Whew. This is long overdue. So long. Would you believe that Birkir and I started working on this thing in early-December of 2017!? Well, we did. I promise! It seems, though, that the Mystery Grab Bag may be becoming a once-a-year journey—as much as we'd prefer otherwise. But this is a damn solid episode, if I do say so myself, so… I'll shut up. Hope you enjoy the tunes!
Birkir: Wow, such incredible players. Smooth and lush. Ultimately pretty nerdy. Reminds me of one of those light jams Rush or Porcupine Tree might throw into a song to keep people guessing. This is going to be instrumental, I see. Love the drum sound here. The cymbals sound like cymbals. It's happening less and less, let me tell you. A current day problem, if I might add. This has the clarity and punch of mid-'90s production. You know, like Living Coloür would have. And finally, the guitarist gets the spotlight. This is pretty incredible. I haven't heard this type of fusion in years. The last instrumental album I listened to was Joe Satriani's The Extremist.
I don't know what to say. This is ultimately music free from genre restrictions, but this band must be made of some heavy-hitters we know, maybe slightly on the metal side. I really wasn't expecting this from you. You are a curious beast. Let me guess, you took a chance on this CD when you saw it in a used bin 18 years ago because the cover art was intriguing?
Soften the Glare, "Turn Around," from Making Faces (Self-Released, 2017)
Andrew: Believe it or not, this is actually pretty damn new, and came out toward the end of 2017 right before we first started working on this episode of the bag. This is the opening track from the debut album by funkily jazzy prog rock trio Soften the Glare. This disc was a runner-up on my list of 2017 Year-End Favorites, which I was probably working on at that time and likely led to me selecting this song for you. Two of these guys are "names," apparently—the bassist is from Mudvayne and the guitarist is from bands such as Gong and Gongzilla. I'm not familiar with any of them, though. I've probably heard a couple of Mudvayne songs? Who knows?
To my shock, I think I actually found out about this band from MetalSucks—a site that I rarely read, and almost never discover actual new music through. That being said, if I see the phrase "jazz fusion" on a metal website, I'm at least gonna give it a click and see what's up. Thankfully, it paid off here, because this album is sleek as shit and sounds phenomenal. So much so that I'm almost like, "Damn, should I forgive Mudvayne for their Insane Clown Posse-ish appearance and give 'em another try!?"
Birkir: This is totally different, of course, much rawer. Yes. Fast hardcore! This has that '00s urgency before it all turned into "amazingcore." Would fit nicely with the early Bridge 9 and Rivalry Records releases. Yeah, no bullshittin' around here. Very energetic, forward-propelling motion that made me so excited when I was younger. Full steam ahead. With a vocalist that has a very distinct voice like this guy, I'm surprised I don't know this. What I mean by that is, if I'd spent any time with this band in the past, I would easily remember it because of the singer.
This is up my alley. I appreciate the intensity and fury, but it sounds a tad safe and familiar. The song could have been spruced up with some sort of break introducing a different time of riffing. Overall, though, very solid. Bands like these are rare these days.
Allegiance, "Just Let Go," from Overlooked (Rivalry, 2005)
Andrew: Nailed it! This was in fact released by Rivalry Records in 2005, and the vocalist damn near makes the band, in my opinion. The music is great, don't get me wrong, but the vocals are so genuinely pissed off and unforced that they really take it to another level. A generic or "tryhard" vocalist could have sucked the life right out of this masterpiece. For me, Overlooked is one of the single best straight up hardcore releases post-'90s. Period. It kicked my ass in 2005, and it's one of only a small handful of releases of this nature from the past two decades that remains top-of-mind.
Allegiance really struck gold with this one. I was so excited when the follow-up, Desperation, arrived in 2007, but I've barely listened to it since then. It didn't have the same fire. It eased up a little too much on the power and energy, but more importantly—illustrating just how critically important the vocals are—they went for a rawer production style that somehow made the vocals come across slightly blown-out but also a bit sonically repressed. Had Overlooked been recorded under the same conditions as Desperation, I'm not sure it would've left a mark, which is kinda crazy to think about.
