There’s been some radio silence around here, and it’s time I broke that silence with a medley from the guys from Blackhouse Records. If you didn’t catch my feature on their re-release of ZAN’s “√-1”, suffice it to say they’re pretty much my favorite underground label out there right now. On my schedule, I’ve got features marked for upcoming releases from hardcore/grind outfit Cold Blooded and ’90s rock nerds The Colourflies. While I prepare fresh content for the weekend, I’m taking a look back at some of Blackhouse’s back catalogue, along with a ferocious split that dropped two weeks ago.
While waiting for Cold Blooded’s “Throneburner”, I’ve been coming back to Snakes and Sermons, a boisterous garage punk band, where frontman Ethan Kennedy joins up with bassist Stephen Stebbins, the guitarist, Robert Bosaaen, and Joel Visterfield on drums. They teamed up with Blackhouse to release their “Gutter EP”, and a standalone single “Gutter”, including some fantastic artwork from Rot Monger drummer Benjamin Hall. As I write this, the band’s gearing up for an epic show in Spokane with Red Fang, and I should say those Portland metalheads are in for a treat. “Gutter” is a boisterous listen. You might not immediately believe that it lasts 9 minutes. Robert chugs furiously, leaving a brick wall of brawl-worthy noise, topped by Joel’s rock-solid beat and Stephen’s tumbling basslines. Their frenetic finale to “Apocalypse” is an EP highlight.
The band writes songs as straightforward as their music: a tribute to drunkards and degenerates. “I ain’t nothin’ but a rabid dog,” snarls Ethan on “Scumbag”, “somebody better put me down!” They inhabit a character that philanders and philosophizes with reckless abandon. “I’m not tryin’ to get paid; I’m just tryin’ to get laid,” fills up that character’s “Nine Lives”. The guys channel their love of Rust Cohle from “True Detective” on “Apocalypse”, the closest thing they get to a slow-burner. It almost reminds me of Black Sabbath, especially when Ethan channels his inner Ozzy and howls, “You and me walking hand in hand into apocalypse”. His delivery is fierce and high-pitched, like his work with Cold Blooded, but he remembers to have some fun, and speaks some of his lines dryly, as Joel keeps the band hurtling at breakneck speed. “Gutter to Glory” finishes on a buzzsaw riff as Ethan snarls, “You really think you know my story, baby? I’m just crawling from the gutter to the glory!”
I found their choice of album artwork (courtesy of Scott Rozell) an interesting reflection. Some people might dismiss Snakes and Sermons as just another 4-piece hardcore band playing 2-minute copies of Modern Life Is War and Off With Their Heads, and ’70s/’80s punk before that. I don’t think that’s the whole story. Take another look at that photo of the balaclava hung on the wall like an art display. Long a symbol of subversion, it doesn’t lose much of its savage connotation behind the glass. If anything, it brings the image new strength and bite. Snakes and Sermons aren’t rewriting the shape of punk to come; they’re celebrating its past, and unleashing its energy in the sweaty basements and bars of Spokane, WA. Long may they rage in the gutter. I hope this isn’t their only release.
The Colourflies, from Coeur d’Alene, ID, have a similar way of framing the past and presenting it in a new light. Drummer Devin Koshney, bassist Quest Johnson, and guitarist/vocalist Matthew Legard came together to play loud, passionate rock n’ roll. After relentless touring in the Inland Northwest, and their Blackhouse debut, “Been There. Seen It. Lived It. Licensed It.”, they’ve established themselves as children of the ’90s with their own imprint on the screaming guitar feedback of Generation X.
Which is interesting, because first thing I thought when I first heard this album was an artist from the present day: Jeff Rosenstock, a ska-punk/singer/songwriter from New York. During his years with DIY collective Bomb the Music Industry, and now pursuing a solo career with SideOneDummy Records, he had a knack for singing his heart out, even when it sounded more like a raspy shout than anything else. Another one I think of now is Matt Legard. Like Jeff, he’s a raw and unrefined singer. He belts out yelpy, melodic choruses on “Rugrat” and “Jerkass” that wouldn’t sound unwelcome on a Green Day or Weezer album. It plays to his strengths, whether he’s tripping out on “Jerkass” (“You reuse your muse by how I feel you / You dream complete / I am I / You are you”), or belting out about love and life on “Rock Candy” (“I’ve been waiting for my baby to bang away / I’ve been waiting for my baby’s great escape”). It’s a fun mix of surreal imagery, pop culture camp (“Jurassic Park!”) and pop tradition. Matt thanks Tears for Fears in the liner notes, and it’s easy to see why.
