Ahhh, "the bag." When I took a break from writing in 2012, it was the Mystery Grab Bag that drew me back in—alongside my pal Birkir from Halifax Collect—toward the end of 2013. That led to a three-year run with No Echo, and now that I've stepped aside from that to come back here where I belong, I'm absolutely thrilled to see the grab bag follow. As usual, it took us some time—nearly a year!?—to get back around to things, but I'll take what I can get, 'cause these damn experiments are so much fun!
The usual rules applied: five unlabeled tracks with no band names, no song or album titles, no artwork, and no dates. We listened blindly, and reacted spontaneously. These are the results…
Birkir: Production values scream early- to mid-'90s underground metal. Acid Bath-like vocals, so I'm gonna go safe here and predict this is some NOLA stuff. Palm-muted, gritty shit here—like when all these bands from that area married sludge metal with sketchy hardcore. Did he say he was "living in a box"? Is his friend living in a box, or just some guy he keeps passing in some alleyway where he lives, thus becoming the catalyst for this song? "Hear my pleas!" A nice tempo transition before that last "living in a box" part. "FUCK THIS BOX, I'M COMING OUT!" I think I like this. Yes, I do. It's a bit skittish with all them starts 'n' stops, but I'll allow it. Now I want to listen to the Bath and Graveyard Rodeo.
Graveyard Rodeo, "Choices," from On the Verge (Century Media, 1994)
Andrew: Ha! Dude! You're dead on! This is Graveyard Rodeo! Nicely done. I'm impressed. I must admit that I was very late to this band. I always thought that "Graveyard Rodeo" was an oddly cool band name, but it wasn't until several years ago when I read that Pepper Keenan had been an early member that I decided I had to really check 'em out (even though he was long gone by the time the band's albums came together). This is by far my favorite Graveyard Rodeo tune. As a whole, they were perhaps not the most memorable group from the legendary NOLA scene, but that Christdriver-esque opening riff of "Choices" just hooked the shit outta me right away. This song is dark and grimy and hard as nails. So good.
Birkir: Ahhh, this is way more solid. Starts out with mute heaviness and then into a grunge/post-hardcore clean guitar part. Remember when bands… no, fuck! METAL! Yeah! What a turn. '90s again, for sure, that sound. Not particularly down-tuned. Got way thrashy real quick. Oh, death/thrash riff fucking mania here. Death metal vocalist. This is such a lethal combination, because it renders the music very, very aggressive. This is like if Malevolent Creation and Demolition Hammer were having a land dispute. They'd reach a compromise by leaving a strand between the two camps that wouldn't belong to either side. In that "middle," this band rears its ugly head. I'm all about it.
P.S. Those ploddy fast drums with that flammy bass drum pattern: Kreator and Sodom gave us that. I'm now wishing the tea in my cup turned into a beer.
Massacra, "Revealing Cruelty," from Enjoy the Violence (Shark, 1991)
Andrew: This is Massacra, from France. Their band name and album covers could suggest that perhaps they were a super intense Brazilian death metal band or something, but hard-hitting French death/thrash it is! I was lucky enough to score an original CD copy of their second album, Enjoy the Violence, many years ago, but only picked up reissues of their other two early-'90s discs within the past five years or so. "Revealing Cruelty" just might be their masterwork. It's the perfect blend of furious aggression that occasionally borders on the chaotic with hints of melody and subdued catchiness—all wrapped up in a short-but-sweet running time. Until you mentioned it, I had never realized how "misleading" and potentially hardcore-ish the intro is. Now that I think about it, I could totally envision that opening having been employed by a band like Lash Out, Withstand, etc. Such a killer intro, right!?
Birkir: The first two songs were really snappy, and this one is just over three minutes as well. There's no way in hell this band wasn't hated by a bunch of people, made enemies, and got into trouble. Again, the drum sound—especially the snare and cymbals—barely crawled over the number 1990. This one is the hardest one yet when it comes to putting my finger on it. This breakdown into that acoustic occult part, it has to end in some majorly aggressive endgame with the singer losing his mind. Well, look at you, Birkir: the song just did the opposite and ended by going off a cliff, plunging right into silent darkness. Wasn't expecting that. This is a curious song. I'm super eager to see who this is. I'm guessing some established hardcore personalities that got bored of just doing the East Coast hardcore assault type of stuff and formed a metal band that never caught on.
