Saturday, August 27, 2005

187 L.A. trademark

It always pisses me off when I hear certain hardcore elitists at shows or on message boards making fun of fifteen-year-old kids at shows wearing nu-metal shirts. Now, I’m no friend of the nu-metal, or whatever you want to call it, but I remember being fifteen. And few are those among us who got into hardcore directly by listening to Minor Threat or Youth of Today.

I was introduced to heavy music primarily through two bands – Downset and Sick of it All. It was 1994 and up until then my blossoming teenage self had been content to live on an MTV-prescribed musical diet, mostly your usual grunge and indie rock suspects. I had read about hardcore and noticed the ubiquitous presence of SOIA T-shirts in my high school, but had no idea what any of those bands sounded like. But in my little German town there was one club close to my house that frequently hosted larger parties and shows. One night we ended up at a party sponsored by a well-known alternative music magazine. I walked in right as Downset’s ‘Anger’ started playing and was floored. A few days later I picked up their record, along with Scratch the Surface, and somehow I knew that this would change everything for me as far as my musical preferences were concerned. I began to pay more attention to the bands that were coming through town, and thus ended up going to my first hardcore show a few months later.

It was a weeknight and the club was almost empty. I was getting ready for a big disappointment, but to the headliner of the night it didn’t seem to matter that a mere twenty or so people were in attendance. The singer stomped and screamed and flung around the mic stand as if to ward off throngs of stage-diving kids. They completely owned the stage and it was impossible not to be captured by the power of their performance. That band was called Warzone.

After that, I started going to as many hardcore shows as I could. But if it wouldn’t have been for Downset and SOIA, I might never have ended up checking out any other hardcore bands. Long story short, everyone has to start somewhere. So next time you see a kid wearing a Linkin Park shirt at a show, be glad he or she is there. A few years hence, that kid might be standing on stage screaming his heart out for your entertainment.

Where was I going with that? Oh, right. Downset had their roots in the LA hardcore scene. Before starting Downset, singer Rey Anthony Oropeza fronted a band called Social Justice. It’s straight up old school hardcore, with a mix of positive and personal lyrics, sing-alongs and raised hands with X’s on the record cover. Not terribly original, but fun stuff nonetheless. As far as I know they only recorded this one 7”, entitled I refuse to lose and released on Green Records in 1992. For a comparison, I guess you could say that Social Justice was to Downset what Hard Stance and later Inside Out were to Rage against the Machine. (The proximity doesn’t end there – note the cover of Inside Out’s ‘Burning Fight.’)

Social Justice – I refuse to lose
Social Justice – Hear the cries
Social Justice – Spiritual soul
Social Justice – Promise to God
Social Justice – Burning fight

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ashes of the living

Before Lamb of God, there was Burn the Priest. Originally formed in 1990, the band began to come into its own with the 1997 release of a pair of split 7”s, with Agents of Satan (Deaf American) and Zed (Goatboy Farms), followed by a self-titled full-length on Legion Records that was produced by the omnipresent Steve Austin. I remember seeing them at CBGB’s around that time and being seriously impressed with their heaviness and the singer’s vocal range, especially since he looked like a stick with a baseball cap and glasses.

Listening to these records now, it seems fairly easy to trace the continuum in their musical development. There are still lots of fast grind parts on the full-length, accompanied by shrieking screams. The second song, ‘Dimera,’ echoes the chopped up beats and vocals of ‘Ruiner’ from the split with Zed, as do several other songs. Those parts are still among my favorites and you can still hear some of that in Lamb of God as well, I think. Aside from that, considering that Lamb of God are supposed to be representing “new heaviness” in music, it’s amazing how they sound more like old Metallica and Slayer with every release. But that’s probably not necessarily a bad thing and they definitely mix things up enough to keep it interesting – without run-of-the-mill singing parts, thank you very much.

According to their website, the songs from the splits as well as a few others were released as a collection on a few years back which is no longer available anywhere. I missed that, so if anyone could hook me up with those mp3s I’d greatly appreciate it. Meanwhile, here are the songs from the splits as I have them. Also check out the Burn the Priest full-length, reissued in March of this year.

Burn the Priest – Suffering Bastard
Burn the Priest – Preaching to the Converted
Burn the Priest – Ruiner
Burn the Priest – The Ballad of Kansas City

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Time to give thanks

In the summer of ’97 I returned to Germany for my year of compulsory social work. I was on a tight schedule – I had to work a lot of double shifts and weekends to make sure I could get done with the social work, in the intensive care unit of a nursing home, in time to leave for college in the U.S. the following year. But somehow I also managed to start a band and weasel my way into another as a bassist.

Sermon existed only for that one year, though we played one re-union in early ’99. We never had a permanent bass player, we only played a handful of shows and gave out less than a hundred copies total of the two demos we recorded. So that happened, we thought. Frank (vocals) and Thorsten (drums) went on to form the Kinetic Crash Cooperation and it was years until I played in a band again.

However, two years or so ago, Kunal from Superfi Records stumbled upon our demo mp3s online and liked them enough to offer to release them as a 7” – pretty gutsy, considering how long ago we had broken up and that we’d never tour or record again. So, the purpose of this post is primarily to give a shout out and big Thank You to Kunal. I believe he has a few copies of the record left (on orange vinyl, I might add), so hop over to Superfi and check out this and his other fine releases. (I have a few copies left as well, so if you live stateside and want one just write me).

As you’ll be able to tell, we were listening to a lot of Converge, Coalesce and His Hero Is Gone back then. See Aversionline for a review.

Sermon – Schwach
Sermon – A Traitor to the Human Race
Sermon – Masslos
Sermon – Tiefschlaf
Sermon – T-Shirt Game

While I’m at it, I’d also like to thank all of you for visiting, checking out the music on here and giving me feedback (hint: if you haven’t, leave comments and let me know what you’d like to hear more or less of)!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Picture this: Burnt by the Sun

Monday, August 15, 2005

If angels could scream

I’m not sure when I fist started listening to this band, but Barrit’s Smiles upon the stroke that murders me continues to be among my favorite albums from its genre. I should clarify what I mean by genre, though, because Barrit were really all over the place, which resulted in a very unique amalgam of sounds – melodic riffing, occasional quiet parts and noise interludes, stomping transitions in place of run-of-the-mill breakdowns and some black metal thrown in for good measure. As a result, Barrit ended up with songs that consisted of tons of little parts and transitions and a fair amount of rhythmic variation, but they always managed to weave together a compelling musical narrative. Smiles feels very complete – it’s one of those records that are best listened to as a whole. The lyrics don’t really do it for me, but, well, it’s not like you can actually make them out anyway.

Something else that always stood out to me and that significantly adds to the flow of Barrit’s music is the vocal layering. While the main vocals are fairly brash, at least two of the other band members (I’m not sure who; I couldn’t figure out who exactly plays what) contribute background vocals, which are more on the high-pitched, screamy end and add to the sense of desperation and malady the music attempts to convey. For a comparison, think of the vocal layering in Neurosis’s 'To crawl under one's skin’ on Souls at Zero or the previously discussed Akephal.

Smiles was recorded in 1998 (and, by the way, produced by Steve Austin) and released by Ellington Records. Prior to that, Ellington also released Barrit’s 7”, recorded in 1996, which features the songs ‘Godless Disease’ and ‘Transient,’ though only the latter one was re-recorded for their full-length. There is a notable difference in the quality of the songwriting between these two songs. ‘Godless disease’ is much more disjointed – I can’t even tell whether that last longer part actually belongs to the song or is just a shorter bonus song they tacked on to fill up that side of the record – while ‘Transient’’ features all of the elements that made Smiles such a good listen: the very effective dual vocals, the transitions from heavier riffing to quieter and more melodic parts etc. But hear for yourself.

Barrit – Godless Disease
Barrit – Transient

As you may know, in March of 2002, Steve Neale, drummer of Barrit and later Ink Cartridge Funeral and father of two, died in a car accident. Visit the Team Neale Scholarship Fund to make a donation and to learn more about the fund.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"A" is for Arson

I had been waiting for the train for what seemed like at least three or four days. The platform was empty; no one else was there except for me and a large number of rats. Occasionally I heard a faint whistle or made out a whiff of cool air on my cheeks that appeared to signal the coming of the train, but I was mistaken and, after a moment of confusion and dismay, slumped back on the lone bench, my eyes fixed on the tracks in front of me.

After a while I went to look for a schedule or a map, but there was none. I began to grew weary of waiting; after all, I hadn’t eaten or slept in days and, in fact, had lost all sense of day and night. Pinching the skin on my arms, I found that I had grown notably thinner and weaker. I resolved that this wait would have to come to an end.

