I’ve been meaning to check out New Zealand’s Beastwars for quite some time, but I’m ashamed to admit that the band somehow got lost in the disheveled and disorganized avalanche that is my “bands to check out” list when their self-titled debut was released back in 2011. In spite of this grievous error, it would appear the metal gods chose to smile upon me anyway, as my colleague Craig Hayes recently hooked me up with a promo of the band’s second album Blood Becomes Fire on the band’s behalf. Just one spin of the quartet’s sophomore opus had me cursing myself for a goddamn fool for not getting ’round to them sooner, because not only is this bad mama-jama right up my alley, it’s one of the all-around best metal albums I’ve heard so far in 2013.
Roughly 5 months ago, Brandon Duncan (whom you may know from The Sequence of Prime) contacted me with an idea; let’s start a new online metal zine. Typically I prefer to work alone, but Brandon’s enthusiasm is contagious and I’m proud to call him my friend, so there was absolutely no way I could refuse. Brandon gathered an ace design team while I hand-picked some of my favorite writers from internet metal land with the express purpose of creating something new and unique, to drag the old school metal zine into the future, come Hell or high water with an emphasis on good old-fashioned writing and design.
After 5 months of hard work, I’m proud to present to all of you the fruits of our labors in the form of Backlit #0; fifteen pages of mind-melting music, art and literature.
Backlit / 0
Now available at backlitzine.com
Cover Art by Dan Harding
Raping Angels in America #1 / Joshua Haun
Angry Old Men / Jordan Campbell
Helpless Child / Dan Obstkrieg
Fucking The Future / Joshua Haun
Libations in the Labyrinth Vol. 1 / Dan Obstkrieg
Words That Wound / Dan Obstkrieg
Doomsday Device / Joshua Haun
Interview With Jester King Brewery / The Dragon of M87
Interview With Ashencult / Jordan Campbell
Art & Fiction:
Succubus in the Attic / Nikki Guerlain
Dan Harding: The Fine Art of Horror / Brandon Duncan
The Dragon of M87
I hope that you will all enjoy reading the first issue of Backlit as much as we enjoyed crafting it. This is only the beginning!
Helmet’s Meantime was an odd bird when it was released in 1992. Straddling the line between heavy metal and the alternative rock explosion that Nirvana had ushered in a year earlier, Helmet was probably the only band capable of getting airtime on both Headbanger’s Ball and 120 Minutes. That’s how I discovered Helmet; I was thirteen years old and just beginning my headlong dive into the world of heavy music. I remember seeing the video for “Unsung” and being struck by several things: 1) the riffage was absolutely crushing 2) no one in the band had long hair 3) was that a fucking pink ESP?! Helmet looked and most importantly sounded like no other band I had encountered up to that point.
The music of Bloomington, Indiana’s Racebannon falls somewhere between the demented sludge metal of the Melvins and the lurching, discordant pig-fuck of the Jesus Lizard, as if those two bands got together to do a fuckload of coke and orchestrate the ultimate noise rock jam session, but ended up getting slaughtered in a standoff with DEA agents while their rehearsal space burned to the ground. Their latest album, Six Sik Sisters, is a truly unsettling listen, a chronicle of monumental musical depravity that sounds like it could come unglued at any given moment.
The American Dream is in the shitter. If you don’t think so, you’re either rich or comatose. Most of us work at jobs we can’t stand for low pay, have health insurance policies that don’t cover anything, are buried under a mountain of debt and lead largely unfulfilling lives that are subject to the whims of a government run by a bunch of wealthy, over-privileged scumbags that couldn’t even be bothered to piss on us if we were on fire. In many other countries, these same conditions would spark a full-scale revolt, but Americans are far too complacent, too content to keep eating shit until they die from it.
But for all of us that are content to ride atop the avalanche of feces that was once the American Dream all the way to the bitter end, there are a few that are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. Steve Austin, mastermind behind Nashville-based power trio Today is the Day is one of them. But what does a musician with a large collection of high-powered firearms and a penchant for creating some of the most intense and abrasive metal/rock known to man do when they’ve had enough? Instead of going postal, Austin has channelled his rage against the dying of the light into a hellishly harsh rock ‘n’ roll record called Pain is a Warning.
Yes, you’re reading that last sentence correctly. Pain is a Warning is first and foremost a rock ‘n’ roll record. In fact, it’s probably the most rocking album Today is the Day has ever recorded. It rocks hard and heavy. It rocks like a goddamn motherfucker. It also sounds like it wants to rip your head off and shit all over the bloody stump, and that might be what really separates Today is the Day from 99.999% of the bands currently professing to play rock music. This isn’t limp-dick radio rock about doing coke and banging sluts. This is real anger, real hatred, real emotions harnessed into pure negative energy and unleashed through guitar, bass, drums and vocals.
Music this brutalizing needs the right production to help it along in getting the point across. For Pain is a Warning, Austin wisely chose to enlist Converge’s Kurt Ballou to sit behind the boards. The result is Today is the Day on steroids. Never has the band sounded so crushing, so ready to come through the speakers and grab you by the throat. Bringing in Ballou has also allowed Austin (who usually also produces) to turn his attention completely towards crafting the music itself, resulting in the most consistent, focused and visceral Today is the Day album in years. While there are a few subdued moments, such as the psychedelic “Remember to Forget” and the almost-country “This is You”, Pain is a Warning is mostly an ultra-noisy hard rock inferno with nods to metal, punk and hardcore. Tracks such as “Death Curse” “Wheelin’” and “Samurai” are violent and pummeling, but also rife with hooks and barbs that will lodge themselves in your memory, forcing you to press the play button again immediately after the album has ended.
