Features

Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 8

No one reads intros, so let's keep it short, shall we?

Birkir from Halifax Collect and I bounced back for another round of the bag quicker than we thought. As always, we sent each other five unlabeled tracks. No band names, no song or album titles, no artwork, no dates... nothing. We listened blindly, reacted spontaneously, then revealed and explained our selections to one another.

It's fun. We (perhaps selfishly) get to discover cool new music. The end.

So, here it is: Episode 8 of the Mystery Grab Bag...

Andrew's Picks:

Track #1

Birkir: Now I'm super self-conscious about not knowing this band, nor having strong name-drop bombs to go with this blurb of mine. This is the sort of song that oozes with so much "familiarity" that it makes me look foolish and regret being a part of our Mystery Grab Bag monster. I'm going to cheat and listen to this song twice in a row. Let's see here... it sounds like a late-'90s emo band that the label threw a lot of money at in hopes they'd break big. You know, a good sound to fit more streamlined and listenable songs intended for a larger audience. That happened with By a Thread and Elliott. That mid-section with the phaser effect goes over my head, only to be saved by the acoustic guitar and a really nice guitar solo. This song has a real forward drive to it. It's got this energetic propulsion. I can tell you one thing, though: a younger me would not have liked this very much, and current me is missing something here. This is too safe and controlled. The song could use a more nervous energy, and something raw and jittery to make it pop and hit you over the head.

Outhouse, "Nowhere, Man," from Welcome (Mercury, 1997)

Andrew: No need to feel self-conscious, as the sad truth is that very few people seem to be aware of this band's existence. This is Kansas City trio Outhouse, who released a lone major label album in 1997 (and also left behind a string of absolutely fantastic unreleased tracks). Because it's on a major label and I didn't discover it until the mid- to late-2000s (thanks to the excellent Built on a Weak Spot site), I never even made the connection with its similarities to some of what Revelation Records had going on at that time with bands like Shades Apart, By a Thread, etc. That's a good catch. I actually wonder if Outhouse would have fared better as a part of that whole scene instead!?

I agree that current you is missing something, but I think that something is that this song is impeccable! It's a well-established fact that I'm a sucker for a catchy song, and that chorus in "Nowhere, Man" is completely flawless. I do agree that the acoustic break with the phaser effects is a bit of a dud, but it would be very hard to truly fuck up a song with a chorus that priceless. I think your assessment that the track is too polished and needs more raw energy would be a very common conclusion for many listeners coming from more of an underground listening history, but... I love it. Everything about it. Without a doubt one of the most underrated albums I own, and I've been recommending it to anyone who'll listen ever since I bought it. Like so many albums of its kind, you can buy the damn thing for a penny on Amazon. A great bargain, but an even greater injustice... Outhouse should have been huge!

Track #2

Birkir: This is more like it. The chords are a bit off-kilter and that perks my interest... no, fuck. It totally changes up and we've got ourselves a hardcore song. Back in the day, I would have called this new school-sounding hardcore with serious melodic tendencies. I must admit, I've never heard this. "I think something in me died, too!" he belts out. Sounds like something my old band would have written! I like how this is emotional and hard-hitting hardcore without being cringe-worthy or cheesy. That's saying a lot, because every other band felt it could tackle this style, but most failed and sounded pretentious and unimaginative as fuck as a result. The production supports my initial guess that this band never really existed beyond a demo or a first 7" (which is something you seem to have a total soft spot for); or, this cannot have existed long after the year 2000. I hope I'm right. I need to get something right in this damn bag! Fatherhood is throwing me off big time. Blame it on the kid!

Kimachi, "Deaf Ears," from Hooker Cop/Kimachi Split (Wide Eyed Noise, 2016)

Andrew: Not only does the band exist long after the year 2000, they even formed long after the year 2000! This is Kimachi, from Boston. They've released a few EPs since 2014, and this is the closing track from their recently released split with the oddly named Hooker Cop. You are dead on in stating that this is "emotional and hard-hitting without being cringe-worthy or cheesy." Those thick melodic chords during the intro are the type of thing that's always going to grab my attention right away, no matter what, and I think this band has really mastered how to beef up traditional hardcore influences with a forceful and energetic sense of melody. Especially in this track you could cite similarities Go it Alone or bands of that nature. Most importantly, it's thoughtful, powerful, and genuine hardcore—even down to the lyrics—and not many bands strike me in that way anymore. Kimachi does, though. A very strong example of the fact that some lesser-known acts are so, so superior to most of the bands that are garnering all the hype and praise, it's just crazy...

