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Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 9

When it came time to prepare the latest edition of the grab bag, Birkir proposed a novel idea: he wanted to try bringing in a third participant. So, he approached his pal Chris, from the Severed Heads Open Minds blog, and we decided to trim things down to three tracks apiece. Beyond that, the same rules would apply: 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.

Alright, let's get to it…

Andrew's Picks:

Track #1

Birkir: What a fucking song this is from the get go. These guys are obviously not about the finesse, but rather go at it full throttle in a blistering, "eat shit" fashion—not unlike Cryptic Slaughter with a couple of Napalm Death-ish riffs and accentuations in just the right places. The dual vocals just add to the bite, add to the chaos. I fucking love the guy with the "higher" voice. He's on his own trip and that gets me going. They are talking about scientist scum. Yeah! This is going to sound dumb, but if Righteous Pigs had marinated more in the punk/hardcore scene, they might have sounded a bit like this. I'll wager that this is not very old. I cheated and listened to this song three times in a row because this is just what I needed. Makes me wanna do silly shit at a scummy floor show somewhere. Some fuckface is going to tell me that this is obviously an Extreme Noise Terror demo or a rarity. Fuck him. Fuck everyone!

Chris: Sound sample, eh? Of course this would be grind of some sort. Everything about these first 30 seconds has me pointing my fingers to three-piece grind—less like Wormrot and a lot more like the Prowler in the Yard and Terrifyer era of Pig Destroyer. I'm definitely only hearing drums and guitar, right? The snare and toms sound flimsy and overpowered in contrast to the crash—or is that a ride-crash? Birkir would know. Point made at 0:55 in: beat those fucking skins, bud! Definitely a step in the opposite direction from the more emphasized snare and bass drum among the bulk of this ilk… it works, though. Digging his vocal range. It's like the gym-rat hardcore of No Warning and Righteous Pigs met with Obituary and that really filthy Autopsy high-range shrill. It's fast and recorded loud, but shares little with the knee-jerk grind of bands like Discordance Axis and Insect Warfare, nor the gravity blasts of goregrind. This is more simplistic—a primal approach with just as much urgency and vitriol spewing out of it. Very into it, and I'm eager to hear who this is so I can berate myself for not digging hard enough in my music-digging escapades. I once had a Rotten Sound shirt that said on the back, "Fast music for stupid people."

Nyctophobic, "They," from Insects (Morbid, 2000)

Andrew: This is Nyctophobic, from Germany, off of their second and final full-length, Insects. A very underrated band that delivers grindcore in exactly the manner that I prefer: straightforward, powerful, and to the point, but not without feeling and a dash of creativity to boot. This was a backup selection because I couldn't find my favorite track from this album, "Co(g)-existence," online at the time. Of course, now I see that their debut was recently reissued on vinyl, and they have a Bandcamp page, so perhaps I could have used "Co(g)-existence" after all!? Damnit! Anyway, I'm glad this material is on Bandcamp now, because despite the fact that I love this album and have recommended this group many, many times over the years, I have to admit that for some inexplicable reason, Insects and the split 7" with Exhumed are the only Nyctophobic releases in my personal collection, and that's just not right. I need to take care of that problem, in fact.

P.S. They're a five-piece! With bass!

Track #2

Birkir: Oh, baby Jesus, here we go. Cavernous, cacophonous, dark, and dense black metal. Drum machine here. That usually irks me some, and it does here because the beat work is fairly standard for the genre, and could easily be pulled off by a human with sticks in its ass and hands. Maybe this is such a subversive artist that he/she avoids contact with other musicians, hence the no drummer situation. Ahhh, when it breaks down it gets good. Nothing earth-shattering, but they manage to conjure that cold breeze most bands fail at. Oh, what an interesting switch at around the 2:40 mark. Yes. Very nice. Cool how this track gets progressively more interesting. That "wild screaming" part had me all fired up. So, that's that then, I like this and I'd very much wanna hear more. Am I alone in preferring four- to five-song black metal releases?