Pain is a Warning is every bit as gnarly lyrically as it is musically. Austin sounds so intense delivering lines like “I’m so broke / I can’t feed you / It’s cold / I can’t heat you” and “iPhone iPod iPad PS3 / My life my heart bleeding endlessly” it’s almost as if he has been revitalized by the crumbling of the American Dream. Of course, one could argue that a brand new band lineup (featuring Curran Reynolds and Ryan Jones of Wetnurse on drums and bass, respectively) and a new record label might have something to do with it, but the truth is that Austin has always been this way, he simply needed to have the other pieces in place for Today is the Day to be fully realized in such an effective manner.
Hard times often breed great music. I can’t imagine them getting much harder than natural disasters, a corrupt government, a tanked economy, rampant unemployment, holy terrorism and not even being able to get on plane to escape from it all without potentially having to go through a full body cavity search. With Pain is Warning, Today is the Day have delivered one of the strongest albums of their career, while the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to midnight for the good ol’ US of A. Steve Austin and Co.’s brand of homicidal smash-mouth-super-rock might be too caustic to inspire revolution in the God, guns and government-fearing masses, but it will surely add some fuel to the fire for the chosen few.
Everything about KEN Mode’s Venerable is intimidating. The artwork looks like something that might happen if Ed Gein and Leatherface were partners in senior year art class. The sound is brutal, muscular and discordant, like The Jesus Lizard and maybe Unsane suffering from a serious case of ‘roid rage. This is the kind of album that shits nails and wipes with barb wire.
In spite of its sonic belligerence, Venerable isn’t a constant sledgehammer to the skull. There are dynamics at work here, the music shifting from bruising, noisy hardcore to shimmering textures that border on post rock. But somehow, even the pretty sections of Venerable seethe with an underlying ugliness. It could have something to do with the all-out hostility that surrounds them. Jesse Matthewson’s vocals for the most part sound like his eyeballs are about to pop out of his head as his jugular bursts, covering the listener in a great wash of crimson. The instruments are weapons in the hands of the band, the guitars morphing into nail-spiked ball bats, the drums rusty claw-hammers, all soaked in blood, shit, piss and vomit. When KEN Mode go full tilt, the music is an avalanche of sound, a pummeling sonic piledriver.
Venerable is just as pulverizing thematically as it is musically. It is an album about struggle. It’s about realizing that you’re chained to a cubicle, dominated by consumerism, inundated to the point of numbness by politics, religion and bullshit on a daily basis. It’s about realizing that you live in an ugly fucking turd-world and doing everything you can to dig yourself out of it, scraping and clawing with bare hands until your fingers bleed.
I’ve mentioned blood three times in this review. All of the imagery that comes to mind as I listen to Venerable is positively soaked in it. It’s because KEN Mode play like their lives depend on this shit. The blood is the life, as Bela Lugosi once said. The blood boils, spills over the side. You’re seeing red. Kill. Everyone. Now.
In the interest of full-disclosure, let it be known that The Terrible Airplane vocalist/guitarist/bassist Mark Woolard used to write for me when I ran the now defunct Sonic Frontiers(dot)net. Out of respect for the man’s privacy, I will not disclose the pseudonym he wrote reviews under. I will say that his reviews were always thoughtful, well-written and a pleasure to read, and the same can be said for the music he creates with his brother Todd as The Terrible Airplane (just switch out “read” for “listen to”).
I first heard the band when Mark sent me their previous EP, Reconnaissance. While that release was a well-played slab of lurching post metal/hardcore, it in no way prepared me for the masterful performance displayed on 2013. The brothers Woolard have worked through their musical growing pains, resulting in a more complete, more diverse vision.
The first thing one notices about 2013 is The Terrible Airplane’s ability to expertly blend a diverse array of influences. Everything from crushing waves of post-metal to slithering, sleazy noise rock to rapid-fire hardcore shows up in the mix, often within the course of the same song. It is as if the Woolards studied everything great about the last two decades of heavy music and decided to incorporate snippets of all of it into one band. On paper, that description probably sounds like the makings of a disjointed mess. Fortunately, The Terrible Airplane are capable songwriters and masters of dynamics, conjuring up a sound that is anything but messy on tracks like “Projected Trajectory” and “Radio Song”. Imagine something like the Melvins and The Jesus Lizard jamming (or perhaps brawling) with Helmet and (early) Mastodon, with a guest appearance from the Pixies and you’re on the right track.
You’ll notice I mentioned a lot of bands that peaked during the 1990s in that last sentence. For all their diversity, The Terrible Airplane are especially indebted to that age of music when metal, hardcore, punk and alternative rock were all vying for the ears and souls of the fans. I discovered heavy music in the ’90s, so it’s a pleasure to hear a band so aptly taking those influences and updating them for a new audience. In listening to 2013, I would venture to guess that the Woolards and I are very close in age, which somehow makes listening to the album that much more intriguing.
Overall, 2013 is a snapshot of a young, hard-working band with a world of potential. It is also yet another excellent self-released album to come across my desk this year (along with the likes of The Sequence of Prime and Idolater), proving that promising bands don’t need a label’s backing in order to present a high quality, professional-level product. I’m looking forward to watching them continue to evolve and grow.