Dare to Defy, "Slow Plunge," from Philly Dust Krew (Too Damn Hype, 1994)
Andrew: Your choice of words with "plunging right into silent darkness" couldn't have been more perfect for this one! This is the almighty Dare to Defy, from Philadelphia, PA. This is my kinda shit right here. I mean, that fucking chorus speaks to me, man:
Slow plunge. So depressed you can't feel the hurt. Lying face down in the dirt. Nothing ever improves with age. I'm living my life in a dark endless stage…
"Slow Plunge" must have been one of their most classic songs, because it appeared in various forms on a shitload of their assorted releases. The version I sent you is from the Philly Dust Krew compilation (also featuring Starkweather, Hard Response, and All Out War). I fucking love Dare to Defy, and at this point in the mid-'90s they were doing some of the coolest and most truly dark and powerful metalcore out there. To this day I simply don't understand why they're not quite as fondly revered as some of their contemporaries. You can still get most of their releases for very fair prices online. It's baffling. So, yeah… buy all that shit now before the collectors wake up and ruin it for you!
Birkir: Your part of the bag could have been a '90s underground metal comp. This sounds like a demo for a band that then caught on and became a thing. Nice drumming. I just love how they lost the drummer but just kept going and found the tempo again. Raw as fuck. The singer just channeled his inner Kam Lee back there, "IT'S A NIGHTMARE THAT YOU CAN'T HIDE!" "Reality has found your make believe horrors," did he just say that? I'm not sure what that means, but I'll allow it. These guys are very concerned with dreams. Is this Dream Theater? I know my way outta here… Some editing would have made this song stronger. Bunch of cool ideas here that they decided to cram in. I want to like this song a bit more, but it never really gets its hooks in me. That was often the case with early Atrocity, too.
Suspiria, "Yesterday Beyond," from Psychologically Impaled (Divebomb, 2017)
Andrew: Of course, I now realize that—yet again—my picks for this round have not been diverse enough. Lots of the early-'90s greatness for which I have an enormous soft spot, eh? This is a demo track from 1993, but—believe it or not—this band never "made it." Absolutely shocking. Suspiria was from the Chicago-ish region, and—along with area bands like Sindrome—inexplicably failed to secure a proper record deal despite releasing more than one super-professional demo at a time when third-tier bands (or worse) were being signed left and right. I'll never understand. If you're in the market for high-quality technical death metal with a few mild progressive tendencies, Suspiria's got you covered big time. Thank the music gods for a label like Divebomb Records, who released Suspiria's complete discography earlier this year. (Full disclosure: I got to interview the band for said collection's liner notes.)
Birkir: Deathrock. Cold as hell new wave. Gothy. Flanger, reverb, nifty keyboards. I like it. This song became instantly good. Hopefully the singer won't ruin it. He doesn't! Wow, that guy could fit pop bands of that era. Normally, deathrock bands would feature singers that were more, shall we say… uncomfortable. Those percussion drums that drop in after each pre-chorus… oh, that chorus… yes! Or, was it a chorus? Hopefully it reappears. It did! You are a dark soul, Andrew. Are you at your best in the dark? Do you warm by candles and dress all in black? This song is irresistible. You really know your gothy new wave. That saxophone! It belongs. What a stroke of genius this is. This song doesn't let up. I'm gonna press replay here. Let's reveal, already, because I will be hunting this album down for an immersive listen in one sitting.
Ministry, "The Game is Over," from Trax! Box (Cleopatra, 2015)
Andrew: Al Jourgensen is a fucking genius, and I personally wish Ministry had stuck with this sound for just a touch longer before developing into the groundbreaking industrial mayhem that followed. I mean, this is a god damn unreleased demo cut from 1983! Unreleased! Can you even comprehend!? It never saw the light of day until the superb Trax! Box collection hit the streets a couple of years ago. I absolutely adore everything about this song. The atmosphere is brilliant, it feels so simple but there's more to it, the chorus is mind-blowing, and—as you've cited—the saxophone! Fucking saxophone!? And it rules, too! It's insane to me that a more polished rendition of this track wasn't put together for the With Sympathy album. I finally threw down something like $150 for the Trax! Box set last year, and this song had a lot to do with it. I'm psyched that you appreciate this as well!
