Askance and Contagen…

Askance - You'll Never Be the MannequinI probably won't update the site again until the end of next week because I have a bunch of days off work and don't want to spend them on a fucking computer, so I'm gonna drop a double shot of obscure old bands from my area in the meantime. First up is Askance, and I don't really know much about this band at all since I didn't get this 7" until several years after they folded. I was just starting to really get into hardcore in the early-90's anyway, so by the time I was even aware that Askance had existed the EP was already pretty damn hard to find. Aside from a couple of compilation appearances in 1992/1993, "You'll Never Be the Mannequin" was the band's only release, which came out on the Catheter Assembly label in 1993. For anyone who cares, Catheter Assembly was started by at least one member of Avail, and 13 years ago the label's P.O. Box was coincidentally in the same post office where I've been receiving mail for like 10 years now... so there's some useless trivia for you.

Askance was definitely a unique sounding band (largely due to the vocals), but musically the material does have that recognizably "90's sound" where it's not straightforward hardcore, but it's definitely not metal, nor is it particularly emo, even though influences from all three genres can be picked out in the dissonance of the riffing. The drumming on this record is fuckin' stellar as well, there are loads of slick fills and a lot of the playing is based solely on feel, so it's flashy enough to really make a difference without going over the top. I also always loved this style of guitar work, and still do: I can't wrap my head around the fact that almost no damn bands have carried this vibe over into the present. What gives? Lyrically this stuff was definitely dealing in the socio-political realm, though the personal insight element was driven home by loads and loads of explanatory text within the packaging. Hopefully some of you will appreciate this, though I imagine the younger crowd might turn up their noses to all this stuff. I apologize for the number of little vinyl "pops and clicks" in the tracks, but hey, it's a 13-year-old 7", what can you do, you know?

1. "We Stole This"
2. "Clench"
3. "In Theory and in Treatment"
4. "Premeditated"

The band members were only credited by their first names in the 7", but as far as lineup connections go I believe guitarist Matt Rankin had played on Four Walls Falling's self-titled 7" a year earlier, while he and vocalist Jimmy Anthony later formed Contagen (see below). If any collector types are interested in tracking down a copy of this 7" for themselves, there's actually one fairly inexpensive copy on eBay right now. But once that's gone? Good luck! This was one of the harder EP's I ever persisted to obtain in my day, so...

Contagen - DioromaI don't know all that much about Contagen either, but their sole album, "Dioroma", was recorded in mid-1994, so I assume Askance sort of morphed into this band with a couple of lineup changes at some point. This one was on Watermark, but I'm not sure if it was actually released in 1994 or 1995. Either way, at the time I bought this simply because the band was local and I knew basically what kind of music it was going to be. It was actually because of Contagen that I learned of Askance and started searching for the above 7", and if you want more random bullshit information: After I bought "Dioroma" I realized that I had gone to high school with Contagen's drummer. Go figure.

Anyway, Contagen sounded very similar to (though in my opinion better than) Askance, just a little more diverse musically (heavier and darker, I guess you could say), while the lyrics were a little more abstract and intricate. There are actually some great lyrics on this album, come to think of it. The vocals had also become even more distinct at this point in terms of the "Into Another factor" (that's not a comparison, just a general reference to high-pitched singing that's somewhat of an acquired taste), so I'm sure a few people checking out these tracks are gonna bitch about that. But for me the only minor setback here is that I always wished the recording on this record was a little stronger. The mastering is pretty damn quiet for one thing, and the bass tone is overly dense. I really dig the presence of the basslines in the mix, but since they lack clarity it kind of messes with the overall balance. It's about what you'd expect from this kind of thing with regard to its age, and it actually does sound fairly decent all things considered, but I've often wondered if this material would be better received were the production slightly different... because at its best this album nails the fucking songwriting. There are a couple of absolute gems on this thing that have really stuck with me over the years—namely the impeccable title track.

Contagen "Dioroma"
Contagen "Deserving"
Contagen "Graded Earth"

I actually didn't think it would be all that hard to find a few used copies of this CD to link to, but damn... I'm not really seeing anything out there from a source I'd feel comfortable recommending!? Oh well, I guess this is a rarer find than I would've expected these days. I'm suddenly quite glad that no unfortunate circumstances have befallen my copy over the years...


  1. I lived with Jason & Joel Jordan (Watermark) for a few years in Manhattan, we had a few boxes of Contagen CDs sitting around in the loft.

    6.23.2006 | By Guav

  2. Does anyone else get a sort of Falling Forward type feel from this stuff?

    6.23.2006 | By Anonymous

  3. I get an ‘Oh dear God this is awful’ feel, myself.

    6.23.2006 | By Anonymous

  4. Now that you mention it I can hear some Falling Forward-ish similarities, I’m not sure why that never struck me before.

    6.23.2006 | By Andrew Aversionline

  5. I could have sworn Device members were involved with Askance… I could be wrong though.  Sadly, I no longer have my copy of the demo, only a rip, so I can’t check names.  Good post, though.  I remember picking up the Askance demo, along with, the Journeyman demo (which I also just tracked down a rip of) and playing the tapes to death…

    6.23.2006 | By slavis

  6. Also, try to track down a demo from a band called Shadowman.  I’m 99% positive it’s the same singer.

    6.23.2006 | By slavis

  7. Slavis, according to there are no ties between Askance and Shadowman, though they did appear on some comps together.  I need to do some more digging around, I’ve never even heard Shadowman before.  Shoot me an email sometime if you can, thanks…

    6.23.2006 | By Andrew Aversionline

  8. oh and thanks a fuckload for this A.