Chris: This fades into absolute armageddon. Hmmm, this sounds like something De Magia Veterum would do pre-Migdal Bavel, but much bleaker—more in the same vein as GGUW, but definitely not them, as they only have three known songs. A fury of blasts batter against a howling wind tunnel of fast tremolo riffs and something that sounds like a heavily-muffled column of ghastly howls and noise—it's all repetition with no fills or distinctive breaks so far… This is black metal, to be certain, likely with only one member and a drum machine? Ah ha, vocals. What did he say? "From the old land of…," or maybe that wasn't even English, it very well could be Finnish, for all I know. It has the pedigree to be "trve" Norwegian black metal, but it's black metal, after all; so this could be a dude from an outskirt island outside of Bolivia churning out evil shit in a closet with a Fisher-Price microphone. But, my money is on Eastern Europe. That main riff is friggin' cold, man, and brittle from the snowy forest from whence it came. So many one-man black metal bands out there experimenting that I won't even bother to make any comparisons, but I'm pretty sure I don't know it. The bulk of the song sounds the same—weaving in and out of frigid black metal—but the standout part of this song is definitely around 3:10, when the vocalist desperately heaves out a throat-like series of cries in a type of shamanistic rage.

Jotunspor, "Ginnungagalder," from Gleipnirs Smeder (Satanas Rex/Candlelight, 2006)

Andrew: This is Jotunspor, which was a side project from King (Gorgoroth, Sahg, God Seed, Ov Hell, etc.) and Kvitrafn (Gorgoroth, Sahg, Wardruna, etc.) that released one album, Gleipnirs Smeder, in 2006 on Satanas Rex—a new (at the time) sub-label of U.K. experimental imprint Cold Spring Records that does not appear to have been very productive. Unfortunately, the same can be said of Jotunspor, as I've been hoping for a decade now that they would resurface with new material, but that seems highly unlikely. This album does indeed have a bit of a busy, claustrophobic sound due to its infusion of experimental noise textures into a base of somewhat commonplace (yet high-quality) Norwegian black metal, but the end result definitely feels interesting and unique to me as a whole. King has amassed a sizeable discography over the years, but Jotunspor remains by far my favorite of the assorted offshoot projects that he's been involved with. You can't deny the aesthetic of that cold, winding riff that kicks in at 1:23 here. I'm such a sucker for that stuff…

Track #3

Birkir: It's Johnny and the boys! I lived by this album when I was 13 or 14 years old. "Blow up the world!" Such simple savagery. It's funny how they stuck with this approach for so many years. "Go ahead, end it all!" As you've probably surmised from my response here, I know this like the back of my hand. This is the opening track from the Shadows in the Deep album (superior to Where No Life Dwells). The name of the track escapes me. I'm not gonna break my promise and Google it. "Battle…" something. There's the word "battle" in the title. Oh, back to the song. That tempo change that renders the "last goodbye" section as a mosh part. That was the great thing back in those days: young death metal dudes weren't writing for violent pitting, but when they'd break down for tempo changes it would often lead to carnage-inducing pit feels that later metallic hardcore bands could only dream about. Those bands tried too hard, but Entombed, Unleashed, and Gorefest seemingly just happened upon the hardest parts. I could go on forever here…

Chris: Absolutely no hesitation right off the bat, as an echoed scream wrestles over a blastbeat and thrashy riffs. Fuck, again I look toward bands like Bolt Thrower. You'd think Bolt Thrower is the only death metal I listen to. In a genre absolutely beaten to death (that was a pun joke) by copycats and inspired musicians, it's really hard to nail down the specifics unless you are already well-acquainted, and even then you can scan the abyssal depths of your iTunes for at least 13 other bands that sound similar. Okay, I think I'm just making excuses. This shit is good, though, everything about it, so far. I look into my crystal ball and see the past, I think it's the '90s… that, or these guys have nailed nostalgia on the penis head. This sounds like pioneering shit, as if they wrote the book on writing heavy. Everything happened so quick, I need to listen through 10 more times. Okay… 50 seconds in is the best, this is what the heavier side of hardcore sounds like to me, and it makes me want to lift up heavy things. And that power grunt at 1:17 into that groove is just perfect… and then a wretched-sounding solo, sounding like it's been summoned from the carnal depths of the abyss. Just great. This bears some resemblance to the Morbid Insulter song I posted—or at least an ethos from a not-so-separate world. Curious to know what this is, and I wouldn't even be surprised if this is some EP/demo song from Bolt Thrower or Autopsy, because apparently that's all I listen to anyway.

