Dennis Berendts is a fellow '90s hardcore survivor. Back then, he played drums in Three Studies for a Crucifixion, a band out of Ohio that I discovered through their 1995 split release with Coleman. Since then, he's been a member of such groups as Black Dove, Dismal, Nukkehammer, and Vile Gash.
The drummer is currently busy with promotion duties for The Kraken, the new album from Brave the Sea, a Celtic rock band he's been a member of for about a year now. Since Brave the Sea just dropped their new album, it was perfect timing for Dennis to talk with me about the record and his previous projects.
You’ve played in a variety of bands with very different sounds. Tell me a bit about your musical upbringing and how it’s informed your path as a musician.
My parents were always listening to music. My mother mostly listened to the radio and my father listened to rock and roll from the '60s and '70s: The Doors, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Grand Funk Railroad, America, stuff like that. My favorite song at toddler age was "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors.
I started getting intensely interested in music when my middle school friend, Mike Guckert, brought me a Master of Puppets tape that he “borrowed” from his brother [laughs]. Soon after that, I made a BMG Music Club order of random '80s thrash metal tapes…and then of course, did what everyone else did…never paid for them. So, it was thrash metal, crossover, and what little punk I could get my hands on in the small town that I lived in, back then I saw all those styles as connected, so it wasn’t weird at all for Misfits, Beyond, Cro-Mags, Holy Terror, COC, Metallica, and Slayer to be my favorite bands. I guess living in the middle of nowhere helped with that, I had no reference for all the different scenes until I was old enough to start driving.
When did you start playing drums?
I think I started trying to play Metallica songs in 9th grade. "Master of Puppets" was the first song I tried to learn on guitar. Pretty stupid idea [laughs]. I started messing around on drums a few years later when Richard (Three Studies for a Crucifixion bass player) bought a drum set and we all tried to figure out how it worked by listening to a D.R.I. song. This was before YouTube mind you, so it was pretty ridiculous trying to figure out how to play drums without any visuals.
The Columbus, OH hardcore/punk scene you came out of in the ‘90s was a strong one. Tell me what is was like from your perspective. I ask because I know sometimes things can look very different from the outside looking in.
One of the first Columbus hardcore shows I went to was No Escape (NJ) at Stache’s in ’92 or ‘93. Before that, I had only been to metal shows. It was like discovering a hidden world. It was kind of intimidating, yet most people that we came across were pretty friendly. Most of the shows I went to were either at Stache’s or Freakin’ Pizza. Both places no longer exist. At this time in Columbus, hardcore was in a post-thrash era, heavy and mid-paced was in, or it was the more polished post hardcore stuff like Quicksand or Farside. Fast hardcore was out. There were a lot of extremes happening, some people were into extreme animal rights or being militant straight edge and then the next year they were doing hard drugs and carrying guns.
Despite all the weird shit going on, I generally tried to get along with everyone as much as possible, but in the end, I never felt completely comfortable in that era of Columbus hardcore, although I still have very fond memories of playing shows, meeting people, and watching bands. Our crew was more into what was going on with bands like Downcast, Citizens Arrest, Born Against, Rorschach, and Heroin, the types of bands that we felt were more into the politics that we identified with and a dirtier sound. Eventually we helped create a new deconstructed hardcore scene, and the old scene died out, for better or for worse.
What are some of the highlights and lowlights of your time in Three Studies for a Crucifixion?
Three Studies for a Crucifixion was a lot of fun. We basically started the band because we wanted to challenge the dogmas of what was going on in the Midwest hardcore scene in the early '90s. We didn’t want to see people “grooving out” or anything like that, we wanted to play fast, ugly music. Our second show was a packed show at Freakin’ Pizza with the Revelation Records band, Sense Field, probably 1994. While we had nothing against that band (I loved Reason to Believe, the singer’s previous band) it was such a beautiful thing to play and just watch the whole room empty out because our music was so ugly. This was a major victory because it was like the trumpets were calling to usher in the new era. The most rewarding times of the band had to have been going on tour over and over again with our life-long friends in Harriet the Spy and Coleman. We went all over the place and played in all kinds of stupid places: A Ponderosa in North Dakota, Maine in the middle of winter, a health food co-op in Boston, a laundromat in Cincinnati, you name it.
The lowlight would be what ended up happening to the Columbus hardcore scene that we helped create. By 1998 it was plagued by call-out culture, egos, and in-fighting. We no longer enjoyed being part of that scene and had pretty much separated ourselves by that point. In 1998 I had come back from Montreal for a month to record an album and 2 songs for the split 8” with Melt Banana. The album was recorded, but never got finished. We played our last show at Little Brother’s with Melt Banana at the end of that month long stay back in Columbus.
How about Dismal? What’s the abbreviated story behind that band and why didn’t it last longer?
