For Halloween only, Three Inches of Blood will yield the stage to look-alikes of the Dude from The Big Lebowski, the skeezy White Goodman from Dodgeball, Cruella De Vil, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, and a stoner Care Bear with a pot leaf emblem on his belly.

"It'll be a drunken metal melee of random ill-dressed folks rocking about as hard as you've ever seen them rock," bassist Brian Redman promises of the member's pumpkin-weekend plans.

This is the first time the Vancouver-based group has conceived such a visually stimulating stage show: their music resembles Powerslave-era Iron Maiden, but their concerts remain fire-breathing-dragon free. The real spectacle might be in the crowd, given that fans bring plastic swords and axes to their gigs even without prompting from costume-intensive holidays.

"Usually, security doesn't see it as a threat," Redman says. "If you're coming to hurt somebody, you're not going to do it with a toy sword."

The group's benignly armed following draws inspiration from such Three Inches songs as "Swordmaster," "Destroy the Orcs," and "Axes of Evil." Singers Cam Pipes and Jamie Hooper spin fantasy-realm yarns in breathless role-playing-game-narration style, without ironic intent or thinly veiled political allegories.

"They're immersed in the folklore, and they're avid Dungeons and Dragons participants," Redman says of his bandmates. "It's not like they just bust out these books when it's time to write a lyric. It's the way their brains work, which can be interesting when you're riding in the van with them and trying to have a regular conversation."

Pipes unleashes metal's finest screams since the mid '80s. His technically flawless falsetto enhances the dramatic gravity of the medieval-pulp plotlines, and it provides welcome respite from the genre's guttural scorched-throat shouters.

"Some of the notes he hits and pulls off live blow my mind," Redman says.

Three Inches of Blood invite comparisons to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest because of their vocals and dual-guitar harmonies, but their relentless pace recalls thrashier acts such as At the Gates and Satyricon. Even their slowest song, a proud ode to metal called "Crazy Nights," plays like a balls-out shredder compared to power ballads.

Redman grew up worshipping the lighter-lofting likes of Scorpions and Cinderella, but he weathered a "too-punk-for-metal" phase.

"We'd still sit in the park drinking and break out a Dio tape, but it was our guilty secret," he says. "But once people grow out of trying to have acceptance from their peers, they can enjoy metal for what it is."

After a decade of languishing as a laughingstock, traditional metal, with its squealing solos, lyrically conjured demons, and operatic singers, has earned new respect, due in part to VH-1 Classic's nostalgic Metal Mania show and respectful young heavy-rock outfits who sport the trailblazers' T-shirts.

"For a while, there were kids who liked old metal but didn't think it was cool enough to fully embrace it, so they played it off as ironic," Redman says. "They don't have to hide behind that anymore."

Redman refers to the group's fans as "kids," but Three Inches have seamlessly skewed older during tours with Corrosion of Conformity and Metal Church.

"We had guys in their 50s who were like (adopts gruff rural accent) 'That band's all right, it's not all that kill-your-parents shit,'" he says.

By contrast, at a gig in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the group shrugged off an uninterested breakdown-craving audience and started practicing their leg kicks and other choreography.

"If they're not going to have a good time, we'll have a good time for them," Redman explains.

Three Inches of Blood generate a full range of motions. There are the metalcore martial-arts moves and classic-style moshing ("Hessians running into each other"). Seattle fans, Redman says, execute "insane stage dives."

Working at Hell's Kitchen in Tacoma, Redman saw plenty of groups perform during the nu-metal era. Three Inches of Blood, with only one wide-release album (2004's Advance and Vanquish) to their credit, figures to be one of the leaders of the new-old-metal movement during the next decade. For now, they're content to support resurgent childhood idols (this tour it's Exodus), rally their burgeoning weapon-brandishing army, and prove that it's possible for a traditional metal act to have fun without doing so at the expense of its genre.