Birkir: Alternative Rock Andrew! I like how he comes out in almost every bag. You've dropped a bunch of post-hardcore dudes into the bag so far, and I'm guessing this is something similar. The production on this thing is very, very solid and sneakily complex. A lot of layers here. A major label debut that didn't go anywhere? Now, I haven't listened to Warrior Soul in a long time, but this reminds me of them at their most aggressive. Or Souls at Zero. Not really, though…
I'm actually dumbfounded here, again. You caught me completely off guard. I'm very interested to hear more, but even more curious as to who's in the band.
Atomic Opera, "I Know Better," from For Madmen Only (Collision Arts/Giant, 1994)
Andrew: So, this is gonna be interesting, because it took us a little over a year to complete this installment of the bag. You and I discussed King's X a little bit throughout 2018, because it was then that I finally took the deep dive and forced myself to realize that they're pretty freakin' great, so I now know that you're a longtime lover of King's X. I didn't know that in December of 2017 when I picked these tracks, though. "So what? This isn't King's X!" True. However, Google around and you'll find that there are a number of interesting connections between King's X and Atomic Opera (and I'm not talking about the "soundalike" comparisons).
I bought this CD in 2017 after hearing this song on an old Concrete Corner cassette sampler. You're right about a lot here, too. This was a debut album released through a major label subsidiary, and I'm guessing that it did in fact go (almost) "nowhere," because you can still find the CD for like $2 and the band self-released their next two full-lengths. It's a good album, though. Solid songwriting, cool atmosphere, and—as you've noted—"sneakily complex" in its subtle progressive tendencies. Can't argue with that chorus, man. I'm all over it. For the past two years or so I've been utterly obsessed with discovering these types of '90s bargain bin gems, and it's been a lot of fun, I have to say.
Birkir: This has the '90s written all over it! It's got production values akin to Sunny Day Real Estate, so it has got to be from a similar era. Oh, wow, that part after the 1:16 mark. Boy, oh boy. Is this band from Louisville? This would have been at home on Doghouse or Jade Tree in their early years. This is such an Andrew song, it's not even funny. I fucking love this. I'm gonna dig deep on this after the reveal. Yeah, this song has me more amped than prior tracks, for sure. One left!
Joyburner, "Fool Suck," from Joyburner (Centrifuge, 1996)
Andrew: This is Joyburner, the band that formed from the remnants of Four Walls Falling during the mid-'90s. The opening track from their lone EP, released by Centrifuge Recordings (also home of the excellent Jasta 14 7") in 1996. When I first wrote about this EP back in 2005, there were almost no mentions of this band online, and while they're still painfully obscure, you can find a touch more information these days. As seen above, the entire EP is on YouTube, for example, which kinda shocked me.
"This is such an Andrew song, it's not even funny." I fucking love that, ha! And, yeah, you're right. This song rules. I suppose I do flip out hard over stuff that most people have never even heard of! And I'm proud of that. If that's one of my identifying characteristics… cool, I think I'm doing something right, then!
Joyburner recorded another six-song EP, too, but it was never released. It's a damn shame that hardcore-related labels don't really give a shit about bands like this, because it'd be great to see 'em granted some sort of discography release—especially to give the unreleased tracks a better chance to be properly experienced.
Birkir: What did I just listen to!? With that Sunlight Studio crunch on the guitar, I was expecting some sort of doom-laden death metal, but it was not to be. Well, yes, it could be argued that this band incorporates a doom element or two, but this is its own beast. This is very, very intriguing. Such a simple song. My initial thought was, "Is this akin to The God Machine (my favorite band) playing through Boss HM-2 pedals!?" Such a crazy concept, but here we are.
