August Alston doesn’t know I’m writing this. I made no attempt to track the man down. I met him once at a house show, about three or four years ago. My band had just played. His band was about to play. Someone introduced us. I remember a pregnant pause and a cough. I didn’t know anything about August Alston at the time. He was just a guy with long hair whose band was playing after mine.
I was shy. He seemed shy.
My band wasn’t great. His band was great.
I know a little bit more about August Alston now. What I know about August Alston should, in a just world, be fairly common knowledge in the Portland music scene, for he is on his way to becoming a true superhero of extreme sounds. For now, his exploits remain sadly unsung beyond the monkish confines dug into punk’s outer rim. I believe his achievements deserve to be sung.
Here’s why: August Alston has, since the 1990s, fronted a number of very-good-to-downright-amazing punk bands. Punk here being a net large enough to catch grind and metal and various other slippery, dark fish. Some of the bands are/were Portland-based, some of them are/were not. The five I’ve selected for your delectation assault the listener in various ways, with August Alston’s animal howls and growls and screeches leading each charge.
Let us get to know August Alston, then. But not too well. He sounds dangerous.
Society of Friends
I like to think of Society of Friends as August Alston’s apprenticeship in viciousness. There is nothing all that remarkable about this Austin outfit’s approach to late 20th century powerviolence, but it is a pretty solid showcase for August Alston’s deft vocal maneuvers. The dude dives into the Slap-a-Ham routine with feral fury. “I will do something marvelous one day,” August Alston seems to be screaming. August Alston is correct.
Lords of Light
This is definitely the strangest project bearing August Alston’s fingerprints, and possibly the oddest bird 625 Thrashcore ever flung into the atmosphere. I’m not sure I like Lords of Light very much, but I have mad respect for any punks who fuck with a formula, and August Alston and company did just that with Energy, a burbling stew of hardcore, pop, funk, prog and metal. Mike Patton probably peed his pants when he heard it. Yeah, it’s one of THOSE bands. I’m reminded of 90s weirdos Exit-13, which is not a bad thing. August Alston’s vocals do cartwheels while his collaborators vomit everything they know about their instruments into the ether, and for the first time, August Alston seems to be having fun. In the way a clown holding a machete to your throat is having fun.
Lords of Light live.
What happened to Silentist? Mark Burden’s frightening piano-driven punk/metal monster was one of Portland’s most skilled practitioners of the dark arts for a while there, and August Alston’s vocals lent the Argento-esque affair an air of true psychosis. The last Silentist release, as far as I know, was 2009’s “The Tunnel” 7”. I hope Burden is sharpening his knives somewhere, keeping August Alston in the wings, waiting for us to fall into naive sleep, crafting some dark track that will demolish our dreams. The song below, a six minute spiral into hell, should give you some idea of what Burden and Alston are capable of when they get together.
Listen to “House on the Hill.”
Basement Animal is August Alston’s current Portland concern, and it seems intent on picking its scabs in the internet’s shadows. This is an August Alston trademark: lurking in the dark, waiting to be discovered, hunted, chased into the light. Basement Animal’s grindcore finds August Alston giving his gruff registers a workout. August Alston wants to destroy himself with his own voice. August Alston knows the quest is futile, but he pushes on, pushes down to where his love of Cannibal Corpse lives, and finds he cannot stop screaming, cursing, spitting, grunting
I weighed in on Walls once this week already. Read that short burst of slobbery praise here - http://www.wweek.com/portland/event-89281-walls_dead_boomers_banishing_das_butcher.html - and then watch the video below for evidence supporting my claim that Walls just might be one of the best punk bands around right now. That’s August Alston singing. You can sorta recognize the voice now, can’t you? Sounds a little too close to madness, doesn’t it? August Alston seems like he knows a little bit too much about your mean thoughts, doesn’t he? I’ll say his name once more: August Alston. Remember it. Sing it.
Watch the video for “It Never Rolls Right Off.”
SEE HIM: Walls plays the Know on Tuesday, Jan. 31, with Dead Boomers, Banishing and Das Butcher. 8pm. Cover. 21+.