Old blood gets fresh sound with remastered collection
The holiday season is steadily approaching and ‘tis the season for record companies to release the inevitable: box sets, remastered albums and DVD documentaries. In hopes that their product will make it onto fans’ holiday wish lists, record companies will dig out the b-sides, live performances and extended or alternative artwork from albums, which offers both prospective and dedicated fans a new and extensive opportunity to investigate influential bands.
The record label Epitaph has already re-released four albums from Seattle’s genre defying band, The Blood Brothers. Now defunct, the band has been categorized as post-hardcore, art-punk, pop-metal and avant-garde, but no genre can really capture their inimitable style, which contains poppy song structures and choruses, heavy instrumentals, and two vocalists wailing macabre lyrics of disillusionment and decadence.
Epitaph is re-releasing the band’s first album, “March On Electric Children,” but the group did not garner media attention and affirm their identity until their subsequent release, “…Burn Piano Island, Burn.” This album, which is re-released with live songs, music videos, and a bonus DVD of concert footage, is a unique and somewhat deranged, blend of pop structures and hardcore vocals, combining catchy choruses with ear splitting screams.
What could be a pretentious mess actually sounds both glossy and grimy, playing like the decay of commercialized pop, as in the album’s titular track, where funky bass lines and a repetitive chorus are juxtaposed with the song’s intermittent guitar breakdowns. The song is indicative of the spasmodic chaos of the entire album, found in the insidious chimes of “Ambulance vs. Ambulance,” which bursts into a wall of noise and the twisted a cappella vocals of “The Salesman, Denver Max.”
As a whole, “Piano Island” is a startling, and often revolting, exploration of human nature and the faults of a commercialized world, manifested through the band’s sugary and catchy song structures, which belie the nightmarish, surrealistic images that comprise the band’s lyrics.
The band’s subsequent album, “Crimes,” paints clearer pictures of this decay through seemingly subhuman vocals cries. The album’s single, “Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck,” is a harrowing narrative that builds to a screeching crescendo, as desperate weeps and a demonic baritone bleed into the song’s violent climax and conclusion.
Packed with a bonus disc of b-sides, live songs and enhanced features, “Crimes” begins the pop influence that the group’s final album, “Young Machetes” hones. Filled with songs about rats, swans, unicorns and lasers, the album anticipates a less abrasive sound. However, though the band’s pop influences come to fruition, like on the ironically jovial conclusion to the death-influenced, “Lift the Veil, Kiss the Tank,” The Blood Brothers do not forget to bring their blood curdling screams, either.
Opener “Set Fire to the Face on Fire” is short and explosive: bashing cymbals, heavy bass-lines, repetitively catchy screaming, and the Blood Brothers’ oblique lyrics make the song reminiscent of “Piano Island,” only with an added coat of polish. They save the heaviest moment for the closer, “Giant Swan,” which could be a metaphor for the dangers of commercialism, the superficiality of beauty and the consequences of an immoral life. The song creates tension, combusts and collapses, as a vocalist ends wailing,”giant swan, take me to the river,” a resignation towards death or, at least, rebirth.
Full of images of death, decay and moral dissolution, what more can someone want for Christmas? While this music is not for everyone, it is a certainly unique aspect of sonic force and experimentation that is getting some rightly deserved recognition and hopefully a few slots under your Christmas tree this December.
Kevin Stevens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.