Unleashed, "The Final Silence," from Shadows in the Deep (Century Media, 1992)

Andrew: Correct, Birkir! You were only mistaken about the title, and I would never fault you for that!

As mentioned, I have realized that my picks this time out were simply not diverse enough: three bands from Europe, all aggressive forms of metal, etc. And Unleashed, in particular, is a bit more of a "high profile" and recognizable selection than I would normally have gone for, but… it is what it is! To be honest with you, I am not the biggest Unleashed fan out there, and have not really kept up with them since Across the Open Sea. That being said, "The Final Silence" is a flawless track—without a doubt Unleashed's finest, in my opinion—and has such a direct hardcore/punk type of attack to it that it's impossible not to love. I mean, it immediately kicks off so fast and hard, and the very first time I heard that chorus—"Blow up the world, the final silence! Blow up the world, I don't give a damn!"—I was fuckin' hooked. Few of Swedish death metal's many greats have written as catchy and in your face a chorus as that gem, have they?

Birkir's Picks:

Track #1

Andrew: Okay, melodic hardcore that starts out somewhat straightforward with a lot of energy, but ends up flirting with a range of other styles. Cool production overall. That bass tone is phenomenal and lends a bit of a crustier sort of punk edge to things, but there's also a looseness to some of the guitar textures that brings in a post-hardcore vibe as well. Then you've got the almost screamo-ish style of impassioned vocals and lyrics. The track ends up taking a little bit of a noisier and more intense turn that's musically reminiscent of screamo as well, but more like screamo gone grind or something. I'd like to see the lyrics, I'm sure they're interesting. The standout line that I can decipher is, "If you've got an ounce of hate in your heart, ask yourself: what the fuck are you so afraid of?" But then that's followed by something about "if being gay is the ultimate sin," which lends a socio-political undercurrent that I didn't quite expect. I'm thinking this is a European band, but I could be wrong, it's not obvious. I'm so out of touch that this could easily be a fairly popular group that I just have no awareness of.

Chris: "Just because you don't understand the world, doesn't mean it doesn't make any fucking sense." -Unknown

Great way to start a song, and judging by the dude's hint of an accent, we have some metallic hardcore from Europe. That snare is so simple, but sounds so good! Wicked, that bridge at 0:23 with the galloping pace is the bread and butter of early metalcore. Makes me think of a young Darkest Hour, but now we're back into darkened hardcore waters—less like the dissonant, heavy atmosphere of Celeste, and a lot more like Goodtime Boys or No Omega. "If you've got an ounce of hate in your heart, ask yourself: what the fuck are you so afraid of?" straddles the line of puerile, sappy tropes when heard out of context… They must be young—certainly not the Neil Young generation. And now I'm thrown off by his accent. The hell is it? I can't tell if that's a slight British twang or what, but in the moment when the singer says "is the ultimate sin," I hear that same partial swagger from the first frontman of Gallows. And did he say, "if being gay is the ultimate sin"? I could be wrong about sappy tropes. Maybe this is metallic hardcore with something to say… like posi-hardcore without the Xed-up fists and sing-alongs! This song's descending moments are rife with energy, blastbeats, and whirring guitars that seem to collide into each other and become louder and louder until it breaks into an unsettling melody of noise and feedback. Loud and discordant bands like Birds in Row come to mind, but written and paced more like a Touché Amoré song. Does that make sense? I'll be patient until I find out who this is. Full credit to this drummer for doing all the right things, and partial credit to the snare pop and production on the kick drum.

Great Grief, "Knives," from There's No Setting Sun Where We Are (Self-Released, 2015)

Birkir: This is Iceland's Great Grief. I'm not too certain on which guys carried over from the band Icarus. Both bands are interlocked. Icarus is no more. Maybe they just parked the name and went for a better one—Great Grief—but in doing so, their music became more interesting to me.

