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Plenty of bands embrace mind-frying relentlessness, but very few can actually sustain it. Maybe that’s why the occasional scorched-earth policy of Comets on Fire is so refreshing. The San Francisco quintet knows how to bludgeon listeners with neo-trad, hard-drug psychedelia, but the music consciously avoids numerous clichés: metal clownishness, fusion nerdiness, space-cadet bullshit, and so on. What’s left are squawking guitars, constantly roiling drums, down-the-wormhole vocals, and noise from old-school gear including oscillators and Echoplexes. Lately, the band has demonstrated sonic balance, as well: The 2004 disc Blue Cathedral alternated between buzzy, gonzo tracks and unexpectedly sweet ballad-speed numbers; this year’s Avatar is much slicker and far more studied but with no dropoff in creative intensity. There’s even a big-time showstopper: “Lucifer’s Memory,” on which the band layers plaintive guitar lines over a delicate piano melody, with vocalist Ethan Miller singing Floydian lyrics written by drummer Utrillo Kushner. The net effect is mildly anthemic, and it puts everything else on the album in context. Comets—which includes Ben Chasny of the folky Six Organs of Admittance—seem to be carefully cleaning up its aesthetic without sacrificing the sense that every good trip should be exhausting in one way or another. Comets on Fire performs with (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope and Benjy Ferree at 9:30 p.m. at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $12. (202) 667-7960. (Joe Warminsky)