Track #3

Birkir: Now for something totally, totally different! He sings in German. Oh, man, this is interesting in that Voïvod meets Voodoocult sort of way. But the low-end and heaviness here exceed the aforementioned bands and place these guys much closer to this current time in heavy music. That said, the genre-less-ness (yeah, I just wrote that) makes this song immune to trends and waves. This song is as creative and artistic as it is crushing and cold. I cannot wait for the reveal here, because this is the type of music I love to sink my teeth into in peace, and just marinate in all the ideas and madness, taking it all in. I'm going to send this over to my friend, Bogi, as soon as possible. This is something else. I'm so excited by this that I'm compelled to share it on my personal Facebook. People need to hear this oddity. A brave, trend-killing monster this number is. When I come to think of it, this echoes the Strigaskór Nr. 42 song I gave you. Both are subversive and strange, yet totally satisfying.

Eisenvater, "Vater Kommt!," from IV (Unundeux, 2009)

Andrew: Hell yeah! I'm so glad you like this! Here we have another criminally underrated outfit in the form of Germany's Eisenvater—one of several incredibly impressive and unique bands that I was introduced to many years ago by Roderic Mounir from Knut. Eisenvater did three superb albums on We Bite in the early- to mid-'90s, and then there was a 14-year gap. (Again, not unlike Strigaskór Nr. 42, how about that!?) IV is probably their most diverse effort, and I just love the twistedly droning melodic weirdness of this piece—which may be my all-time favorite of their tracks. I mean, shit, they basically make an instrumental "chorus" out of a killer, surging riff... how cool is that?

I highly recommend all of their work, though. Some of their older stuff is just heavy as fuck, like someone dumping molten tar onto Helmet or something. To me, Eisenvater is one of those bands that deserves some kind of insane box set discography collection—like what happened with Craw recently—though I highly doubt it would ever happen. But, hey, a man can dream, can't he?

Track #4

Birkir: Ahhh, that bass tone. Everyone had it back in the day, especially the NYC/east coast hardcore-inspired bands worldwide. Man, this sounds like something from a Lost and Found Records comp! I detect a bit of an accent here. Euros? Another acoustic guitar part. New school hardcore. A harder-sounding Boy Sets Fire meets Stillsuit. (Remember them?) But, unlike the latter, this is a bit too heavy-handed. It needs a fire. It feels almost subdued. I'm not too crazy about this song. Although this is almost my era, it leaves something to be desired. I feel like I have to think on it too much to write something pertinent and sufficient, but in my heart of hearts I just want to hear the next track on your list!

Lash Out, "Caress of Solitude," from Lash Out/Ambition Split (Discipline, 1997)

Andrew: You're breaking my heart, here! Fuck! This doesn't kill you!? Man, these are not just any Euros, but for my money the greatest European metallic hardcore band of all time: Lash Out! This song was re-recorded for their What Absence Yields full-length, and that version did lose a little of the fire, but... this version? Perfect. This one was recorded earlier in the '90s during the sessions for their excellent Worn Path EP, but was released a bit later on an excellent split CD with fellow Norwegians Ambition (another great, great band that I highly recommend). The bass tone, the drive of the bass intro, that first crushing midpaced rhythm... holy shit, man, it gives me chills every time. I love, love, love this band, though. They're right up there with Integrity for me in terms of dark, innovative '90s metalcore. Without a doubt one of the most underrated hardcore bands of the '90s.

Track #5

Birkir: Here we go. Fun for the whole family: droning, sordid, hellish, frightening noise. The absence of rhythm, and that dreaded feeling of falling into darkness is prevalent here. Lots of white noise screeches and distortion and those rumbling, low, and thundering clanks make this piece industrial and cold. This would be fitting for the another-dimension-hell scenes in Event Horizon, or those instances where the dark lord appears in Prince of Darkness. Obviously this track is evoking in me vivid images and scenes from movies, and that's a testament to noise that works and connects. That's an accomplishment in my mind, because most of the time I'm not sure what to do with noise music. My perspective isn't clear and it makes me nervous... nervous in my ignorance, in that I can't speak with authority when it comes to this genre. In turn, it makes it more intriguing to me, and reminds me that I neglect it far too often. And here's an old man assumption: noise music must fare worse in this age of instant gratification and short attention spans, no?

