There’s just something about a physical book. Sure, it’s much easier to get away with reading a website at work, but having an actual book sandwiched between two covers that seems more impressive than a fleeting collection of ones and zeros floating around in cyberspace.
All Downhill From Here: Scene Point Blank collects over a decade’s worth of interviews, record reviews, and columns originally published as an outshoot from the AFI messageboard. Anyone with a liking for modern aggressive music would be interested in it.
Most of the interviews are interesting — although Edward R. Murrow would have a hard time getting much out of Evan Dando, and are somewhat surprising. Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye don’t sound very engaged, but John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers gives an amazingly coherent and interesting interview. Other highlights include Jacob Brannon from Converge, Strike Anywhere, Ted Leo, and Fucked Up.
The record reviews are described as the site’s “bread and butter,” and it’s hard to disagree. For the most part, the reviews actually describe what the music sounds like, which is a novelty in music reviewing. It is refreshing to see a wide range of music represented, even nominating Ian Anderson’s Thick as a Brick 2 as one of the albums of the year.
While that one might be a bit puzzling, All Downhill From Here: Scene Point Blank is a wide ranging trip through modern punk music, with a healthy respect for the roots. Plus, since it’s collected in a physical book, you’ll look smart reading it.
Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA • June 17, 2010
Mike Hanan, photos by Michelle Smith
A warm June night brought metal powerhouse Isis to The Fillmore TLA for its final Philadelphia show ever. A shocking May 18th announcement on their website declared the end of their impactful 13-year run:
Simply put, ISIS has done everything we wanted to do, said everything we wanted to say. In the interest of preserving the love we have of this band, for each other, for the music made and for all the people who have continually supported us, it is time to bring it to a close.
Co-headlining the show were the ageless Melvins, who pounded out an hour-long set with a syncopated two-drummer assault. The Melvins’ set could best be described as giant Afros, sing-along anthems, capes, and synchronized stage theatrics.
Right-handed drummer Dale Crover set up center stage, directly next to the left-handed Coady Willis. This odd configuration created a visually intriguing mirror effect that showcased their technical drumming. Flanked to the left and right were guitarist Buzz “King Buzzo” Osbourne and bass player Jared Warren, both with giant frizzed-out hair and flowing capes. The two drummer and four singer arrangement chanted out their gritty anthems in true Melvins unorthodox fashion.
Headliner Isis took the stage around 11:00 pm, opening with two songs from their latest album, Wavering Radiant: the fast-paced “Threshold of Transformation” and the driving, low-end heavy “20 minutes / 40 years.” They later dipped further back into their extensive catalog highlighted with “So Did We” and powerful intensely melodic “Holy Tears.”
Isis seemed determined to play every note of every song with furious intensity. Even the crowd seemed to be more focused, perhaps with the notion in the back of their minds that what they were watching was already over.
The 90-minute final Philly set list looked like this: “Threshold of Transformation,” 20 Minutes / 40 Years,” “Collapse and Crush,” “Not in Rivers, But in Drops,” “Ghost Key,” “In Fiction,” and “So Did We.” Encore: “Holy Tears,” “9. The Beginning and the End.”
Why would such an explosively powerful band call it quits? I wondered. A small chat with Isis front man/guitarist Aaron Turner prior to their Bonnaroo tour date gave me some answers.
It’s metal night at the TLA.
Does Isis enjoy playing the larger shows like Bonnaroo, or do you prefer the smaller, more intimate venues?
We generally prefer the smaller show, but we have had some very successful performances on festivals and opening for larger acts. I think generally the most satisfying thing has been playing our own shows at the smaller settings.
How has the tour been going for the band, knowing that you are calling it quits?
Pretty well… there is an element of sadness [for some of us more than others]. I think knowing that has enabled us to put even more of ourselves into each performance knowing it’s the last time in any given city. There is an added incentive to completely go for it. It also seems reciprocal from the people we are playing for, they seem to be more attentive knowing it’ll be the last time they see us.
What has the feedback from the fans been like after your announcement?
A lot of people do seem disappointed, but on the flipside there seems to be a lot of respect for our reasoning and a lot of understanding for why we are choosing to put an end to it… I don’t think we are the only people who have noticed how often bands outstay their actual ability to maintain a focus on the music over a long period of time. It’s sad to see great bands go from being great, to just being pale imitations of their once-great selves. From the beginning we said that we wanted to make sure we called it a day when we noticed we were drifting apart on a musical level.
What are your thoughts on the way the music industry has changed with electronic media, file sharing, the internet, etc.?
Some things are better, some things are worse. We came from a largely punk/ hardcore/ underground metal background, so I think all of us felt like the preservation of DIY ethics was an important thing to bring into Isis. A lot of stuff that used to be underground and precious and almost a secret is now becoming part of the mainstream. Although that part of it is a little bit disheartening, bands like Isis, Converge, or to an even larger extent Mastodon have been able to bring music to a larger audience who otherwise would never have heard it.
As far as file sharing, I think it’s great that people in places like Russia or Malaysia or India are getting exposed to bands like Isis. I’d rather our music be heard for free, than not heard at all. At the same time there seems to be a level of cynicism in the US and Europe, where people very well could afford to support the artists they enjoy, but feel entitled to steal their work. It’s disturbing.