So, this song, "Knives" is taken off of a split with a band called Bungler. You can download it for probably nothing on Bandcamp. Having seen Great Grief a bunch of times live, I can tell you there's a lot of urgency and explosiveness to the band's performance. Icarus was this way, too, but the music didn't really convey all the aggression, emotion, and anger that the band itself carries. You know what I mean. This translates better via the songs on this split, though. "You're a worthless veil of rude remarks and poorly-timed anecdotes," singer Finnbogi belts out. How true! We know where he's coming from. We appreciate his disappointment, his disillusionment. Of course, we do, we are three swell guys!

Anyway, back to the music. Similar-sounding bands (a couple of years ago I likened them to a more aggressive Touché Amoré) don't really go for it lyrically like these guys. Great Grief is very outspoken and to the point, while their [contemporaries] are often very vague and artistic to where you don't know what the hell they are gunning for. These guys are heading for the right direction, and I'm very excited to hear what they come up with next.

Track #2

Andrew: Fuck yeah! Ripping death metal that I should probably know right off the bat, but do not. If this is new, I'm gonna shit myself, because the production sounds dated (in a good way) and I'm loving the way they combine speed and technicality with slower, doomier riffing. Plus, they toss in some pinch harmonics, and that's a very underrated tactic these days. It's like early Gorguts, a little early Cannibal Corpse, and early Asphyx thrown in a blender. Killer, air-guitar-worthy guitar and bass riffs, powerful vocals that are guttural without going over the top, the songwriting wanders but doesn't get disjointed… god damnit, this is fucking fantastic! I'm buying this as soon as I find out who it is. This has gotta be from the '90s, right? And I'm gonna be totally embarrassed during the reveal that I had absolutely no clue? As much as I love early- to mid-'90s death metal, I have to admit that my collection is lacking in that department. This is one of your best picks ever, and is proving to be the toughest for me to discuss, because I'm being overly fearful of future shame, ha, ha. Seriously, though, if this is new, my skull will implode. I can't wait to find out who this is. A+ selection, my friend!

Chris: Bring me death, bring me pure fucking armageddon! Man, I love that blast that leads into the super sexy solo worthy of tall cathedral ceilings and Malmsteen's living room. I'm having a really hard time pegging down the era for this. It sounds like it could be mid-'90s or early-2000s, but even newer shit is trying to emulate this sound, so how the hell should I know? Death metal, to be certain, but who and when? I'm not so sure, man. That kick is like cannon fodder. Cannon fodder on heavy drugs. Chunky and in your stupid face. Everything is familiar and totally uncertain, but I've heard this before, or maybe I'm having death metal déjà vu, or maybe I just like it and my brain wants to assume it knows everything. This has to be American death metal, I can basically smell the triple-patty cheeseburgers emanating from the gatling gun double-kick… Something like very early Morbid Angel covering Bolt Thrower's discography.

After this whole mystery bag has all been said and done, I came back to write this: this reminds me a lot of Andrew's last submission, like the same band in a different timeline on a different album. They both are good and I am equally excited for both reveals, because this could be anyone and I'll get a good laugh out of it—especially if it's as obvious as it sounds like it should be.

Mercyless, "Mirrors of Melancholy," from Coloured Funeral (Century Media, 1993)

Birkir: I can totally understand this evoking Asphyx and Gorguts in Andrew's mind. But this is Mercyless, from France! Max Otero's voice is like inverted crosses between Gorguts' Luc Lemay, Pestilence's Patrick Mameli, and master Martin van Drunen from Asphyx… with the gruffness of Bolt Thrower's Dave Ingram. The French quartet's debut, Abject Offerings (1992), was darker to me than most death metal at the time. I was just a kid, and the cover art coupled with the music created this suffocating feeling in me. I loved it.

Coloured Funeral came out in 1993, and I bought it immediately. It was even better than the debut! Dynamic, textured, and beguiling. It's complex, but not technical. It's a gift that keeps on giving. There are so many fantastic moments on this album. Gorguts' The Erosion of Sanity came out the same year. Both bands with flawless track records up to that point. I fancied them kindred bands. I imagined going abroad to a big city, getting off the plane, and just seeing tons of people wearing their longsleeves—much like Entombed's and Carcass'. But, no. I never saw Mercyless mentioned anywhere. Maybe their label forgot to give them that push. Maybe they didn't get good tours. Maybe they sucked live. I don't know, but this is one of the most remarkable albums to have come out in that period. Period! Or, maybe it was the fact that the band dropped death metal in '94 and went over people's heads. I had the hardest time picking out a song for you boys, but I'm glad I got you thrilled. This album is absolutely worth your time. I really wanna go on forever here about the music and what kind of effect it had on me… but, alas, let's keep this short-ish.