Dismal was active toward the end of the '00s Columbus thrash scene, which was my favorite era of Columbus hardcore. I think it started around 2002 and I became their drummer after Ryan Harkins moved away. It was the first time that I had picked the drums up again since Three Studies ended. Before that, I was in The Awakening, playing guitar and I was pretty close to the Dismal members since it was members of Killed in Action. I was pretty rusty, but that was ok since Dismal was a Discharge/Anti-Cimex type band. On the 7” we released, I couldn’t even play a proper D-beat yet. We had another recording planned that just didn’t happen because Brian (from the Cincinnati band, The Dead Hate the Living, who later joined on second guitar) and Travis moved away, maybe I could have redeemed by shitty drumming if that recording happened.
Black Dove was another band you played in and the No Future No Fate album is definitely underrated. What’s the story on that band and how do you view that era of your discography?
Black Dove was me plus 3 members of The Dead Hate the Living and even though I could sense that people were getting tired of what was being called lounge-crust or stadium-crust at the time, we wanted to do a really heavy Swedish hardcore meets metal type band even though the trend was going toward back to basics, raw hardcore. Stubborn assholes, I guess...but in a lot of ways it was the logical sound for a melding of the two bands (The Awakening and Dead Hate the Living). Black Dove was around for a couple years, did a few tours with Fighting Dogs from Philly and Gasmask Terror from France. It was a lot of fun, except for me having to drive to Cincinnati every weekend to practice. After the 12” and after Robbie replaced Brian on guitar, we recorded 10 songs at CDR in 2010 that we were supposed to release 2 different EPs with, but those recordings are MIA after the CDR studio packed it up. Are you seeing a pattern here with unreleased recordings? You don’t want to know how many unfinished recordings I have been a part of.
Nukkehammer found you going for the throat on some D-beat shit. What was that experience like and how did that band initially come together?
Nukkehammer is with Matt from Three Studies/Teeth of the Hydra and Laser from Dismal/Killed In Action/The Ordeal, those two are among my favorite people on the planet. I have known Matt since elementary school and Laser for almost 20 years now. Nukkehammer is just the perfect set up for 3 old men that still love hardcore. I don’t remember exactly how it happened because Black Dove was still going at the time, but Laser and I just wanted to get together and play some raw Finnish style hardcore and when Matt got on board it just turned into the d-beat, Japanese hardcore meets COC glorious mess that it is. Nukkehammer is still active, but we’re not trying to go crazy with the band, we just play shows when we feel like it. We rarely play outside Columbus, but we did do one West Coast tour with Vile Gash in 2011. That probably won’t happen again.
Vile Gash isn’t too far away from Nukkehammer, from a sonic standpoint.
Yeah, Vile Gash gets seen in a completely different light than Nukkehammer because of the Youth Attack connection, but essentially, you are right, they are pretty similar. Vile Gash just has more of a negative Midwest US hardcore '80s vibe, like Negative Approach or something like that. I was asked to join in 2007 or 2008 after their first demo tape. I guess me on drums explains why the D-beats creep in to Vile Gash, but a lot of the early USHC bands were also influenced by Discharge, so fuck it, I don’t see a problem with it. I knew Mark McCoy from Charles Bronson in the '90s. I always saw that band as a kindred spirit to Three Studies because they also liked to stir shit up and challenge people. We played with them and some other Chicago bands back then, like MK-Ultra and Los Crudos, they were all nice folks.
There is a lot of weird speculation and stories about Mark and his label, that’s just how the hardcore scene is, I guess. People like to talk. He’s great to work with, he’s really passionate about what he does and he’s always super enthusiastic about Vile Gash and what we have going on. Vile Gash released a new 12” recently.
That brings us to Brave the Sea, again, a band completely different from anything you’ve done before. How did you come to join the band and how would you describe the group’s sound?
Brave the Sea is a Celtic rock band from the town that I live in, Newark, OH. They have been at it for 3 years and kind of just do what they want, musically, but generally it’s upbeat and has a fast paced punk feel with some other flavors here and there. I was friends with Matt the mandolin/guitar player and Matt the bass player through work (there’s freaking 3 Matts in the band and 5 of the 6 members work together). About a year ago, Nick, the drummer quit the band to go to college and they asked me to join. Drummers are always in demand, right? They were my work friends and I enjoyed their band, so fuck it, why not. Besides, most of the time, I am playing the same 1-2 drum beat like I do in Vile Gash. It was a great decision to join, it has been a blast. It has also been extremely eye opening playing to a totally different crowd of people.
Brave the Sea just released a new album called The Kraken. What can folks expect from the new music?
The Kraken has some songs that locals will recognize and some newer ones that they won’t. We’re all really happy with the recording, I love how fast paced it is while it also has some cool other types of songs on it, like some heavier tracks and even some vocal only songs. Could you imagine an acapella Vile Gash song? Not sure if the world is ready for that [laughs].
Before I let you go, what is the best record to ever come out of the Ohio punk scene?
Damn. Tough call. Does Dead Boys' Young Loud and Snotty LP count?