Teeth Engraved With the Names of the Dead, "Closed City," from Above//Below (Sol y Nieve, 2015)

Andrew: This is Teeth Engraved With the Names of the Dead. I have a few friends who react similarly to you as far as noise is concerned, in that they feel uncertain and/or unqualified to assess it, and definitely tend to draw cinematic parallels to film. Teeth Engraved is a painstakingly perfectionist unit, and I think that shows in the quality of their output. There's something very fluid and intentional about the atmospheres. You can tell that time and effort are involved. A six-minute composition doesn't get thrown together on the fly in six minutes. No way.

And even beyond the literal sounds, something that impresses me the most about this project is that they are very accessible as far as their process and influences are concerned. There's no pretending or pretension, they're not trying to be all secretive or mysterious—just real, down-to-earth people making cool music that draws from a lot of atypical influences (both thematically and musically). I regularly email back and forth with half of the duo, MZ, and I can guarantee you that there is no other noise artist out there that is more musically open. He and I don't agree on everything, but it always blows my mind how similar our tastes are. I mean, come on: who else in the noise world could I possibly talk to about Clockhammer, Theory of Ruin, or The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, to name but a few!? Hell, he and I were just talking about Boilermaker the other day! I love it!

Birkir's Picks:

Track #1

Andrew: Whoa, this opens up sounding a shitload like Withstand, who I selected back in Episode 6, but then heads into a chunky thrash metal direction. Despite my penchant for the classic era of thrash, I'm not familiar with this band. At times reminiscent of Slammer, but it's definitely not them. Hmmm, these lyrics about the "medicine man, stealing your soul" make me feel like I should really know who this is. Lyrically it seems to be a track about heroin abuse. I don't think I've ever heard this before, though, because the production is a little weird. The guitar tone is decent, but the drums are too loud, the bass isn't quite "bassy" enough, and everything just sounds a little bit hollow and separated. This leaves the vocals out on their own a bit, which unfortunately accentuates some of their weaknesses. Not so bad, though. A pretty standard six-minute midpaced thrash track, probably from '89 - '91, complete with tons of meaty rhythms (which I can always go for) and dueling guitar solos. Man, this is really taking me back to Episode 6, because that was also when you chose Wrathchild America, and I had a similar reaction. I have so much thrash from this era in my collection, but I just have no idea who this could possibly be. When you reveal the details, I'll be interested to determine why this album has not been on my radar before. (Perhaps I'll be horribly embarrassed as well?) Assuming this is not some moderately well-known group that I've somehow managed to avoid for decades, please do be sure to share with me how the hell you've discovered this band!? Yeah, I'd definitely buy this album.

Jersey Dogs, "Medicine Man," from Thrash Ranch (Grudge, 1990)

Birkir: I was but a boy in 1990, so I didn't have any of the notions I do now, but I quickly felt there was something off with this band. I loved the music, but there was something awkward going on outside of it. See, now I feel the Jersey Dogs were just clueless and tactless, really. Firstly, the band name is crap. Secondly, the album title, Thrash Ranch, is just juvenile. And the cover "art," sweet Jesus... would you look at that? Even Bango Tango would have turned down all three: the name, the title, and the album cover. I imagine they took some PR nonsense from their label manager to heart and everything went off the rails from that point on, helping these guys into almost perfect obscurity. Which is too bad, because this album is pretty good (check out "Why Is," "Posse of Doom," and "Another Pretty Day," all YouTube-able) and has some good tracks on it that could have competed with the early-'90s wave of "Lexus thrash" bands going for that polished approach (Death Angel, Testament, Flotsam and Jetsam, Defiance, etc.).

In the interest of keeping this conversational, I'm not going to Google this-and-that and pretend I know anything about the band. In my early-teens I knew nothing about this band, and I still don't. There was nothing on them in the European metal press, and the European Headbangers Ball was probably oblivious to their existence. But here's the kicker: I was in a record store in a village called Neskaupstaður, in the east of Iceland. A tiny fishing village. The store was and is still called Tónspil. I travelled to this place on the reg to pick up thrash and death metal albums. The store's owner told me I'd probably like Thrash Ranch. I had flipped past it many times because it looked so lame, so I figured the music would be lame as well. But it wasn't.

You are right about the production—vocals and everything. Some of the lyrics are pretty daft, it seems like they believed in another dimension after we die and that sort of stuff. Those leads, though... fuck, they are so damn good.