Now, upon writing this reveal, I've learned via my Twitter feed that the band is back. Not only that, but they have a new album, and it's pure death metal! Fuck. I listened to a couple of songs and they are good. Yes!

Track #3

Andrew: The Casket Lottery. Couldn't tell you the song or album title 'cause I'm bad with that stuff, but I know it's The Casket Lottery and I know this is a four-star song on my iPod. Such a great band. Truly one of the most unique and recognizable emo/indie acts. Have we talked about them in a previous episode? Or, no, that was Able Baker Fox, I guess? Either way: great vocal harmonies, interesting songwriting with high-quality musicianship, and one hell of a rhythm section, eh? I'm always surprised by those aggressive "Dead! Dead! Dead!" vocals later in the track. What an unexpected move! I'm a big fan, though for some reason I've still not fully explored that new album they did a few years ago. One of these days…

Chris: Birkir, you beautiful little softy. What do you call this? Post-hardcore? Emo rock? I don't know anything that can be slapped with the emo tag that isn't Rites of Spring or Embrace… At the very least I have a vague, audible familiarity thanks to being stuck on too many car rides with friends of mine that liked all this stuff—Saves the Day, The Get Up Kids, Jawbreaker, Knapsack, Glassjaw, Brand New, all of it. This sounds older, though. Maybe something from the late-'90s/early-2000s is my best guess. I'm not too keen on the vocals. Sounds like a disenchanted soul, a poor lad with a broken heart and a bit too much to complain about. I feel nothing. I really like the way the toms are being used to drive up the pace and energy against the guitars, with a beautifully melancholy tone to it. Okay, the guitar distorts and the instrumentals are sounding really solid with that duelling guitar. It really has a nice production around it. A minute left in the song and I'm liking the steam that's been brewing over—it's building in energy and the vocals sound less helpless and drastic. It's good. Alright, the instrumentation is certainly in the hands of the right people, and I almost flinched when those gruff vocals came in… it sounds so damn familiar. At first I thought it was Damian Abraham from Fucked Up, but now I don't know. I have listened to it more than a dozen times over now. I'm well-acquainted and feel more in touch with my emotions, but in the end nothing really matters. So it goes.

The Casket Lottery, "A Dead Dear," from Moving Mountains (Second Nature, 2000)

Birkir: I don't know what the hell to call this, Chris! I just remember all those years ago, I was utterly fascinated with prolific writers that I struck a listener's bond with through their more disgusting, noisy music (in this case Coalesce and Nathan Ellis) putting out music that was not that extreme. I wanted to know how they'd fare. In this case, The Casket Lottery bared a bunch of sweet fruit. Swing Kids and The Blood Brothers did, too—to name but a few. Plus, I kinda ate up everything that came out on Second Nature Recordings. I can't believe it's been 16 years already! I never delved into Ellis' lyrics, though. Was he sappy, or ambiguous and perplexing? Being a musician myself, The Casket Lottery and Coalesce were such "guys in bands love this band" types of bands. So nifty, sneakily creative, and crafty. Class, style, touch. I associate all of this with these Kansas City acts. I've always loved how this song never really does what you think it will, but it totally works out, effortlessly. I'm so envious of that. Sean Ingram's unmistakable scream at the end there. Who would have thought it'd work? Neat!

P.S. Not that I'm trying to elude my fellow grab-baggers, that's not the point, but I also knew that Andrew would call it right away. Not surprising. I love how Chris gradually gets into the song, and thank you for reminding me of Knapsack and Glassjaw.