Ulf Cederlund, "Alone Again" (Self-Released, 2016)
Andrew: This was the first solo track released by Entombed's Ulf Cederlund in the fall of 2016, and it totally blew me away. He was, at one point, calling this project "Ulf Cederlund and the Swarm of Souls," but I'm not sure if that's sticking or not. Sadly, I'm also not sure where this is headed, because he hasn't posted a studio update on Facebook since May of 2017!? All three tracks that he threw onto Bandcamp are quite nice, but "Alone Again" is the home run. I could listen to this song on a loop for hours. Simple, moving, hypnotic… just wonderful. I actually hear more of a weird and somber indie rock aesthetic than anything, but whatever you want to call it or however it strikes you, you have to admit that this is something special. I'm really, really hoping we get to hear more from this project—and ideally in some capacity that's more "official" than just a few scattered tracks on a streaming platform!
Andrew: Oh, this is certainly Propagandhi. Something from the new album. I bought the CD as soon as it came out, of course, but have admittedly only listened to it a handful of times. They've been one of my favorite bands since I was a teenager, and the new album is in no way a letdown, but I have to confess that it didn't immediately elate me the way that every album prior has.
I noted that the lyrics are even a bit more strikingly emotional and wrenching this time around, but the musical adventuring is enough to lack some steam for me, and this track is actually a good example of that. It opens pretty strong with a bit of quirky technicality and fantastic production that perfectly balances the instruments—letting the superb bass work shine through—but while those lush passages with the distant volume swells sound great, they don't really do much for me. The middle core of the song… I don't know, it's fine—fuckin' stellar musicianship—it just doesn't kick my ass or anything.
To my point about the lyrics, though, my attention is refocused when I hear, "Have you ever seen someone wastin' away?" Continuing on with, "First by choice, then—after it's too late—they decide that they want to come back to life; but they're drowning in a sea so endless, you see them come up for air, then go under forever…" That last minute of the song basically fucking destroys on every level, and chills me nearly to the point of tears. Holy shit. Amazing vocal performance as well. This album's gotta be a grower, yeah? I need to find time to sit with it. That last minute is truly brilliant. God damn. Certainly makes up for the first few minutes being a tad boring at times.
Propagandhi, "Nigredo," from Victory Lap (Epitaph, 2017)
Birkir: I just had to! I knew you would mull this one over the way only you do. There's no way I wouldn't squeeze this mighty band in here somehow, what with Victory Lap being out and thus my obsession with Propagandhi has been deepened and prolonged—to the point that my fiancée worries about me. She claims I haven't really listened to anything but Propagandhi for at least two years now. I tried to complete the circle and shake them off my psyche by seeing them for the first time in a live setting. Flew into Glasgow, watched them rip, my mind melted, but it is still the same! I digress…
I said Victory Lap has deepened my relationship with the band, and that is in big part due to new lyrical takes (dying father, parenthood, helplessness, etc.) and how they have seemingly carved out a new "role" for Todd Kowalski (bass/vocals). Normally, he's the guy that barks and spits over the band's fastest and most aggressive songs, but on Victory Lap he sings (the best he can—I love how the fact that this isn't really his wheelhouse gives the songs such a raw, honest edge) over slower, more brooding and melancholy songs. This is a new turn that adds more depth and dynamics to one of the most "manifold" punk-metal bands ever. I went like, "They can do this, too, now!?" In short: Propagandhi never ceases to amaze and surprise me.
Compositionally, "Nigredo" is one of the best Propagandhi tracks I've ever heard. It lends itself perfectly to the painful topic of the song. That break you mention after the soft and somber part, where they kick into gear and the storyteller in the song expresses how someone released himself to the fact that he is dying, but then all of a sudden he wants to live (but it is too late) and Todd belts out, "You see them come up for air, then go under forever…" This is just very, very powerful stuff. I think the song is about his father or grandfather, but don't quote me on that.
Andrew: Nice, dirty bass quickly opens into a jangly blend of expertly-panned instrumentation that checks many boxes in the "FUCK YEAH!" column for me. This reminds me quite a bit of Jawbox, but I know it's not them. This is great, though. It also kinda sounds like if Torche was an indie rock band. You've done it again, my friend. Like Unwound in Episode 10, I'm sitting here suspecting that this is some great '90s gem that I've been missing out on for far too long. The production is just crisp enough to where it could be a little more contemporary, but—as always—the pessimistic old man in me doubts that a modern band could so perfectly capture this type of '90s aesthetic. I'm really eager to find out who this is. Killer song. Weirdly catchy without being too straightforward, rugged without being sloppy, etc. All that kickass panning and the way all of the instruments are weaving different lines together: bands these days just don't do that shit, you know?