Track #2

Andrew: Huge changeup! This sounds like some kind of fucked up industrial circus music or something. Rammstein meets Mr. Bungle. Certainly not the kind of thing I'd choose to listen to, but it's fine. Weird, but listenable. I like the groove of the drumming, so I wonder if that's something that has drawn you to this piece? The vocals sound kind of German, but I think I made out the phrase "spinal cord," so I'm not sure. I'd lean towards guessing that this is a European group, but I just have no idea what to make of this. How do people categorize this? Is it one of those funky new made-up genres like that "witch house" duo ∆AIMON that you dished out in Episode 3? It's interestingly bizarre, I have to give 'em that...

Strigaskór Nr. 42, "Maur," from Armadillo (Hellthrasher, 2015)

Birkir: Strigaskór Nr. 42 have always been on their own trip. Entirely. A heady death metal band from the early-'90s Icelandic metal scene. They sounded like nobody, and that became more prevalent as they moved forward. Each release would be stranger than its predecessor. They were and still are a truly singular band. No one on the planet sounds like them, I feel. This is especially true of their 1994 release, Blót. I mean, one cannot compare it to anything. There aren't any reference points. You can't say that about many bands, can you?

I digress, because this track is not from Blót. This is from the band's 2015 release, Armadillo. 20 years passed between releases! Ironically, this new release is somehow comparable to pioneering US noise rock, but with a weird, unorthodox take on it—Iceland style. So, yeah, it has this bizarro aura to it. The boys being much older now, I feel like they've let their heads down a bit and went for a more punch-heavy (this makes no sense) and simpler approach to the music. That said, Armadillo is plenty eclectic and dynamic. In all honesty, "Maur" isn't a textbook song to mirror the album after. You owe it to yourself to listen to the whole thing and wrestle it to the ground.

Track #3

Andrew: Alright, I'm in. This sort of reminds me of the earlier Burst stuff, circa the In Coveting Ways EP, but—again—I have no clue who this is, so I need to know so I can investigate immediately. Just awesome metalcore that's got a nice balance of sinister melody and some of the more caustic style of dissonant aggression. Perhaps not the finest songwriting, but loads of cool riffs, and there are indeed some powerful segments—when they hit the mark, it rules. The production is a touch flat, but I can live with it. I can't argue with this style of riffing, it just does the trick for me almost every time. Perhaps it's my age, but this doesn't sound dated to me either. This could have come out in 1996, 2006, or last week. This is a great pick, another one that has me really eager for the reveal!

Driven, "Pyramid of the Ants," from Cowardice Consumer of the West (Goodlife, 1999)

Birkir: This is Holland's Driven. Often associated with the H8000 wave. Time-wise, it makes sense, but they are not Belgian. This having been released on Goodlife Recordings furthered said association. Another thing that sets them apart from their Belgian counterparts are the lyrics. They are much, much wordier, more complex, and smarter than your regular H8000 lyrics. Scholarly, even. When I was younger, this appealed to me a great deal, because "educated lyrics" gave new school and metallic hardcore added gravitas in my isolated, Icelandic-village brain. Case in point: Endeavor and Catharsis. Yes, they were a long way away from Dismember and 25 ta Life, so... I digress!

The album's production is shit, you are right. Totally flat, but if one puts an ear to it, one will find it oozes with great ideas—although the composition of ideas into songs lacks maturity and economy. But to be young, it's hard to contain oneself. These guys were well young, and probably well hung. (Fuck, I didn't sleep much, sorry. Horrid sense of humor there. Who am I? Anyway...) There's an urgency to this album, and the spirit of Earth Crisis' Gomorrah's Season Ends and Zao's Liberate Te Ex Inferis is palpable—along with a tapestry of influences and ideas thrown together into a cocktail that isn't resoundingly successful, but interesting. It always made me wonder: if they had stuck it out longer, maybe maturity would have harnessed those ideas better, resulting in a stellar album later on? We will never know.

P.S. Thanks for reminding me how much I love Burst's In Coveting Ways. I'll have you know that I like Prey on Life better, though. It is perfect.

Track #4

Andrew: Hmmm, I'm a minute in and I'm starting to get bored. They took it too far with the slow intro build-up, 'cause I don't think it's going to have been worth the wait once it finally gets going. Yeah, fuck that, they should've just kicked in right away with the four-count. Oh, wait, but now it's meandering back into a weird place with all these noodly guitar riffs and improvisational-sounding elements. I don't know. The basslines are awesome, and when everyone locks together and it's just kind of a rockin' punk groove it's cool, but this doesn't need to be almost six minutes long. This could have been a perfectly good two-minute, slightly left-of-center punk rock jam. I can totally respect that that might have been lame and boring for the musicians, though, so they're heading in different directions. I'm not trying to bash anything, it's just not for me. I'm still interested to discover who this is, though.