Chris' Picks:

Track #1

Andrew: Yes, sir, I'll take it! '90s-esque metallic hardcore that may or may not actually be from the '90s. I would tend to think that this is not an American band, especially if this is post-'90s, but it's hard to say. Very solid, though. Fairly straightforward, and with a little more of a traditional hardcore angle than I'm generally excited about, but what's not to love about lyrics like, "You say, 'Let's bury the hatchet.' Yeah, in your fuckin' skull!"? The bass break near the end is awesome, but I kinda think they should've ended the song with its preceding fadeout, 'cause it actually loses some steam in that final 45 seconds.

Birkir: Man, you are just toying with Andrew here. If he's not certain of the band name, he's feeling terrible and thinking about jumping off a balcony. What a debut submission here by Chris! I'm not super keen on this track. I like what the bass player is doing, but the overall performance is a bit loose, and the by-the-numbers song ideas don't help here. Is this a recent band on a '90s metallic hardcore bender? I don't want to point out everything that this track isn't doing for me, but I'm kinda cold here. The dreaded "meh" comes to mind. Tell you what, when the tunes do little for me, I can hardly notice the lyrics, even if they are sung in a pretty clear fashion. Weird. Sorry, guys.

The Kill Decibel, "Bury the Hatchet," from Bled Dry (Feelin' It, 2004)

Chris: This had to be my first pick: "Bury the Hatchet," by The Kill Decibel from Toronto, Canada. The hardcore band of my disillusioned, awkward youth as a straightedge kid, and the first band to teach me that I could do more than just stand rigid at the back of a venue with my arms crossed. I became engaged—stage dives and high fives, man! I also know the both of you are seasoned vets within the hardcore niche, so I was curious to see how a debut song from a very unestablished local band would fly under your scrutinizing noses—especially when I'm so hellbent on defending their straightforward, going for the throat approach to "don't act hard, be hard" hardcore.

"Okay, sweet, Andrew is into it… fuck, Birkir isn't," was my internal dialogue. Your keen ears pick up on the '90s metallic sound, but you both know deep down this is post-'90s, and you're right—2004, to be exact! What gave it away? It was the double-kick, wasn't it? The bass has a dominant presence in all of their songs, and the bass breaks were always a signal to clear the pit for neanderthal-like behavior, which is why the song doesn't end at the preceding fadeout like you suggest, Andrew. Even though it does lose a head of steam in the slog of a breakdown, it was just another chance for dudes to punch the floors, I guess. For me, it was always The Kill Decibel over Madball, No Warning, Shattered Realm, etc. when it came to a quick fix of gym-rat hardcore—something I'm sure is a byproduct of my connection with them as a youth, rather than them necessarily being the better option. I don't know if either of you got the chance to see Gaza live, but the singer always had these poignant little anecdotes before each song—super classy and thought-provoking—and I remember the singer of The Kill Decibel being the same way, which was an aspect of the band that I always carried along with me. Ergo, the respect I maintain. I don't only cross my arms when I'm enjoying a show now.

Track #2

Andrew: Fast, raw black metal with a dash of melody, and I have no fucking clue who this is. Weird production. Rough and rugged, but not in a manner typical of this style. There's an odd bite to the more melodic guitar lines, and I could certainly do without the heavy delay on the vocals. Some of the riffs have a hint of a hardcore/punk edge to 'em, so this could be anyone. It could be the side project of some guys more known for hardcore/punk, it could be a Scandinavian group that has never crossed my path before, etc. Not really my thing overall, but some cool riffs and definitely some aspects that I can appreciate.

Birkir: This is some vile, brutish shit here. Real energy, very aggressive and barbaric, but never too chaotic. Blasphemy, Deströyer 666, and Darkthrone in ze blender. I'm very happy with the breakdown that leads with the singer sounding like he's choking on his own blood… or vomit. Heinous! The real beauty here is when they emerge from that slower part the vomit led into and surge with speed—single-string tremolo lunacy and we're off to the races again. It's pretty exciting. Yeah, I could see the black horde get whipped into frenzy with this build-up. At first glance, this song might seem savage just for the sake of it, but this is some nifty songwriting.