    6.23.2006 | By chrisuede

  9. Jimmys little brother, Tommy olayed drums in Shadowman.

    Jimmy sang for Step Aside (amazing band) before this.

    Matt Rankin was in Device for a minute.

    6.23.2006 | By chrisuede

  10. esta genial el blog no olviden vistar este blog

    6.24.2006 | By hardcore guerrilla

  11. Andrew, you do realise that your writings are better than both these bands music, and that if you both are associated by random trivia, people are gonna remember it because your shit is relevant, and not the bands mentioned.

    6.24.2006 | By Anonymous

  12. At Askance’s inception, the guitarist for Shadowman, Rob Kelshian (who later went on to play with Avail), played bass.  We wrote and practiced in Rob’s basement, often sharing instruments (I used to refer to Tommy as my “drum brother”, and I have wonderful memories of us watching one another play, each learning from the other and trying to incorporate aspects of his playing in our own beats) and from the very beginning the air we shared was clouded with the sweet stink of nepotism. As for the Device/Askance link, Matt Rankin, Askance’s guitarist, had strummed with Device for a spell and at that time was also a close friend of Adam Clay Thompson, Device’s singer and in my mind, the poet-laureate per se of the activism-driven D.C. hardcore scene of that era. Miraculously enough, I ran into him last night for the first time in 13 years at an event of the Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio, where he was giving a workshop, and we both lamented having lost or given away or destroyed (either willfully or out of sheer negligence)  many of the important artifacts from our punk rock pasts. My major complaint, in fact, was no longer owning a copy of this 7”, so you’ve done me an immense favor by posting these tracks. As for my drumming, thanks for your kind words, I haven’t actively played in years and I sometimes miss the living fuck out of it and everything/one else from that time in my life. I’m not quite sure what you mean when you write that much of the playing is “based solely on feel” - would you please elaborate? In any case, it puts a little fire in my heart to know that someone I have never meant would find these records memorable enough to post and comment on them here. If any band members or other scenester dinosaurs read this post and would like to contact me, I would welcome correspondence! - some of you, my friends, I’ve spent years attempting in vain to get back in touch with.
    I’m not looking for a “Reunion Tour”, but it would be nice to at least know where everyone is. Write to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), yes?

    6.25.2006 | By Brad Goodwin

  13. Just thought Id drop by and add my two cents…didn’t both bands(shadowman & askance) appear on a Allied Records compilation 7”—man I’ve been looking for that Device demo for .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    6.26.2006 | By Anonymous

  14. Askance and Shadowman were both on the 12 inch comp “God’s Chosen People”, on Old Glory. Avail and Born Against were also on it, among others.

    This entire thing is crazy. I have been thinking about a lot of this lately due to a zine I’ve been doing, where in every issue I’ve been writing an article about some awesome Richmond band that everyone’s forgotten about but me (cuz ah’m old). I’m trying to do a tape comp of rarities/demo tracks from these old bands to come with my next issue, and I had NOTHING by Askance anymore, so these mp3s are a HUGE help.

    Also, Brad, it’s awesome you saw this and posted. For the record, the drummer in my first band (which barely even ever played out) used to sit around trying to figure out your parts from that Askance single. You and Brooks Headley of Universal Order of Armageddon were big influences on him. That kid went on to play in the band Four Hundred Years, in fact.

    Anyway, yeah, thanks for posting this stuff, Andrew.

    6.27.2006 | By Andrew TSKS

  15. Andrew you are providing a great service by hosting and posting this info.  How can people support your efforts?

    Once or twice a year I’ll google people from way back when to see what people are up to.  Don’t really find much until now, more than a decade later.  This page is turning into an askance/contagen reunion.  Not sure if this is what Andrew intended, but hey it’s been fun to read your posts.

    Why I held onto this stuff I do not know.  But I’ve got a crate of Contagen CDs in the basement.  I felt bad for the watermark folks since they shelled out money to release a band that promptly shit the bed.  Is there any use for this stuff other than punching holes in them and hanging them on a christmas tree?

    Brad if I have a copy of the askance 7” it’s yours.  I’ve also got a worn out copy of the WFMU show on tape if your are interested.  Tons of pictures too.

    Best to you all. -Matt

    (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))

    7.7.2006 | By Matt Rankin

  16. Aw man, the Askance .mp3s are gone!  :(  The first show I ever went to was Askance at New Start in Winston-Salem, NC.  They passed out a lyric sheet because they wanted us to think about their lyrics.  That turned me on to the whole ‘punk’ or ‘scene’ thing immediately—music that is actually about something!  I can’t remember if I bought this 7” there at the show or mailordered it later, but I loved it—and consequently lost it when I broke up with a girlfriend.  I was really hoping to hear this music again…

    4.4.2007 | By Luke Sineath

  17. It’s been a while…but if you’re still looking for Askance MP3s, check-out out our new site, Attempt To Regress. We’ve got a killer Askance post…original photos, flyers, lyric sheets, MP3s. “Fuck your pride we stole this…”

    12.17.2009 | By Chris

  18. whoa, richmond….i recall seeing askance at club asylum in dc in the summer of 1992 opening up for (i think) iceburn and into another.  it was drastically different from step aside…no double bass mayhem or partial covers of M.O.D. songs, thankfully.  what was the name of that zine that matt rankin did with that adam thompson guy?  who went to the device (or elizabeth herz) show at dc space in the fall of 1992, just before they closed their doors for good?  i remember seeing shadowman at some awful club in eastern baltimore county opening up for headfirst in 1991 where the club actually used a smoke machine.

    7.5.2012 | By long_hare