Another thing I thought of was the influence the band owes to Sonic Youth, tweaking tone and ambiance and making them as essential to the composition as the notes, which can be risky if the songs don’t hold up. The Colourflies are definitely tone nerds (Matt makes custom guitars, a few of which you can see at Drowning in Guitars), but luckily they’re never boring. For every moment like the odd wails at the beginning of “Wacky Tacky”, you have the thundering conclusion of “Rugrat”, where Devin attacks his drum kit and Matt tears at a jagged chord, yelling, “Eat, reheat, consume, obey!” They’ve mentioned Nirvana as another influence, and it definitely shows. We get a high-pitched scratchy solo on “Bat Face”, followed immediately by a reverb-heavy pattern at the beginning of “Jurassic Park”, followed by a furious crackling riff. Quest Johnson gets in some delightful, rumbling basslines on tracks like “Ben Stiller’s Dexter” and “2%”, adding to the mix.
A few of the choruses do blend together. I wish the chorus in “Jerkass” had a little more shouting and a little less poppy chorus like some of the other songs, but that’s my personal taste. I hear moments like the tingly riff at the beginning of “Advacado”, like raindrops plinking in a puddle, and I wonder what a 6-7 minute Colourflies song might sound like, taking some of those little mosaic moments and exploring them with longer instrumental sections. At the same time, I love it when they go nuts and rock out. They’re an energetic band with more than a couple of ideas. They put together a solid, rambunctious LP, and I can’t wait to see what they have in the works for LP #2, which they’re recording this summer before they go on tour.
And most recently, storming through the gates, we have a three-way split, “It’s Fucking Lit”, from noisemakers Rot Monger, Infrablaster, and Honey Badger. Kaleb Wrenchey recorded their split last year, and at long last it’s fully available on CD and digital formats. It’s a partnership that’s been a long time coming. The three bands have comprised some of the nastiest, uncompromising metal in the Eastern Washington area for the last few years. Straddling the line between grind and powerviolence, and in Rot Monger’s case, straight-out mathcore, they’ve played several shows together and honed their sonic assault.
Rot Monger delivers three tracks, which pretty much perfect the Rot Monger formula. Matt Grooms plays a mean-spirited eight-string guitar with a tone heavier than some doom metal bands, and he plays it hard and fast, careening through a series of chaotic riffs that are completely designed to disorient. Just hearing a Rot Monger song on the guitar alone is terrifying. Hearing it while Jason Ehrhart goes in on his tuned-down bass, and Benjamin Hall anchors it all on the drum kit, dashing from one rhythm to the next, it’s downright horrifying. The band gets political for the first time on “Fuck 12”, which opens with a sample from a police brutality video, and doubles down on their addiction aesthetic with “Guess It Stains” and “Ombibulist”. They borrow from trap imagery to create their own laconic, nihilistic portrait of drug abuse that makes Trent Reznor seem like an art school student who talks too much. This time around, they don’t get any hip-hop features like Rass Kass (yes, the Rass Kass) from their last release, “Whiskey and Mushrooms”, but if anyone in their right mind catches this split, that better change in a hurry. Danny Brown would sound perfect dueling vocalist Zach Walker’s raspy shrieks and animal grunts.
Infrablaster throws down with 4 tracks, recorded with Spokane guitarist Josh Rodriguez, and performed live by Mike and Matt Ellertson and Riley Powers. Their fierce hatred of corruption in society (and just about everything else) is augmented by their love of Stanley Kubrick. You’ll hear multiple audio clips from his films before their songs, most memorably from “The Shining”. Where Rot Monger is fast, heavy, and complicated, Infrablaster is fast, spastic, and straightforward. Drummer Devon Jensen doesn’t let up, especially on “Churn and Turn”, where he and Josh build a tornado of blastbeats and constant furious strumming. Ace Michel from ZAN brings his trademark high-pitched spite, a bleeding cherry on top. These guys are touring and going into the studio soon, and their work here is getting me really, really excited.
If Rot Monger is the feverish brother in the Blackhouse family, and Infrablaster is the pissed-off sister, Honey Badger is the meth-addled stepchild with schizophrenia. The side project of Ben Hall, Zach Walker, and Devon Jensen, the Badger comes out to play for two sloppy tracks: “Powder Squeeber” and “Burlap T-Shirt”. If it’s possible, it’s even more polarizing than the rest. Devon plays guitar, and Ben pounds his drums to the simple chant: “In through your nose, out through your mouth / It’s really hard to breathe with a face full of drugs”. You either get Honey Badger or you don’t. The appeal of Honey Badger rests precisely in the fact that they don’t care whether you get it or not.
That’s the appeal of this entire split. It’s a manifesto of Eastern Washington audio violence– loud as hell, heavy as shit, and disgusting as humanity itself. Tony Agosta’s artwork depicts three monsters feasting on the corpse of a stereotypical hardcore kid, which tells you the regard they have for slower, more angsty punk rock. This is a fiercer breed, one that sees counterculture as a smokescreen and clears the air, one blast at a time. It’s not about fighting the system. It’s not pretentious. It’s fucking lit.
Stream that below, and then get your hands on the limited-edition CD from Blackhouse before they sell out forever.