Morbid Insulter, "Poison of God," from Antichrist Blasphemies (I Hate, 2010)

Chris: This is, or rather was, Sweden's Morbid Insulter, and the song is "Poison of God," off of their last recorded EP, Antichrist Blasphemies, back in 2010. A weird production, indeed. The band ceased its existence when vocalist/guitarist E. Expulser committed suicide at the tender young age of 24, which is a fact that only bolsters the raw and barbaric sound you guys point at in a very harrowing way—lending the type of credibility that corpsepaint enthusiasts fervently try to emulate. The hardcore/punk edge you mention, Andrew, is what appeals to me so much, and I would think that's what Birkir means when he says "Darkthrone in the blender," because some of these oddball idiosyncrasies are prevalent in later Darkthrone. Fenriz was actually big on Morbid Insulter himself, likely due to that "metal punk" sound he loves to praise so much. The drums are fast but not bulky, and the guitars fucking fly in a mess of tremolo fury and thrash, but it's the "choking on his own blood… or vomit" vocal savagery you point out, Birkir, that has my full attention. E. Expulser was a man possessed when he was spewing his morbid insults, aimed at the sanctity of the cross in a humorously overzealous manner: "Heil this dawn of terror, where life's cunt floods with blood. The force-fucking wrath of the beast. Sword of Satan turns Israel's prayers into screams of pain, as their whoregod of compassion faces Therion's spear again." I've said this is one of my favorite EPs before, and it still is when concerning this ilk, as it stands to be the legacy of E. Expulser and his egregious hatreds in pure sonic form.

Track #3

Andrew: Whoa, I didn't see this coming. Now I'm realizing that my selections for this round were a little too one-sided. I think I was thrown off by not being familiar with Chris' listening spectrum, but this track proves that I should've been a little more diverse with my picks. This tune opens up like it's gonna be a really terrible emo song, but then converts into a dual-vocal pop-punk track that combines surprisingly gruff shouting with semi-snotty singing that's, honestly, a little obnoxious. I can't deny that there are some great, catchy chord progressions that I'm totally on board with, but I can't get past the higher-pitched vocals. This is another one that's never hit my radar before, so I've not a single clue as to who this might be!

Birkir: Balls! What a shift in mood. Chris, you! "Yooouuu…" he says. I don't like it. Wait, rowdy guy starts singing and everything explodes. A pop-punk band that likes Dillinger Four? There's a lot going on in this song. All of a sudden there's a break and early Saves the Day kicks in. I can see this one resonating lyrically with a lot of people. You know what I mean. People relate and wanna sing this one together in unison. I wish this track brought more out of me, but I'm not sure what to say or how I feel about this one. I love a bunch of pop-punk bands, but this song is geared for partying. Why am I so grumpy? What's wrong with fun? Remember the band Fun? Well, I like the band Unfun better. See? Jesus, I'm gonna go ahead now and disappear into this Google doc…

Open Letters, "It's Cool, But Unfun Already Did It," from 10-23 (Gipper Tore/Kingfisher Bluez, 2015)

Chris: Yeah, complete shift from the impetuous to the austere, or maybe effervescent. Birkir, it's interesting that you bring up Unfun, because this song is called "It's Cool, But Unfun Already Did It," by Open Letters—a vegan straightedge band from Vancouver, Canada. I don't know if it's breaking Mystery Grab Bag protocol, but I chose this song less because it rips and more because I was really curious as to how you both would respond to it. The opening 35 seconds of whiny crooning the like of you elude to is running parallel with a lot of bad emo songs, and I agree with Andrew, it sounds fully castrated! But once the guitar feeds into the drum roll and the alternating gruff vocals come in against those jangly guitars, I'm a fan again, and it's very clear that these three dudes have tons of energy and can write some catchy hooks while keeping it loose and imaginative. I'd agree, Birkir, there's a definite Dillinger Four essence that's maybe more spastic and a bit heavy on the whimsy. I was really counting on one of you to patronize the Kurt Vonnegut hook, "I'm alone and I've got no worry in the world. Everything is beautiful and nothing ever hurt until you." Lyrically, I'm sure it resonates with kindred spirits, Birkir (I know their shows get rowdy), but not rough-and-tumble war vets like us, and I'm not too shocked that neither of you were gung-ho either. For some reason, it has me curious as to whether either of you enjoyed Joyce Manor's first self-titled release, because they succeeded wherever Open Letters fell a bit short.

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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
  8. Mystery Grab Bag: Episode 8