Brutal Juice, "Doorman," from Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult (Interscope, 1995)

Birkir: This one comes with a bit of a story attached to it, because I'm not gonna bandy band names around and such to go with the track itself. So, I'm an exchange student in Germany. The year is 1996. I live in an industrial city close to Dresden. So close, in fact, that I ride my bike to Dresden's liveliest neighborhood, called Neustadt. And there's a key reason for me doing this on the reg: it's a record store called Central Organ. It carries a large, eclectic selection of vinyl and CDs. I spend most days by myself, so I figured I'd ride into the city, browse some records seemingly randomly, and have a listen. This store is great because you pick the albums, un-sleeve them, put them under a needle, and drink your beer. No smart phones or wi-fi to distract you. I pull out this Brutal Juice album, 'cause for a second there I thought it was Brutal Truth—a band I was very familiar with. The music starts playing and I'm intrigued with the fuzzy and dynamic punk I'm hearing. It's catchy and energetic as hell, too. It's weird for a metalhead such as myself. I can feel the lawlessness and drugs pouring through the headphones. That's really how I felt. Wild! "Doorman" stood out to me. I liked the Girls Against Boys-like intro build-up (that you don't like!), and after the song had finished, I decided to buy the damn thing. Also that day, Starkweather's Into the Wire, Crass' Christ - The Album, and Doom's Fuck Peaceville ended up in my bag. What a lovely day!

Track #5

Andrew: Boilermaker. I knew even before the vocals kicked in at 0:02. I absolutely adore this track. I've sung this song at the top of my lungs in my car many, many times. So good. So fucking good. I mean, in what other context could the line, "Mow the lawn, the grass has gotten so long I can't walk through it..." feel so gut-wrenchingly poignant? My memory is fading badly these days, but this is taking me right back to when I heard "Pathos Delay" on an Extent Fanzine sampler CD in college and lost my mind. These songs still hit me just as hard today. This one, "Pathos Delay," "Whitewash"... guaranteed I've shed tears to these tracks on more than one occasion. I'm not writerly enough to sit here and type out some meaningfully artistic treatise on just how emotionally powerful this music is, but I'm okay with that, because the music should do the talking. If you listen to this song and feel nothing... that's a problem. I'd have a hard time being polite about that. And this one in particular is even more touching seeing that Boilermaker's bassist/vocalist, Terrin Durfey, passed away from cancer in 2008.

So long, not long before I'm gone...

Fuck. Brutal. He was only 34. Just tragic. I'm glad the music lives on, and may have grown even stronger in his absence. If you never heard his final band, The Jade Shader, look them up, too. R.I.P. Terrin Durfey.

Boilermaker, "Switch," from Watercourse (Goldenrod, 1994)

Birkir: Oh, boy, you are really feeling this, aren't you? Let me tell you, I did (and do), too. In fact, my old group of friends, we also felt this song and this band on a deep, deep level. The operative word here being "feeling." I just picture you gettin' all emotional revisiting this song. The same can be said about me. This song in particular moves me like few others, and brings up incredible memories. Boilermaker was a special band. Terrin Durfey's style was wholly unique and instantly recognizable. That's what all bands wish for but don't have. And this is not me taking something away from the music, because when Boilermaker hit their stride, something special happened. By no means a perfect catalog of songs, but some of them are unforgettable. This must be the pinnacle of success for any self-respecting musician, right? I'm rambling off topic here...

We've confirmed that this song is dear to you and I. The grab bag giveth and revealeth! It connecteth! I do want to add, though, that the older I got—and only in recent years upon watching live clips on YouTube—I learned that Terrin Durfey had a unique way of playing bass. It gave me a newfound appreciation for the songs, and all of a sudden my brain started to isolate his bass work. I started hearing how innovative and imaginative his playing style was. He keeps adding chords and notes you didn't find in other indie rock/emo bands of the time, nor since. This gives me more listening pleasure, adds layers and tones to Boilermaker's music, and gives me a deeper appreciation for what they were doing. I love it when that happens.

R.I.P. Terrin Durfey, and thank you for the music. I wish you were still around to read this.

***

Check out more great music through our previous installments:

  1. Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 1
  2. Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 2
  3. Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 3
  4. Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 4
  5. Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 5
  6. Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 6
  7. Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 7
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