In the basement of a modest East Flatbush house the other Saturday, the three tween members of the instrumental heavy-metal band Unlocking the Truth were sprawled on a sofa beneath a large Metallica poster. Shaun White Skateboarding was on the PS3, celery sticks were stacked in a tray, and the three members—Malcolm Brickhouse, 12; Jarad Dawkins, 11; and Alec Atkins, 12—were arguing about what constitutes progressive heavy metal. “It’s equal parts screaming and singing,” says Brickhouse. “No, no,” counters Atkins, “there’s more screaming than singing.” Dawkins, the youngest member of the group, drums his fingers against his leg.
Unlocking the Truth was originally just Dawkins and Brickhouse, friends who say they can’t remember a time they didn’t play music together. Atkins, the newest addition, joined in 2012. The trio rose up almost a year ago, when a video surfaced of them playing in Times Square to an enraptured crowd. The sight of three African-American children incongruously and virtuosically headbanging earned them 1.5 million views on YouTube, and the band was soon featured in Spin and Rolling Stone. Corporations cottoned on too. They starred in a Cole Haan campaign and appeared in an AT&T ad. They posed with Will Smith—flashing devil horns.
“I wasn’t used to the attention at first,” says guitarist Brickhouse, who wears an Afro and a squint as ferocious as Huey Freeman’s from “The Boondocks” and shreds like Yngwie Malmsteen. “But I got used to it.” Dawkins, the more circumspect, bespectacled drummer, says, “The difference is now we’re playing bigger rooms like the Paramount and the Barclays Center,” where the band had just performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Kids Day.
When they’re not attending the seventh grade, the band has been quietly laying the foundations for a career not based in gimmickry. On the wall of the basement above the drum kit hangs an aspirational tour list of venues and festivals. Already the band has been crossing out names, like Webster Hall (No. 25). After seeing them perform in Washington Square Park, legendary producer Steve Jordan is in talks to produce their debut EP. Annette Jackson, Brickhouse’s mother and the band’s “momager,” says, “Everybody wants a piece.”
After a particularly rousing game of Shaun White, Unlocking the Truth took to their stations and launched into a newer composition called “Physical Therapy.” It showcased Brickhouse’s nimble fingers and Dawkins’s hops. The song was hard, Black Sabbath–hard. There were even lyrics, but no one to sing them. “They wanted to bring in a vocalist,” says Ms. Jackson, “but I said no. I don’t want them to become just a backing band. We’ve worked too hard for that.” Dawkins agrees: “We’re going to sing—we’re just waiting for our voices to crack.”