Andrew: I'm already loving this driving, midpaced intro chord progression and getting curious to hear how this is going to open up. Okay, whoa, so… this is kinda like a near-perfect fusion of Paradise Lost and Type O Negative with a little tinge of an HM-2 distortion. I'm not sure who this is or when it's from, but I'm guessing this was released within the past five years. Although, it is missing a little something that I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps it lacks a certain oomph or emphasis somewhere? A very good song, though. I enjoy it and would be curious to hear more from this band, there's just something about it that's not quite tapping into the full power of its potential. That being said, I bet you I'll keep listening to this and eventually be like, "Nah, no, this is totally great as-is." Fuck, wait, is this Paradise Lost!? I haven't kept up with them since In Requiem, but the singing sounds pretty damn identical to Nick Holmes here. Not so much the few instances of aggressive snarls, however. The production is quite nice. I would've expected a slightly "bigger" sound if this is Paradise Lost, but, shit… I don't know!?
Paradise Lost, "The Longest Winter," from Medusa (Nuclear Blast, 2017)
Birkir: I was hoping that the Type O Negative-esque city goth sound would cloak Holmes' roar a bit, but of course it didn't. You are right. The mighty Paradise Lost, and how they keep tweaking their sound is always a joy for me. My wagon has been hitched to these guys since the early-'90s, and consequently they are one of the most important metal bands to my life. Now, I haven't heard their yet-to-be-released LP, but if this song is anything to go by, they might be revisiting the more romantic and dunkle side of the catchy doom they started to tease on Shades of God, and then to a further and very successful extent on Icon—lest we forget the slower, more brooding numbers on Draconian Times. With the somewhat hard-hitting death/doom of their last couple of releases, they seem to be coming up for air on "The Longest Winter." And how about that organic, dirge-y drum sound? Totally new to Halifax's most miserable, and totally welcomed by me. That guitar and bass tone are fresh to Paradise Lost as well. Color me excited!
Andrew: Very different from #1, but another good intro that piques my interest right away. There's a little bit of a jangly indie vibe, but a darker undercurrent of aggression. Damn, you've really got my number here, man. This is making me think about our Boilermaker discussion some episodes back. It kind of sounds like a more modern Giants Chair with some hints of Jawbox, and I am very, very, very into this. That part where the lyrics head into the "I never want to die… inside this heart of mine…" passage is killing me. Love it. Turning up the volume. Fuck, why have I not heard this before? Why is this not already in my collection? How old is this? Please tell me this is kinda-sorta new-ish, because if I've been missing out on this since the '90s—and that seems very possible—oof. God damn, this is exactly how "emo" should be done. The production's got a natural feel to it, and the way the vocals are mixed back in with the instruments does lend a '90s vibe, but it's crisp enough that it could be more recent, too. I have no idea. It's so good, though, that I have to lean toward the '90s. Whoever this is, is all of their shit this amazing!?
Unwound, "Disappoint," from The Future of What (Kill Rock Stars, 1995)
Birkir: I knew this would be right up your alley! This is the prolific, criminally underrated Unwound! You are forgiven for not being able to figure this one out. I wasn't really expecting you would, because the hue of their sound shifts a lot during their career. I'm sure you have heard them before—or you have some of their stuff—but this band released tons of incredible songs, and somehow they got overshadowed by even bands that couldn't touch them musically. Unwound seemingly never ran out of ideas, and just when you thought you were in sync with what you were hearing coming out of your speakers, they'd surprise you with a hook or some sort of shocking development that you never saw coming. Truly a magnificent band whose legacy is long overdue for some sort of "across the board" recognition. I'm sure Self Defense Family would tell you they have a permanent boner for Unwound. I know I do. Fantastic!
Andrew: Changing it up again here. Some folky-sounding instruments to kick it off, the composition doesn't have a folk aesthetic, though. Big, thick percussion; nice, soft singing; fuckin' beautiful production. Damn, are there some horns back in there, too? I only have a couple of albums of this nature in my collection—Slacks comes to mind a bit. I don't really know how I'd properly describe this, but I quite enjoy it. The vocals are really interesting in that I think it's a Scandinavian language, but the delivery is such that I can't even decipher enough to tell!? Really nice harmonies, though. Great song. This is just beautiful.
Stafrænn Hákon, "Bræla," from Eternal Horse (Darla, 2015)
Birkir: Yes, horns and mandolin even… I've been listening to this song on the regular for a couple of years now, and I'm always awash in its wavy, dark beauty. This is the Icelandic band Stafrænn Hákon. Much like Unwound, you'll never figure these guys out. They have these subtle and not-so-subtle changes in flair and mood from year to year and even song to song. I believe that's mostly due to band leader Ólafur Josephsson. He's an eccentric dude that's not afraid to go places, but always has a very focused vision somehow. If I'm not mistaken, Stafrænn Hákon was a one-man endeavor that has now fleshed into a band to be reckoned with. Scandinavian languages—Nordic indeed, it is (I'm Yoda now). This is an Icelandic band with Icelandic lyrics. I've long wanted to become their drummer, but there's no need for that. Their drummer is impeccable. I implore our readers to seek out Stafrænn Hákon's last two releases, Eternal Horse and Hausi. Very rewarding. Very.