How would you like Isis to be remembered?
While there was never any specific ideological or spiritual agenda we wanted to communicate, if anybody takes anything away from what we’ve done with Isis, it would be this: knowing the power and the strength of the human spirit when put to positive ends.
At just under ten minutes, Jumpercable’s debut EP does not require much commitment from the listener. Every second of this lightning-bolt release is spent wisely, without a breath of down time between electric jolts. The opening and closing tracks (aptly titled “D(int)r(o)agonaut,” and “D(out)r(o)agonaut”) could easily serve as the intro and outro of one long song, with everything in-between serving as the ebb and flow of an epic hardcore composition. That’s not to say that the other seven tracks are indiscernible from one another, but the mood is similar and — let’s be truthful — all hardcore songs start to sound alike after awhile.
Let me clarify: not all hardcore bands are created equal. I’ve listened to a lot of crap in my days to be able to hear the difference between well-written hardcore and mindless, testosterone-fueled pap. Jumpercable falls into the former category. They have just enough metal influence, which can be heard best in the guitar tone, to give them depth, yet I would never stoop to calling them metalcore. They bury the classic metal sound deep beneath a heavy wall of music that’s more fierce, much like Converge or Coliseum.
This band is sure to churn up a dangerous mosh pit or two.
Lousville, KY’s Coliseum is the demonstration of what should happen when hardcore punk and heavy metal collide. The end result should be biting, relentless, loud, and forceful in a manner that is still approachable. No Salvation, the band’s second full length, is all of these things. It, and the band, are equal parts Motorhead and Black Flag.
Produced by Converge vocalist Kurt Ballou, the Relapse release is entirely enjoyable as music, not just something to crank up and thrash to. Despite vocalist/guitarist Ryan Patterson’s raw screams that are indecipherable on the first listen, the lyrics and melodies have a way of seeping into the subconscious after repeated listens. If not singable, this album is at least “screamable.”
Coliseum will tickle you in all the right places if you dig Young Widows, Converge, Vision of Disorder, and Black Cross.
Best songs: “Profetas,” “White Religion,” “Fall of the Pigs.”
Originally released in 1998, Botch’s American Nervoso completely revolutionized metal, hardcore, grindcore, and everything in between. Hey, I don’t make this shit up; ask anybody. This album defines blitzkrieg. Rumor has it the syncopated rhythms were devised by a mathematician and the guitars go to fucking 11. I shit you not… okay, maybe just a little. Seriously though, Botch’s self-proclaimed “evil math rock” will leave you wondering how any band can really hope to live up to this standard.
Here is the good news. Hydra Head Records reissued this groundbreaking album this year. Before July 2007, you would have had to pry this CD from the cold, dead fingers of a grizzled metalhead. But now you can just go down to the record shop and buy your own copy. And guess what? The good people down at Hydra Head included five bonus tracks. So even after the album is over, you can just keep rocking for like 15 more minutes.
Honestly, this album will kick your ass and you will ask for more. If you don’t own it already, this reissue makes it easy to get your grubby little hands on a copy. If you already have it, good for you! Listen to it again. If you hate hardcore music like I do, borrow a copy and seek enlightenment. You will be converted to Botch’s evil army by the end of the week.
Army of Flying Robots reminds me a bit of the cartoon sound effect for an anonymous band playing in a storefront as you walk past – noise comes out, but there’s no sense of what they heck they’re playing. AOFR seems a socially committed band with a speed metal sound and a singer who sets a new record in incomprehensibility. A careful reading of the ink-smeared liner notes will reveal that there is not one single decipherable word on the disc. Sure, rock lyrics are often purposely obfuscated — there’s a great scene in Rude Boy where Joe Strummer is doing the lead track on one of their hits, and even with no other instruments present, it’s mush. These guys push farther, and the vocals sound like pureed mush. I can’t help thinking that if a song is going to change the world, you ought to at least be able to dope it out after a few listens.
Many bands on the scene today attempt to push a more expansive, experimental approach into the niche of hard rock, but there are very few who do it as well as the Los Angeles quintet Isis. Throughout their career, the band has skillfully mixed the growling vocals and bottom heavy riffs of hardcore metal with atmospheric keyboards and surprisingly expressive drumming that pays more heed to tasteful tom rolls than to cymbal crashes and double kick pedal assaults.
That being said, it seems that the band has fallen into a fairly steady routine with their work — stretching out their songs with lengthy instrumental breakdowns, shifting tempos and rhythms smoothly, and veering between more melodic singing and forceful metal grunts. Although the results are as hypnotic and challenging as we’ve come to expect from Isis, In The Absence of Truth is no exception to the formula. Only one song on the album is less than six minutes long, and that is a droning three-minute instrumental break (“All Out of Time, All Into Space”), with the rest, on average, pushing the eight minute mark. It makes for some fascinating music, but it brings up the question of what the band would sound like if they tried to pare their ideas down into short, sharp chunks.
