Elf Wrath 

How Dios Malos went toe-to-toe with a metal god—and lost.

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Aquick Spanish lesson: “Dios” means god. That’s it. Nothing else. And when bassist J.P. Caballero and his buds were putting together their band five years ago, it seemed like a pretty good name. Short, memorable, maybe a little egotistic, and definitely a bit ironic considering the chilled-out psychedelia the band plays. And as the Los Angeles quintet slowly built a fan base around California, the name stood out.

A little too well, as it alerted the lawyers of another god, namely Ronnie James Dio—yes, the cape-wearing heavy-metal savior of all those who dream of owning a pet dragon. He somehow thought that somewhere, someone might confuse Dios with Dio. Granted, that’s like mistaking a 16-sided die for a massive hit of acid. A quick listen—or better yet, an understanding of spelling—would tell you the two were completely polar.

But Ronnie was sure that one of his fans was going to be massively confused when he cranked up his stereo in expectation of some rainbow-referencing, sword ‘n’ sorcery über-metal only to get a face full of mellow. So Dio sued. Sent the band cease-and-desist orders. Got all elfin-huffy. And he freaked Caballero out.

“Basically, his letter said he’d all but break into our house and f—k us up with box cutters,” he says, laughing. “We all thought it was a joke at first, but then we realized that this was something that we had to deal with.”

The group thought of a slew of different names, like We Are Dios and We Are Not Ronnie James Dios. Cabellero liked the last one, but knew that it would bring little RJ’s Sauron-like gaze back toward the band. “It’s simple. He has money and lawyers. We don’t,” Caballero says. “So we finally decided to change the name to Dios Malos [broken Spanish for ‘bad god’].”

Like any sensible band, Dios Malos didn’t want to be noticed because of a legal battle—it’s sooo Michael Jackson. Especially after building their cred the old-fashioned way: through tons of drooling British press. In fact, after the then-Dios released their debut EP, Los Arbolers (DiosMalos.com), last year on a small English label, New Music Express named the band one of the 10 best in the omniverse. That’s probably what captured the attention of the Dungeon Master, but it also brought Dios Malos a level of fame and recognition they’d never achieved before, particularly here in the States.

“We’ve been a band for a number of years, and we went through two-and-a-half years where we played to nobody,” Caballero says. “After last year, though, slowly the slope of the line has started going up. It’s gotten almost easy now. We’re not getting paid in platinum bars and riding in helicopters, but I’m sure we will be soon.”

Which, considering that Dios Malos has more in common with the pristine pop of the Beach Boys and straight-up SoCal psychedelia like Buffalo Springfield than anything new-wave trendy, makes the growing success of the band surprising—even to Caballero. He knows that a song like “Starting Five,” with its two-part harmony coos and Beatles-heavy jangle, or “The Uncertainty,” with its Brian Wilson build and Pink Floyd breakdown, aren’t cool right now; they’re the property of the music geeks and the theory freaks. Even “You Got Me All Wrong,” Dios Malos’ song on The O.C. soundtrack, is far from Seth Cohen hipster fare—its swooning hook and slow grooves are meant for a pensive montage, not another Ryan/Marissa blowup.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he says. “We don’t have disco beats or asymmetrical haircuts or look like Spock—any of those things that make you the ‘cool band.’ This is just what we like doing. It’s something that makes us feel good. And if it works out that people like it, that’s great too.”

Even if Ronnie James doesn’t.

DIOS MALOS With Fiery Furnaces. In the Venue, 579 W. 200 South, Saturday April 23, 8 p.m. 800-888-8499

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Jeff Inman

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