I got up from the bench and walked to the end of the platform, searching for the exit, but the stairs I remembered climbing down were nowhere to be found. Assuming that I must have walked to the wrong end, I turned around and tried the other one. It took me a while to get there, 3,756 steps, to be precise, but yet again I was disappointed – there was no exit. So I sat back down, determined not to let this setback affect my good spirit.

Meanwhile, the rats had gotten used to my presence, enough to trust me and come near me without fear. As I sat and waited, one of them, a big white one, cautiously approached me and sat down in front of me, a mere three or four feet away. As an offering, it had brought a glistening candy wrapper, which I gratefully accepted.

“What are you waiting for?” it asked me, its voice raspy, like that of someone who has smoked all his life.
“I’m waiting for the train,” I replied, unsure at first at the sound of my own voice, which I had not heard in a long time.
“When will your train come?” it continued to question me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Listen, you seem to know the tunnels well – what would I find if I followed them?”
The rat tilted its head, squinted and gave me a puzzled look.
“Why, another station, and another, and another, each with people just like you,” it finally said.

With that it disappeared and I continued to wait, reassured of my fate.

Converge – Look back
Converge – Open your eyes

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Run your little finger along your eyebrows

Here’s a band that was so influential that I don’t even know how to start describing their sound without sounding completely redundant, so I am going to let others do the talking. As Ebullition puts it, the music of Uranus represented “chaos, fury, emotional strife, and a paranoid fear of a technocratic future all blended with a musical delivery that is equivalent to total sonic insanity.” According to Collective Zine, Uranus sounded “like crawling through a sewer pipe on your belly, elbow deep in shit and muck while hungry rats the size of small dogs brood all around you, chattering among themselves while staving off the kill.”

Very well, but for all of you who, like me, have never crawled through a sewer pipe, Paranoid Android offers a more analytic description. After branding the beginning of ‘Panacea’ a “heavy up-tempo verse that marries the locked groove of metallic hardcore with the floating, frantic feeling of Gravtiy Records-style chaotic emo,” the writer continues: “This is all good enough, but then something amazing happens. The drummer shifts his eighth-note accept pattern to the beginning of the measure [and] the second guitar responds with a riff of hollow chords and high octave jumps. At this point even though I've heard this song 100+ times my jaw always drops. It's a revolution in sound, as if the song and all he troubles that inspire it have been crushed under its/their own weight and something new is ready to bust out of the rubble, wounded but soaring, aware of its origins yet ready to look beyond them. The song eventually settles down into a closing riff, but for a few seconds it shows the promise of a world full of new possibilities, which is all one can ask of art.”

Derrida, may his white halo of hair rest in piece, couldn’t have put it any better (though he would almost certainly have been much more verbose).

For a comparison, Delusions of Adequacy suggests that “if you like bands such as Orchid, Majority Rule, Kaospilot, Shikari, or His Hero Is Gone, do yourself a favor and go buy this right now. You won’t be disappointed. Uranus will tear your ears to shreds […] I suggest that if you are prone to heart attacks, you don’t go anywhere near this record, because it will fucking kill you.”

All I can add to this are the facts: Uranus were from Canada, their entire output was recorded in 1993 and 1994 and consisted of the Disaster by Design double 7”, from which the two songs below are taken, the split LP with His Hero Is Gone, a split 7” with Immortal Squad and a Negative Approach cover. While the vinyl is going to set you back a fairly large amount of money, if you can find it at all, all of their music has been conveniently re-issued on one CD by Feral Ward (formerly called Great American Steak Religion) and Stonehenge Records. I suggest you pick up a copy while they’re still available, if you haven’t done so yet.

Uranus – Face Value
Uranus – Panacea

Monday, August 08, 2005

Picture this: Sick of it All

At the RCKCNDY in Seattle, WA, ca. 1996.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Silence is a funny fellow

Someone requested that I post the Vade side of the split 12” with Jough Dawn Baker, so here it finally is. As I said before, these songs are every bit as good as the JDB side, especially considering that the average age of the band members at the time they recorded this, in 1997, was around fifteen or sixteen. The music is not as chaotic as JDB's, with more drawn-out arrangements and build-ups leading to grandiose-sounding choruses, but I distinctly remember seeing these guys play for the first time, not knowing what to expect, and my jaw literally dropping thirty seconds into their set.

