It was decided on that March night in Texas. The Austin sky was already black and the chill had started to roll in, but things would soon get hot, real hot, and even darker. Dead Confederate was about to take the big stage at Stubb's for what would become a very buzzed-about 2008 South by Southwest performance. Once they began, it was clear they would not be subsumed by the always challenging open-air conditions. Their sound would swallow the night sky whole. By the time they were done, it was already settled. This band is no pretender.

Fast-forward six months; their debut album, Wrecking Ball, comes out and it's a formal, tangible delivery on their promise. In the unreliable landscape of today's trigger-happy blogosphere, realized substance is an unintentionally endangered species. This absorbing record, however, is the real deal.

Somewhere between a Southern Gothic Nirvana and a doomed Kings of Leon, Athens, Ga.'s Dead Confederate has rushed to the head of a hungry new pack that's expanding and redefining the bounds of Southern rock.

"I think it's a great thing," says frontman Hardy Morris about the evolutionary spike in the Southern sound. "It's something that needed to happen. We're not Southern rock in your stereotypical way. Between bands like Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket and our band, within a certain amount of time you could say ‘Southern rock' and it might perk people's ears instead of turning them away."

Though intentionally free of the stylistic stereotypes and clichés of Southern rock, Dead Confederate's sound hangs heavy with an undeniably Southern essence. Their maiden full-length effort mines dark ground with incantatory ability. Its crushing tonnage moves along with a prehistoric rumble, occasionally rising from the bottomless mire in roars of anger and nihilism ("Heavy Petting," "Start Me Laughing"). The humid, brooding, nearly tactile atmosphere inside the folds of the album clings like thick Spanish moss.

"We have always been into violently orchestrated stuff," explains Morris. "We get into big sound."

While the music on the record is deeply layered, its emotions are kept bare and primal. Dead Confederate smolders at a wrenching simmer of anger and despair, and the serious ache of Morris' voice torques, writhes and breaks in all the right ways to work the pain into something excruciatingly beautiful.

"All the songs were pretty personal," says Morris. "I never sit down just to write a song for the sake of trying to write a song. If I'm gonna write something, it's gotta be influenced by something that's happened to me. If something affects me enough to wanna write about it, a lot of times it's a negative experience."

Besides the fuzzed-out drive of "All the Angels" and the tornadic fury of "Heavy Petting," the most poignant actualization of their evocative force is "The Rat," a creeper of a song that Morris says is "not about Christ as much as it is about Christians."

A protestation of the Religious Right that drips with venom and desperation, the signature track has enough beef to be this generation's "I Wanna Be Adored."

Wrecking Ball takes the heaviness of the stoner fare that its members bonded over in high school and guides it by plumbing an emotional abyss to arrive at a raw, soul-scraping breed of rock.

Like the soundtrack to a world burning in slow motion, all of Dead Confederate's musical elements culminate like inevitable forces of nature to cast an unforgettable drama.

Wrecking Ball is as commanding an entrance as a band can make and represents a definitive, long overdue stride forward for the music culture of the South.

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