Now that they have been performing for over a decade, Isis does have down to a science how to build a song up and slowly take it apart. “Firdous E Bareen” starts with a throbbing programmed rhythm, which gets methodically colored in by shards of guitar sound and a shuddering bass line. The song, amazingly, never explodes, but rather simmers and bubbles with lava-like heat and intensity. Elsewhere, on the earth shaking “Over Root and Thorn”, guitarists Aaron Turner and Michael Gallagher slowly bring in a long squeal of feedback that increases in volume for two minutes before the rest of the band appears out of the ether.
When a band knows how to craft a sound and a song as well as Isis obviously does, it would be a shame to mess with a good thing. Yet, again, you have to wonder where the band will go from here. Will they keep on their steady unbroken stream of pressure cooker art rock, or will they surprise everyone with a change of direction and influences that will challenge and possibly alienate their firm fan base? Whatever the answer, we can all be assured that the band will do something worth paying attention to.
Norse mythology defines Freya as a goddess of love and fertility, the most beautiful of all the goddesses. Perfect name for a a hardcore band, don’t ya think?
After Earth Crisis broke up in 2001, singer Karl Buechner and guitarist Edwards found some new players and evolved into Freya, continuing onward with the same straight-edge hardcore/metal-inspired sounds that found them an audience the first time around. Their second release, Lift The Curse is not going to surprise anyone. It’s harsh, it’s heavy, it’s angry, it’s hardcore. And when I say “hardcore” I mean it in the Most Precious Blood/Darkest Hour/Converge sort of vein. I do not mean metal-core, although they do flirt with melodic vocal ties on the song “Lilith.”
The standout track on this disc, unfortunately for them, is a cover song. They dare to tread on Black Sabbath territory, closing out the album with a respectable rendition of “War Pigs.”
As the new millennium has seen Epitaph Records forging a new identity for itself — a more modern one – the Punk-O-Rama series has disappeared, making way for a re-titled version of the series called Unsound. The retirement of the popular series is sensible, as recent releases saw the bands becoming less and less “punk” over time, and only a handful of Epitaph standards are still with the label. The new school of groups — From First to Last, Escape the Fate, The Matches, Matchbook Romance, etc — is culled from what’s now termed as the “screamo” scene, or “post-pop-punk,” or whatever. The more traditional and/or creative artists aren’t high on the label’s list of priorities, apparently, as classic bands like Pennywise, Bad Religion, and the Bouncing Souls don’t make an appearance until far into the album’s second half. Progressive-minded rappers Sage Francis and DANGERDOOM don’t drop in to say hi until around this time as well.
Basically, the disc is set up like this: From First to Last and Escape the Fate introduce the record with their brand of metal-tinged rock, the former coming off as a wannabe Thrice and the latter attempting to be a harder contemporary of Fall Out Boy. The Matches are slightly more interesting, supplementing the pop-punk chops of “Little Maggots” with a drum machine. Youth Group’s cover of “Forever Young” fails to capture the band half as well as one of their original numbers would, taking the Death Cab For Cutie-esque kids from Australia down a road of, well, bad covers of bad songs that fail to capitalize on nostalgia. Motion City Soundtrack, one of Epitaph’s more interesting and promising younger bands, finally delivers the first decent track in “Attractive Today.” Skilled songwriting and sweet keyboard swells have always made the band a hard one to dislike, and the only negative aspect of the track is that it’s over in under two minutes. Converge and Some Girls come from polar opposites of aggressive music — one catering more to metal, the other to fashionable hardcore. Bad Religion, the Bouncing Souls and Pennywise all bring old music to the mix, or at least tracks we can find pretty easily on each band’s previous releases.
Lots of nu-emo/punk garbage abound on this one, with only a handful of tracks making this a worthwhile purchase. Then again, these compilations are almost more notable for their suggested retail prices, which normally fall somewhere in the $5-7 range. Take a chance if you’re looking for some broad exposure, but all you die-hard Punk-O-Rama nerds will probably be let down.
A collection of demos and rarities, Learn To Let It Go showcases Vermont’s biggest (um, only?) schitzo-metal export during their formative years. The majority of the tracks here were unreleased and recorded in or before 1998, while the band was clearly still finding their sound. Two exceptions are “Static Mouth” and the original version of “Weighted and Weighed Down,” which both appeared on the band’s first 7″ for Hydrahead and are the best indications of what was to follow. Other notables include “Kiss The Canvas” and “Where The Heart Is,” which were put to tape in 2002.
Admittedly, even the best tracks here are weaker than most of their previously released material, and casual fans will doubtlessly be a bit puzzled about the lack of smart-ass, tongue-in-cheek 12-word-plus song titles (can this possibly be the same band that released “A Quick Prayer to the Patron Saint of Dirty Rest Area Bathrooms and Clean Getaways?”). However, if you listen closely, you can hear the seeds of what would blossom into the urgent, panicked metal and fractured emo of Drowningman’s amazing Rock ‘N Roll Killing Machine full-length and the Still Loves You EP.
If you’re a new fan looking for an introduction to the band, this ain’t it. But if you’re a die-hard fan of the recently reunited killing machine, this is an indispensable glance into their early years and the birth of the smartass technical metalcore sound that they pioneered in the late 1990s.