What if we do a metal ensemble? We don’t have to make it big; we can just get a little band together.’ Brandon thought it was an awesome idea. But then the next morning I woke up and I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I do something like this?”

In the next few months, they formed Pacific Heavy Ensemble (or Pac Heavy for short) enlisting nearly 60 fellow student musicians and securing music scores and equipment. Through a mix of personal and business supporters, Altamura managed to raise $11K to cover the costs. The first ever heavy metal concert at the conservatory exploded on the historic stage at Faye Spanos Concert Hall on December 7, 2018. And then they kept going.

After the COVID-19 break, Pac Heavy played their fifth show at DeRosa University Center (DUC) on November 6, 2021. Now they are getting ready for the number six in spring of 2022. Their fundraising efforts are also impressive. Up-to-date, they have managed to raise $49K from numerous Pac Heavy supporters as well as from the Pacific Arts and Lectures Committee!

Similar to jazz, hip hop and other nontraditional music genres, metal music faced opposition in the past, but today a few institutions across the world offer degree programs in metal. Still, college ensembles like the one started by Altamura and Lindner, with 40-60 musicians and a giant sound system, are very rare.

“When we first started with Pac Heavy,” Altamura said, “I did a deep search online, and I found one college metal group in the U.S., but they were much smaller than Pac Heavy. We had a multitude of challenges at the beginning, like the perception that the conservatory culture is about tuxedos, Bach, Beethoven, you know. So, I had to figure out a solution, how to connect that with the metal culture.”

Because within the metal music there are many different sub genres, Altamura and Lindner had quite a few choices. They decided to play symphonic metal which is metal with orchestra and choir parts, often including elements of jazz and other musical genres.

“Symphonic metal was more aligned with the conservatory, and we could include everybody,” Altamura said. “Pac Heavy is to basically deter the stereotype that metal music is this scary, evil or even satanic thing. People have a preconception about metal because most of them don’t know about it. I just wanted to show people this isn’t all scary. The majority of it is cool, different, and it can inspire lots of people. I wanted to get that stereotype out of here.”

In addition to symphonic metal, they also play a lot of progressive metal tunes. Their set-list includes material from bands such as Epica, Haken, Dimmu Borgir or Metallica, but they also do metal renditions of popular themes like “Pirates of the Caribbean.” For them the experience and audience participation are as important as the music itself. It’s about bringing together people from all walks of live.

“Our fifth concert was pretty amazing,” Altamura reflected. “We put it on at the DUC which is a smaller venue than the concert hall, but everybody in the audience can stand up on the floor, which is definitely more in line with our goal to really give people the experience of a metal show. When you’re listening to this music you don’t want to be sitting down; you want to be able to move. It makes the environment more chill, and all these little things really add up.”

Connect with Pacific Heavy Ensemble on social media:

Learn more about Peter Altamura

*Lindner also has Master of Arts in education and minor in applied math, both from University of the Pacific.

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