be brief: There is an amazing show happening at The Know tonigt.
The four bands playing—Amarok, Protestant, Raw Nerves and Squalora—all have
new records out. I review them below. Spoiler alert: I love them all.
This is a can’t-miss affair, folks. Be there. Buy these records while
you’re at it. I’d give you a money back guarantee, but I don’t have
money—I have these records. And that’s kinda all I need right now.
Amarok - Amarok I’m
not gonna front like I know a whole lot about the swampier regions of
the metal world, but I know enough to have noticed what a banner year
it’s been for the slow stuff. The Year Doom Bloomed? Not quite, but 2011
has been pretty sweet: YOB and Witch Mountain caught the attention of
the metal maniacs at NPR with their respective full lengths;
misanthropic California legend Noothgrush got back together; Thou and
Batillus both released murderously good slabs of molasses; and now,
Amarok come out of nowhere (Chico, California—same diff) with its
self-titled debut album, a dank and dark collection of syrupy riffs
drowning tortured screams and death metal grunts. To these admittedly
inexpert ears, Amarok’s right up there with the aforementioned
doomsayers. The epic song lengths reward patience (i.e. stoned reverie):
when album opener “I” briefly detours into a bluesy groove after eight
minutes of crushing sludge, it feels like salvation, deliverance into
the light after a dark night of the soul. The reprieve from the black
quicksand is short-lived, but it’s sharp shafts of light such as this
that throw such lovely shadows over the rest of the record.
Protestant - Stalemate Gotta
cop to being outta the loop re: Protestant until about a couple weeks
ago. Goddamn was I ever missing out. This Milwaukee crew’s Stalemate 10”,
out now via Halo of Flies Records, is consonant with the brutal
metallic hardcore Southern Lord has been blessing us with lately, and
I’m sensing something like a movement here. Granted, it’s probably been
going on for a while, unbeknownst to me, but when I hear Protestant and
the aforementioned Southern Lord sickos (Trap Them, Baptists, Heartless,
Alpinist, Black Breath), I catch a not entirely unpleasant whiff of
muscular nineties metalcore (Integrity especially) windmilling its
sockless way back into punk rock. However, there’s a good deal of crust
in Protestant’s pores, so I see back patches instead of hoodies, Tragedy
shirts instead of Hatebreed tats. It’s as huge and devastating as
anything Dwid and company put out fifteen years ago, but it doesn’t make
me feel like I’m one questionable Victory Records purchase away from
being on a football team. What I’m trying to say is that Protestant’s
record is tough, and it could probably beat you up, but it’s been around
the Profane Existence catalog long enough to know why that would be so
wrong, so it’s going to content itself with messing with your head for
twenty incredibly intense minutes instead.
Raw Nerves - Burnt Skin Arctic Flowers and its amazing Reveries LP
have been hogging much of the heat thrown in the direction of Inimical
Records, but the Seattle-based home of my favorite Flowers did PDX punk
another good turn this year: it escorted Raw Nerves’ vicious new EP into
the world. Although Burnt Skin doesn’t
radically alter the formula that made this Portland outfit’s
self-titled LP so powerful, the three songs here charge into the
hardcore fray with a bit more meat on their bones. The spectre of
California punk of yesteryear still looms--Black Flag’s influence cannot
be denied--but there’s a meanness, a ferocity on Burnt Skin that
puts me in mind of the kinda scary (to this Bay Area kid) sounds of
east coast hardcore, which I always imagined (maybe accurately?) as the
rogue punk twin with a secret predilection for sadism. I’m not talking
about D.C. hardcore, which is only threatening if you’ve never heard an
electric guitar before, but Agnostic Front, SS Decontrol, Slapshot even.
And I, for one, am grateful for this injection of menace into Portland
punk, which rarely if ever makes me worry for my safety. Okay, not being
afraid is actually a really awesome thing, but once in a great while I
want to feel the hairs on my neck stand up in a fight-or-flight
nightmare of my own invention. Burnt Skin gets me just close enough to such sweet terror.
Squalora - Growth Its most recent full length, Hell is Other People, is barely six months old, but Portland’s Squalora is back already with Growth,
a four-song study of pretty much every exhilarating, mind-melting thing
crust punk is capable of doing to a man in his early thirties.
Goosebumps, I tell ya—I got ‘em all over me! The first half of Growth had
me scouring the old skull for fond memories of the East Bay; visions of
Filth and Dead and Gone danced in my head, a noggin that I must admit
to momentarily considering adding a mohawk and Antischism tattoo to. But
before I could do such misguided things to that hard thing from which
my pretty face hangs, the second half of Growth switched
strategies and came at me with the kind of
buildings-are-falling-and-bridges-are-burning crust that His Hero is
Gone was so good at, at which point I figured my vandalistic urges might
be put to better use decorating a Shell station with terse rebuttals.
Not much punk that crosses my path these days fills me with that
glorious teen urge to hurt something large and immovable. Squalora’s
doing just that. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go exhaust myself
jumping rope. What I really want to do is urinate in Target’s produce
aisle, but the new season of Dexter just premiered, so I can’t risk jail at the moment. Priorities, people—I got ‘em.