The lyrics also merit a mention. Lines like “Expectation always steals the upper hand. Swoop down, crush, like a tiger” (‘Brigitte Bardot’) or “only the willows will weep softly to themselves, blowing in the winds of desire” (‘Winter Recovery System’) are a nice departure from the whiny heartbroken emo-lyricism that was prevalent in those days and that, over the last few years, has migrated to the heavier music of certain bands whose members wear too much make-up. But to each their own. “Since these days are all just paintings, I can no longer tell.”

Aside from this batch of songs, Vade also released a demo cassette and a 7”, Saturn, on World of Hurt and Edema Records. The last song below, ‘Baltimore,’ is from that record. You’ll notice it’s a lot quieter and also features vocal contributions from Hannah, Vade’s drummer. As such, it’s generally indicative of where they went with their sound, or where they would have taken it, had this not been their last release. It’s, well, very Northwest.

Members of Vade went on to play in the Blood Brothers, among others. Go to Excursion for more info.

Vade – Brigitte Bardot
Vade – Jupiter, beyond the infinite
Vade – Winter Recovery System
Vade – Baltimore

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A twisted generation

I didn’t even realize how many records from the Czech label Day After Records I have in my collection until I went to their website looking for more information on Kevorkian. Among its stable of artists are Four Walls Falling, Reiziger, Sunshine, The Robocop Kraus, Milemarker and 400 Years, to name just a few. I had picked up Kevorkian's 7”, Who is who, years ago from a German distro after reading a review about it in HeartattaCk, and I was not disappointed. If anything, it’s too bad that this was also the last sign of life from this band, to the best of my knowledge.

Day After describes Kevorkian’s sound as “fast and intense HC like early Born Against mixed up with some harsh parts” reminiscent of “Florida emo/violence bands.” That’s pretty accurate. I’m also hearing some Swing Kids and perhaps even a little Dead Guy in there, though I have to say the band it reminded me of the most when I listened to this again for the first time in a few years was actually the St. James Infirmary, particularly the driving, bass-heavy guitar riffs that function a bit like breakdowns in the middle of both ‘Magic Box’ and ‘Pink Panther.’ The vocals are definitely more on the screamy side and the songs are mostly made up of faster, more chaotic parts. But the music has a very rocked out feel to it; a rarity among bands that were going with the whole screamo thing at the time this was recorded, at the end of 1999.

Prior to Who is who, Kevorkian released another 7”, The Abyss, and a split LP with a band called Albion on Minority Records, though I have never seen either of these records anywhere and haven’t been able to find a distro that still sells them. If anyone has any info on that, please leave a comment.

Kevorkian – Who is Who
Kevorkian – The Magic Box
Kevorkian – Pink Panther
Kevorkian – Untitled

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Moving backwards to progress

Here are a few songs by The Van Pelt. Some of you may recognize the first, ‘The Speeding Train,’ from the second The Lapse full-length, Heaven Ain’t Happening, which featured a re-recorded version of the song. That should not come as a surprise, since the two bands shared their core members – Chris Leo (ex-Native Nod) on guitar and vocals and Toko Yasuda (ex-Blonde Redhead) on bass and vocals. As The Van Pelt, they released two full-length records, Stealing From Our Favorite Thieves and Sultans of Sentiment, both out on Gern Blandsten, the label run by former Rorschach singer Charles Maggio.

The most obvious constant between The Van Pelt and The Lapse were Leo’s half-spoken vocals, along with his insightful lyrics. But with The Lapse’s Betrayal!, also on Gern Blandsten, Yasuda's timidly rich voice began to make more frequent appearances, leaving her on equal footing with Leo by the time they recorded the aforementioned Heaven Ain’t Happening (Southern). This was also their last record together. Leo recorded one more record under the name The Lapse, In Truth Loved, which I could never really get into, while Yasuda went on to play with Enon.

Go here for an interview with The Van Pelt. You’ll also find a few more mp3s on the Southern site. If you want to check out The Lapse, listen to a song from Betrayal! on Epitonic. The songs below were released as a 7" on Art Monk Construction. If anyone of you knows about other EP releases by The Van Pelt, please let me know about them.

The Van Pelt – The Speeding Train
The Van Pelt – Evil High
The Van Pelt – The Democratic Teacher’s Union