Fireside, "Let Rasputin Do It," from Uomini D'onore (Startracks, 1998)
Birkir: Remember the days when so many members from the hardcore scene that had kinda secured their place in the culture of super aggressive message and music would veer off to the left a bit and form powerful indie rock bands? Well, Sweden's Fireside is just that, and 1998's Uomini D'onore was the perfect conclusion for where they were coming from and going. (Challenging radio rock?) Me and some of the more instrumental guys in the scene where I'm from were totally obsessed with Uomini D'onore. More so than the Do Not Tailgate album and the Kilotin EP. There was just this air of maturity and "next level" to it that we were totally able to follow and get behind. I mean, we'd spin this album and then Systems Overload and then It's Me God and The Seraphim Fall and back to Hum, Fireside, and Fugazi. To us, it was the perfect thinking man's guitar rock channeled through on-the-fringes D.I.Y. music, just the way you described it!
Andrew: Solid, screamy metalcore; possibly from Bremen, Germany. It definitely has that aesthetic to it. Super intense vocals mixed right in there with the instruments, hammering basslines practically in front of the guitars… hell, maybe this is a dual-bass band? They threw me for a loop with the powerviolent slowdown and death metal-ish vocal addition a third of the way through, then sliding into that clean passage with the spoken vocals—almost certainly in German. Now I look and see that this is, in fact, a four-minute song, which I didn't expect. Is this Zorn, maybe? A reader recommended them to me years ago and I have some of their material on my iPod, though I must admit that I haven't given them a listen in some time. These screaming vocals are fuckin' killer. Like Track #2 above, there's some cool panning and the balance between guitar and bass is really nice—some eerie atmospheres result, in this case. This isn't something that I'd run right out and buy, but I can appreciate this, no doubt. I hope I'm not wrong about the German thing, 'cause then I'm gonna look like an ignorant American asshole!
Forced to Decay, "Bus," from Perkussive Perlokution (Per Koro/System Shock, 1999)
Birkir: Germany, yes! Bremen, no. But a great guesstimation. This town, Solingen, isn't the same player that Bremen was, but this isn't one of the usual suspects and is kinda obscure in the grand scheme of things. No wonder, because this music is as ugly as it is intense and stylistically all over the place. I'm sure they repelled a lot of people that wanted their stuff about concise, even by screamo standards in those years (1999). This was one of the most brutal screamo bands I ever got my hands on all those years ago, before that genre moniker was hijacked by glossy magazines writing about MTV-bound bands.
I shouldn't be surprised by your well of knowledge and the seemingly endless threads by which you can connect bands, sounds, areas, and scenes, but you nailed it. The only thing left to name-drop was Per Koro, because this release and some others (I think) were released by them! The band's name? This is Forced to Decay. Not loved by many, not heralded nor notorious. This style of theirs, or lack thereof, is something that always stuck with me. And even if I'm no expert on this band, they've kinda lingered in my subconscious for millions of years it seems, and periodically pop up at random as they did when I was making my part of the bag. I said they were brutal, but not in that Systral/Acme way. Rather dark, jittery, and a little bit insane, really. They didn't seem to focus on being heavy and hard-hitting, but rather dark and unnerving. Again, not a canon band by any standards, but definitely one that deserves another shine and some research with the benefit of everyone's hindsight. Time has treated Forced to Decay well, and I'm sure people will appreciate them more now than when they were active.
Andrew: Semi-shoegazey effects to open here, and that definitely continues into a drearily dreamy vibe as the piece builds in. Where are they from? In what year was this recorded? I wouldn't even hazard a guess. It could have been Sweden in 1991 or San Diego last week. I'm leaning toward thinking this is probably on the newer side, though. The distance to the mix feels very intentional and even somewhat "polished." The singing is excellent, but the music doesn't move me so much. I have to give them credit, though: as far as "shoegaze"-influenced "dream pop" (or whatever more familiar ears would tag it), this does feel unique. They're not simply retreading classic archetypes step by step. There are actually some really nice moments herein, but the production is so compressed and far away that it deadens the dynamics. The most emotional moments fall a little flat because there's no real lift in volume or energy when they transition into place. I'm not sure this band would win me over, but I'll explore more after the reveal. This is intriguing enough.
Oyama, "Handsome Devil," from Oyama/Náttfari Split (Bónus Plötur, 2017)
Birkir: Oyama is a band that's no stranger to shoegaze leanings—true students of the form—but even though that is true, the band veers away from genre standards on most of their releases, and a lot of their tracks are a bit removed from the comfortable and seemingly all-catching genre stamp that shoegaze has become. That said, "Handsome Devil" is a splendid exercise in shoegaze by sticking to the unforced and dreamy, but the composition of the track and how snappy it is (compared to genre standards) renders it more listenable than most songs. And those female/male vocal harmonies just kill me. And you're right, the song never really ascends, but rather lingers like fog. I love it. Let me rephrase: I was fucking obsessed with this song for weeks! In fact, this is one of my favorite current bands dabbling in this style, and that's been the case since the band's formation in 2012 or 2013.
Oyama released a fantastic EP in 2013 called I Wanna. It really got people hip to them. 2014's Coolboy full-length followed. I thoroughly enjoyed that, too, and the band was on a roll in all respects. Then complete silence until "Handsome Devil" (2017) hit. I figured the band was back on track, but they ain't. They've been somewhat asleep ever since. Here's hoping Oyama will become active again. If not, I will certainly settle for stellar songs like this to obsess over every three years or so.
Andrew: Oh, Birkir, "LOOK WHAT YOU FUCKING DID! LOOK WHAT YOU FUCKING DID!" Meathook Seed, baby! I'm sure I don't have to tell you that I love, love, love this album. LOVE IT! Have we not discussed Meathook Seed in the bag yet!? I'm checking the master list, and no, we haven't. Nor Blood From the Soul! Can it be!? Go figure! Anyway, this is one of the greatest metal side project albums ever released: hands down, no fucking argument. Napalm Death and Obituary both having just released my personal favorites of their albums in 1992, and then THIS!?
Commence immediate cranial explosion.
I'd totally lose my mind if this lineup would do another album, but over time I conquered my initial violent distaste for the B.I.B.L.E. album and grew to love that as well, so… at this point, I would gladly welcome Mitch Harris to release a new Meathook Seed album with any lineup.
This song is awesome, but I would have had to go with "Focal Point Blur" or "Visible Shallow Self," both of which are essentially flawless. This track, too, demonstrates some wildly fast-paced slip-and-slide power chord insanity, however! 1993 was a great fuckin' year for music, wasn't it?
Meathook Seed, "Forgive," from Embedded (Earache, 1993)
Birkir: You know, the Mystery Grab Bag was never meant to be a guessing game, although some readers might think it is. So, putting this ditty in was not to test your knowledge, as it were. I knew you'd know! I just wanted to see your reaction, and you didn't disappoint! I literally laughed out loud and clenched my fist, grinding my teeth in joy reading your thoughts here. Amazing! There's very little I can add, but I will…
I'm thinking me or my brother saw an ad in Terrorizer and Kerrang! about members of Napalm Death and Obituary making up the Seed. We had to find this CD, and we did! And we fucking looooooved it! Industrial, death metal, groovy dark music was our thing, and Embedded captures all that in a unique way. There are moments of both bands mentioned here, but I feel this is Mitch Harris' greatness coming through, with Trevor Peres enjoying being on the mic. And what a voice. It makes me lose it! Sure, there are Obituary moments here, but this is a much stingier and colder affair, so those moments get a more vile treatment somehow—more street, so to speak. Bunch of Prong moments on this album as well. Such a gnarly affair. Fucking rough yet fascistic in its execution. Totally worth everyone's time. And thanks for this reaction. It really made my year (wink, wink).
Check out more great music through our previous installments: