Existing for nearly 15 years and having released splits with legends such as Axegrinder, Minneapolis crust unit War//Plague are no strangers to the finer characteristics that this niche of punk has to offer. The group is preparing to release their crushing fourth full-length LP, Manifest Ruination, through Phobia Records (Bandcamp/Website) and Organize and Arise, and it just might be their finest outing to date—applying dense, crunchy production and ferociously blackened aggression to foundational crust, as bitter vocal snarls bury shards of hope amidst expressions of outrage.
With a pending vinyl release date of, well, any day now, stream the ripping "Bed of Nails" below; alongside an interview with Andy Lutz (guitar/vocals), Andy Lefton (guitar/backing vocals), and Vern DeFoe (bass):
I think one of the reasons that I lost some steam on crust punk over the years is that there are certain aspects of the genre that have tended to remain overly steadfast in terms of consistency. War//Plague, however, has developed over time. Beyond improved production values, the material has grown occasionally faster and more intense—still rooted in the classic archetypes of crust, but with a blackened edge of ferocity. Where do you feel that Manifest Ruination falls in terms of the band's nearly 15-year progression?
Lutz: I'd say the new album definitely cranks things up, it's a progression from the last album. Things keep evolving as we write. There are some darker and heavier riffs that juxtapose with melancholy harmonies and a heavy onslaught of aggression. Over the last few years, the world has continued to tread into even darker territory, both globally and locally. Minneapolis was ground zero for police brutality and the uprising that followed. That had a major impact on us as a band.
Lefton: There's a saturation of carbon copies that tends to become quite monotonous. I've always appreciated the energy that goes into the music the community creates, but there's quite a bit of coattail-riding that simply gets overplayed. Needless to say, we definitely have our influences as well, and we tend to take from those influences and blend them together.
I feel this album is another step into an ever-evolving sound. With how the political climate currently is and the overall feeling of dread, this album speaks volumes on our own personal frustrations, along with the communal screams we all hear out in the world. It's cathartic to express through our music, and we hope that can have influence on positive action as well.
Vern: I don't feel like this album was really about progression as a band as much as it was inspired by the time in which we wrote it. We were inspired by the experience of the pandemic and all the things that happened during it. Specifically, the murder of George Floyd and the way it impacted the city we live in, Minneapolis.
We're premiering "Bed of Nails," one of the shorter tracks on the album, which boasts a driving, tried-and-true type of approach. Share a little background on this particular song.
Lutz: This is one of those songs that just kind of happened. I think we were screwing around with riffs and something clicked—a song started to form with an intense vibe to it. There was a lot of crazy shit going down in the country, and some good friends had just passed away, so the lyrics stemmed from that... Death is inevitable, it is non-negotiable. However, society seems obsessed with progressing the death of the planet and everything on it—so we've made this bed and now we have to sleep in it. I guess the point of the song is to push through the pain and hold on to the little moments of happiness we get before it all disappears.
Lefton: Like Lutz said, we were looking to continue writing, so we sometimes get together to bounce ideas off each other and this one just happened out of nowhere. We've been experimenting musically with more layers, and this was one that let us play that field a bit.
One of War//Plague's "mission statements," for lack of a better term, is "exposing the world of its horrors through rage and music." With the political atmosphere here in the U.S. becoming increasingly contentious and depressing in recent years, do you feel that your lyrics have become even more dire and despondent?
Lefton: No matter the timeframe, it always feels like the world is in some dire circumstance. However, this era does seem a bit more crucial as the socio/political climate has become very critical and hence contributes to some heavier content.
Vern: I think so. Politics seem to be drifting further and further to the right in both parties. Democrats seem to be more about helping giant corporations shift and make more money, while Republicans are inspired by religion and blatant white supremacy.
Lutz: It certainly had an impact, and I think the lyrics reflect that. But we always try to retain some element of hope, though it is getting harder to see that in the world. But for me, this kind of music has always been about getting your anger and resentment for the world out into the open so it doesn't eat you up. The world is not on a good path and things will most likely get worse. Fascism, nationalism, and racism will continue to oppress people. If we stop fighting and screaming, then things are truly doomed. But I think it's important to remember there are like-minded people out there and we have to keep at it.
Similarly, given the fact that so many of the longstanding messages of equality, unity, and inclusivity espoused by this specific niche of punk are still so relevant today, what keeps you inspired—especially considering that at least some members of the band have been involved with the scene for over 20 years now? Is the continued need to encourage change enough, or does it ever start to feel a little hopeless?
Lefton: For me personally, the whole punk tribe element is just part of my DNA. Having the chance to work and play in an environment for the last 30 years solely made up of people willing to strive for something better has always been a catalyst that keeps the forward motion going. With that, you do have ups and downs, but in the end, you realize the cathartic nature and education that comes from something as powerful as the music or the lyrics, and it can certainly change your insight.
One element that we've been living through is the "changing of the guard," so to speak. We are at a point where we're seeing the next generation of kids coming forth and that is something to really experience. We had a chat on this subject as War//Plague has been around for almost 15 years. In that time, we've seen countless folks come and go and simply fade off from the scene, community, etc. Now we have this higher demand to play all ages shows since those kids born 15 or 20 years ago now want to see you... It's eye-opening. So, to answer your question, it's a reminder that we were at that age once, and what the music and message did for us, we want for the next gen.
Lutz: I mean, I think things might always "feel" hopeless, but this genre of music helps connect people with similar beliefs. Punk is a global network, people come and go, but the spirit and desire to resist will always be there. I think it's important to keep growing with punk, not out of it. As we age, our attitudes change, we physically change, but I think we also get more knowledge and wisdom. I'm probably more outraged now than I was as a young punk. I just know how to channel it better. I think that's what keeps me going, it's just ingrained.
Vern: I feel that our fire burns stronger and stronger because of it. Music is our way of venting through these dark times.
There was a time when Minneapolis was such a beacon of crust punk. I'm less aware of the goings-on at present, so what's the area scene like these days when compared to, say, the mid- to late-'90s?
Vern: It has withered since the "glory days," but in the last couple years there seems to be a resurgence and some new bands forming and old bands getting back together.
Lefton: There's always an influx of new people, new music, and new ideas, but in the end, it all circles back to the community and how it operates. The '90s were insane and beautiful at the same time, and it's a tough pill to swallow sometimes when you think back how life was so carefree. But Minneapolis has that same ticking beat, D.I.Y. independence, and communal strength as the previous eras. Going back to what was previously mentioned, there's new blood and they seem quite hungry these days, so it's good to interact with the new guard and see where things go. So far, we've been pleasantly surprised, the hardcore punk and crust community is still vibrant. Needless to say, Misery still gets airplay around here, and it's also nice to know they're playing again! With that, you see a lot of the old school folks still going to shows, still playing and supporting the cause... it's a good place! It's easy to be the old fuddy duddy and complain about how tech has ruined this or that, but we feel it's better to adhere to the times and work with the present.
Lutz: It's different now, but at the same time it's not. The '90s and early-2000s in Minneapolis were a special time, and I don't think that will ever be replicated. However, there is a lot of great stuff happening in this city—especially in the last few years. I see more and more new faces at shows. Younger kids getting involved, starting bands, being active. Extreme Noise Records is still holding strong. There have been some killer all ages underground shows lately. We recently played a backyard skate park and it was amazing to see young and old punks alike skating and rocking out. There's been some cool shows happening across the river in St. Paul, too. So, things are different, but that can be a good thing. It's crazy to see some of my friends' kids get involved in the scene. It's inspiring and gets you charged up to do more.
Manifest Ruination will be available on LP this month through Phobia Records (Bandcamp/Website) and Organize and Arise. Hear more from War//Plague through Bandcamp or Spotify; and find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.