Andrew: Weird intro on this one, it almost sounds like it could be a movie sample, but I don't think it is. The intro is too long, I want to hear the meat of the track. Okay, cool, I was on the fence, but once the production really opened up it got pretty huge. Ahhh, damn, but now they stripped it back down to that weird intro shit again. They need to cut that out and just let this song rip! I have no clue who this is. It definitely sounds really unique. Blues-based alt.-rock with totally atypical riffs that slip and slide all over the place. Pretty wild guitar tones, too. The meat of the track is awesome, but the way it bounces back and forth between the stripped down narrative elements is annoying and really detracts from its impact. I respect the creativity of the riffing enough to where I'd definitely dig a little deeper into what this band has to offer, though. I'm certainly curious. Newer? Older? Am I losing my touch to discern? Who knows!? I'm admittedly biased against a lot of newer music, so I can't say that I would expect a contemporary group to be exploring such unusual stylings. I'm leaning toward the '90s again with this pick.
Barkmarket, "Visible Cow," from L. Ron (American, 1996)
Birkir: I love the stops, man! Barkmarket ruled, but like Unwound they never got to that level that would grant them success. Even when they got on bigger labels (L. Ron was released by American), nothing really materialized. Well, that's not entirely true, because musically they were always interesting and arresting. To me, at least. I was all about them. I feel like they and Karp should have become so much more, but the press didn't know what to do with them. Or did they not get the best tours with the coolest bands of the time? I don't know. But back to the song…
I knew of this song because my brother, Andri, and Benni Karate of Skátar fame both had CDs by Barkmarket (1-800-GODHOUSE and Vegas Throat, respectively), which I really liked. In 1996, I was in a record store in Leipzig, Germany. I spotted the cover of L. Ron and remembered that I liked these guys, so I bought the thing. Inside was Barkmarket with huge and thicker-sounding production (guitarist/vocalist Dave Sardy would later become somewhat of a super-producer). Still noisy as all hell, but their range was more dynamic and—dare I say—more accessible. I felt like this song would be a sure shot for you! To me, "Visible Cow" is the perfect album opener. It kicks serious ass and it is strange and intriguing. Sweaty and salty. Balls-deep! Listen to "Feed Me" off of the same album. Like Unsane meets The Jesus Lizard, but with more affable vocals.
Andrew: Nice! Excellent fusion of grind and metalcore with a little bit of a D-beat vibe. I can't understand a single lyric, but this is perfectly executed. Killer mix of tempos, powerful vocals, hard-hitting production, and a relatively short and in-your-face running time. I'm not even gonna guess who or when. To my ears this sounds like Enemy Soil meets Burst of Silence, so you can be damn certain that I'd like to hear more from this band!
Die My Will, "10.26.4004," from ...And Still We Destroy (Pin Drop, 1998)
Birkir: DIE MY WILL! I can only write their name in caps, because just listening to them makes me grind my teeth and want to punch nails. I just had to cap the bag off with awesome aggression, what with all the indie and noise rock I've dropped into it. Another band that never got quite up there, but it is more understandable because of the nature of the music and the Pennsylvania scene they rose out of in the mid- to late-'90s. I'm sure this is because of the labels they were released on rather than not getting on long enough or high-profile enough tours. It's just how it goes. Look at me, talking out of my ass. I didn't even live on the same continent and I didn't have the internet, so there!
So many songs of theirs are just filled with pure bile and insane, scratchy energy that oozes blood out of the speakers. Pure punishment. Even their slower, moodier, and more atmospheric (for lack of a better term) tracks have a nervous and violent feel to them. Songs like "Waking the Gods," "Endless Suffering," and "Bertes" come to mind. I mean, how fucking intense and vicious can vocals get? Fuck! This is unforgiving, dark, metallic hardcore just the way we like it. This is my shit! I was totally taken by these guys and other similarly "mean" and "evil" bands of this era. Some of them have come up in the bag before, more will, and a bunch of them have been featured on Aversionline through the years.
Enemy Soil and Burst of Silence are really good guesses, but to me, DIE MY WILL were just better—more solid, more intimidating. Monstrous stuff. Explosive.
Check out more great music through our previous installments: