Tragedy - Darker Days Ahead

Those of us who make our livings writing blog posts about music have an easy time forgetting this, but underground music is still very much a real thing, and bands like Tragedy are the reason why. To an extremely small portion of the population, the Portland-via-Memphis crust-punk band is an absolutely legendary institution, and the rest of the world has pretty much no idea that they exist. The new Darker Days Ahead is the band’s first album in six years, and its release should be some kind of event. But they self-release their records, barely tour, don’t employ managers or publicists, and have no website, so you have to check in the right places to figure out that the album exists, or why it matters. Here’s why it matters: Tragedy have become folk heroes by pushing their genre to its expressive extremes, putting every trick they have into the service of gigantic slabs of forbidding, apocalyptic darkness. They use acoustic guitars and ambient radio-chatter and blazing power-metal guitar-leads whenever they want, and they put all these things into the service of roaring deep-concentration anger-bombs that, when you’re listening to them, make the world feel like a different place. Darker Days Ahead is their furthest-out album yet — an absolutely crushing slab that’s closer to metal than to just about all ideas of punk rock. It’s awesome.

I grew up on bands like Tragedy. Some of my favorite high-school memories take place in the VFW and American Legion Halls in the suburbs north of Baltimore. You’d pick up a flyer in the city’s one punk rock record store (Reptilian Records, R.I.P.) and then drive north for an hour, trying to follow the directions as best you could, wondering why the fuck you were seeing nothing but cow-pastures until you came across the church parking lot that had a couple hundred kids with mohawks milling around. Then you’d pay your $5 and see something like seven really fun local bands before the out-of-town headliner — Violent Society, say, or Aus Rotten — came out and annihilated all of them. So I’m immensely gratified that bands like Tragedy are still out there, doing this thing for new generations of high school kids. But that lingering affection isn’t why I like Darker Days Ahead.

Tragedy’s latest, actually, sounds nothing like the punk albums I grew up loving. It actually sounds closer to something like Sepultura’s Chaos A.D., all martial slow-bound builds and demonic roars and world-obliterating production. Those old punk albums sounded like someone hit record on a Walkmen and pointed it in the general direction of the band, which is probably more or less what happened. But from their first album in 2000, Tragedy have sounded huge — not shiny or produced, but utterly unencumbered by tape-hiss or shitty mixing. Every bass-thud gets a chance to ring in your ears. And because the band’s dynamics get so much power from the brief moments where they’ll switch into ominous acoustic stillness, that’s really important. Some of the tracks on Darker Days Ahead come with drone parts — I can never tell if they’re synths or sculpted feedback — that could’ve come from old horror movies. Others have triumphant guitar solos that actually get a chance to soar above the songs rather than getting trapped in the fuzz-pummel, and that also makes a difference. These guys know what they’re doing.

But that widescreen sound wouldn’t matter as much if it weren’t for the songwriting, and Tragedy know what they’re doing there too. Without a lyric sheet, I can’t tell what Todd Burdette is roaring about, though I can imagine it’s the sort of political bleakness that bands like this live to project. But I do know that the songs move with serious confidence, speeding up into double-time or disappearing into silence at the exact right moment every time. When this sound is this well-executed, it makes for an incredibly satisfying listen. Hearing it is like watching the spectacular calamity in a good disaster movie. And on Darker Days Ahead, they keep that consistency up even when they move outside of hurtling D-beat rhythm schemes — as on the itchy doom-metal thud of “Black Against Night” or the verging-on-black-metal evilness of “The Feeding Hour.” They’re the rare punk band whose command of atmosphere is just as strong as their gift for velocity, and their continued existence is a gift to all of us.

Darker Days Ahead is out now on Tragedy Records.

Other albums of note out this week:

• OFF!’s self-titled full-length old-school hardcore debut.
• The Cribs’ ’90s riff-rock Albini-and-Fridmann LP In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull.
• Horseback’s excellent Half Blood, which fuses bombed-out Americana to seething experimental metal.
• Swans’ double live album We Rose From Our Bed With The Sun In Our Head.
• Damon Albarn’s soundtrack to his opera Dr. Dee.
• Silversun Pickups sunny fuzz-rock effort Neck Of The Woods.
• Ween member Aaron Freeman’s Rod McKuen tribute Marvelous Clouds.
• Here We Go Magic’s twitchy Nigel Godrich collaboration A Different Ship.
• Kindness’s glitzy disco debut World, You Need A Change Of Mind.
• Bon Iver collaborator S. Carey’s spacey EP Hoyas.
• PS I Love You’s lovelorn, Pixies-damaged Death Dreams.
• Instrumental J Mascis side project Heavy Blanket’s self-titled debut.

Comments (50)
  1. Michael_  |   Posted on May 8th, 2012 0

    Well, it appears that no one seems to know who or what the hell Tom just wrote about since this is obviously not the type of music that is going to win you any points with the babes, but I hope some of you take the chance to give this a listen so that by chance you actually need to use your balls with said-babes, you will have finally grown a pair.

  2. Dude, I just listened to this, and I have nothing against the music itself, but the vocals are awful. I mean, there are a million different ways to sing. Why do so many bands opt for this style? It ruins potentially great albums. I should have known what the vocals would sound like as soon as I read the first comment. The comment, like the vocals, reminds me of those guys with backwards baseball hats who are always trying way too hard to prove their masculinity, the same guys who, weirdly enough, are also in love with the smooth jazz elevator music of the Dave Matthews Band.

    • Michael_  |   Posted on May 8th, 2012 +4

      That’s what sucks about hardcore / punk / metal / whatever bastardized “thrash” version it is listeners — the pursuit to prove masculinity (as I mocked in my comment above. I don’t like to make my mockings so deliberate, by the way…) I love the music, but at the same time, I’ve never really felt part of the culture of that whole genre since I never really felt the need to act “tough,” cover my sleeves and chest plate in tats and get aggressive at shows.

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  4. I cannot believe what I’m hearing here. Masculinity? This stuff? Yanick and co. are staright up vegan feminists! Their revolutionaries. Their music has nothing to do with masculine topics at all. They speak about technology and how its deteriorating social ties, the proliferation of war mongers, the real experience that is depression and loniliness. Please guys, I respect your opinions, but consider reading the lyrics before judging HC bands.

    • Whose revolutionaries?

    • Michael_  |   Posted on May 8th, 2012 +2

      I think M-Hanna was making more of an observation of the listeners rather than the artists. Hardcore musicians are often bright, inciteful and worldly individuals, but it’s also common that the listeners just hear the angry noise and forget the lyrics.

      • I was mostly just making fun of the vocals, which are very silly and greatly detract from any social or intellectual value the lyrics have. Did the Cookie Monster on PCP comment not do the trick? Here… what about that meme, Insanity Wolf? He could be the singer, too.

        • Michael_  |   Posted on May 8th, 2012 0

          Oh please, get over yourself. I was going to defend you until I saw that stupid comment you made in the Beatles / Mad Men thread where you basically called me an idiot. I think we all know who the real close-minded idiot here is now…

          • Oh, heavens to Betsy! Please defend me, Michael Underscore! Where would I be without my knight in shining armor?

          • Michael_  |   Posted on May 8th, 2012 -1

            I don’t understand why you are getting so upset with people offering different opinions than yours, and that to me is the ultimate sad. I don’t care if you have a different point of view, but please don’t state words as if they are the one and only truth, and then get in a tizzy when your close-mindedness is called out. As of today, you’ve stereotyped fans of Tragedy as insecure about their sexuality and labeled anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles clueless about all music. You’re pretty much disgusting, man.

          • I’m actually not upset about anything on this thread. I’ve been having fun dissing a particular vocal style that routinely ruins heavy music. I don’t know jack about who listens to this band; all of the little metaphors I used here were really just what I visualize when I hear the singer of this band. As for the thread where I take you to task about your ignorance of the Beatles, well, I was totally serious and correct about that. How any of my little jabs or mini-essays could qualify as “disgusting” is beyond me.

          • Michael_  |   Posted on May 8th, 2012 +3

            You’re beginning to make me feel uncomfortable at this point and I feel like you are stalking me throughout Stereogum, which is a violation of the Terms & Conditions.

    • Ya, I got a tad excited their so typos and maybe a bit of hyperbole resounded. With revolutionaries, I mean that they’ve found a sort of middle ground between tradition and today’s hyper-accessibility. At first, when I heard about these boys, rising from the ashes of His Hero is Gone, talking about technology and they’re attempt to resist it, I found it not only impossible, but also weirdly conservative. Now that they’re 4 records, an EP and a split deep (I think that’s it), and they’re STILL at that shit, I’m ridiculously impressed.
      But they’re also not assholes about it. They’re sound is highly influenced by Japanese d-beat, which reveals their cosmopolitanism, so it’s not all “Internet is the problem, man” kinda deal.
      About this vocal business, I mean, read this article (yes, on Pitchfork) by Masters and Currin called “To Learn as a Listener.” It’s really important for people who take music seriously to challenge themselves, to ask themselves “Why does this sound so unpleasing?’ etc. etc.
      I used to hate these sorts of vocals too, but then I challenged myself, asked “Why do they sing like this?” (Really though, is there any other type of vocals that could go with this music and with these themes and not sound sort of off?)

      • *there, haha.

      • Yes, I think that there are vocals that match the content of the music more appropriately. I will agree with posters above and their distaste for this style of lyrics. If content is valuable, then I would like for it to be approachable. Lyrics that are ultimately obscured by any device are going to alienate a certain portion of the listening audience. I can fully respect listeners who enjoy this vocal style. I very much enjoy instrumentals from a lot of hardcore bands, but I feel outright ridiculous when listening to the vocals. I don’t think that my disliking a vocal style devalues the band or its message, but it keeps me from being a “fan”.

        I also argue that this is part of the intent of the vocal style. It is custom-made to alienate some segments of the population. There is, therefore, a “cool” factor to the content. That level of pretense does devalue a band and its art. So, there is the need for listeners to challenge themselves and to be open to learning, but this style of vocals is nothing new, and it does little save for obscuring what is apparently a novel genre concept.

        • This is absolutely true. This vocal style has definitely become representative of many heavy metal bands’ intent to alienate (heavy music, on the other hand, is another matter, especially for the super melodic Tragedy, here). I guess much of my frustration comes from a misunderstanding of why us music lovers seem to pick on this sort of music, as if, usually because of the vocals, it’s a lesser form of music. This isn’t only informed from the comments here, but good friends who I know love music, but look at HC like it stupid, hoaky, etc ( I then I give them Azzerad’s “Our Band Could Be Your Life” and then their hate for HC goes from respect for Black Flag to not being able to wait for the next Double Negative 7″).
          It’s sort of anthropological in its reflexivity. We should always look at where we’re coming from and be critical even of our own critiques. If, ultimately, it comes down to a simple personal distaste, that’s obviously fine, but don’t dismiss it and not give it some chance. I believe everyone who believes themselves to be a informed fan of music should have some what of a small collection of significant music from each and every genre. For example, go out and grab Refused’s Shape of Punk to Come, give it a good few spins and if that thing doesn’t convince you, ya, you probably won’t ever enjoy the genre.

          • Michael_  |   Posted on May 8th, 2012 +1


            New favorite commenter. Can back up what he says with facts.

          • No one here is dismissing a genre, just one flawed element in an otherwise interesting brew. Refused and Black Flag are great; if you don’t see the difference between those vocals and the ones here, then I guess there’s no point talking about this. Michael, I’ve determined that you are one of those people who maintains that everything is subjective unless something a person says appeals to you; then it’s a fact.

          • Michael_  |   Posted on May 8th, 2012 +2

            “one of those people…”

            Again, thanks for the hypercritical stereotyping and uneasiness you bring as you continue to stalk me. You know everything about me, don’t you, Mr. Laurinaitis.

          • This has always been my philosophy and I certainly try to live by it. I didn’t have idea one about metal music five years ago and now I am eagerly anticipating at least three metal albums this month (including one today; Horseback). I am still waiting to find more ins to country music, but I definitely have a couple cherished albums there.

            It reminds me of the way people hear Salsa music as some inner-city noise, almost extra-terrestrial. I grew up a city with a huge Latino population and I heard this music ALL the time but the adults around me regarded it as a nuisance, as if it weren’t music at all. It wasn’t racism, but it was definitely a form of closed-mindedness.

            Music informs more than just cultural identities, it informs deeply personal identities. We sometimes get so wrapped up in our perception of ourselves and the tastes we believe we espouse that we are afraid of outside music.

            It’s a form of musical xenophobia and the cure is not pretending to love music you can’t stand but pretending you were someone else trying to fit this music into your life. What are its merits? What are its problems?

            The hope is that you maintain this openness whenever you listen, no matter what conclusions you draw. I am probably never going to like Nickelback (this is cliched, but there’s a reason for that), but God damnit I’m going to give them a chance to impress me and try to forget they’re batting about 0 for 14.

          • This impression on Salsa music is EXACTLY what I went through with country. Coming from butt-fuck, New Brunswick, country was everything and hearing songs like “She Thinks My Tractor Sexy” blasting from every ’94 Ford pickup, I completely dismissed everything about it. Then I challenged myself, did some research and decided to pick up Jamey Johnsons’ “That Lonely Song” and now I’m completely engulfed in country music. It’s a moment where I rediscovered that incredibly gratifying feeling of pushing myself, much like the feeling many of us get when we realize “Holy shit, my musical decision DON’T have to be informed by what’s popular.” So, I definitely subscribe to the idea that ALL genres and sub-genres have at least one or two gems, therefore no genre should be dismissed.
            Also, correct me if this is fucking ridiculous and/or I’m not in on the obvious joke here, but Michael_ and Michael Hanna are the same person, aren’t they?

  5. ‘Nother thing for those trying to pick up the record but haven’t been able to tap into the pretty selective streams these boys deal with, check out my boy Paco at La Vida Es Un Mus. Also ask for a Kriegshog record while you’re their.
    Open Your Heart.

  6. What the hell guys? The vocals are great! And not even close to being “cookie monster-esque,” at least by the standards of most heavier music. After reading the comments I was prepared for the full on black metal growl, but this more along the lines of Buzz melvin or Matt Pike- which suits heavier music perfectly! I suppose this type of vocalist may be an acquired taste, but it is unfair to dismiss this band because of “bad vocals” when you simply don’t like the style.

    • We must not be thinking of the same cookie monster then. But how about this, maybe I’m confused in the same way that all penguins look the same to me because I only occasionally look at penguins. This vocal style sounds like the vocal style of at least one hundred other bands. From my pov I really need for a band to do something to justify shelling out $ or giving time for their art to resonate. Bands that work so hard to fit into their genre club are just not that interesting. The “these guys are so cool because they don’t even have a website” kind of argument is juvenile. Maybe I’m not intended to enjoy this genre, but I would appreciate it if people would drop the “no, but you have to listen to this band” or “you just have to keep listening” routine. Heard it; seen it; unconvinced. Look at the difference in the audience at a broad market indie show and the audience at a hardcore show. Which crowd is trying so hard? I started listening to HC twenty years ago. For a significant period of time, I was an angry teenager who enjoyed it. Maybe I just grew out of it (like I did with the Smurfs and velcro shoes. And diapers)

      • I think you make a good point about the penguins. I love penguins and I think you are on to something. You use the term “vocal style”. This is how I feel about half asleep indie rock. I think that Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, the Shins, etc. “all sound the same”. I recognize that they are not the same band but that soft emotive vocal style is generic to me.

        • I can totally get behind your criticism of those bands from an outside perspective, especially when they refuse to do anything to elevate or maintain the quality of their music. Justin Vernon is just the sort of writer who obscures his lyrics through “mumbly” vocals. It’s a little to early to paint him into a stylistic corner, but I don’t think that any of his products post-Emma had held up to the quality of that work.

          I can’t agree with you about Sam Beam or James Mercer, because their discography demonstrates a willingness to do different things sonically and vocally. However, your point is well taken despite whatever disagreements I have concerning examples. A lot of genre bands are too concerned with being “in” and not seemingly as concerned about making good albums.

          • To be honest I really like Iron and Wine. Not a fan of the Shins or Bon Iver but I was trying to make a point about vocal styles. The reason I prefer Iron and Wine is that I think he is an amazing songwriter. The same may be true of James Mercer but his voice ruins it for me. I guess that is the point. If the songs are not there it doesn’t matter if I like the vocal style or not but if I can’t get past the vocals for whatever reason it doesn’t matter if the songs are brilliant or weak, and it’s easy to use the excuse that it all sounds the same.

            It’s true that lots of metal bands use the cookie monster vocals but I know enough about what I like to know that I love Napalm Death because they “make good albums”. I joined this conversation because listening to the Tragedy samples the first thing I noticed were the vocals because they have a different quality than a lot of the hardcore that I’ve been hearing lately. I guess I just spend more time with penguins.

      • Oooookay. This makes sense. Ya, I know a few people out their who are similar where they listened to HC during a certain stage (often the rebel teenaged period) and now can’t even stand the shit, or even the prospect of going to a show where kids are running around, moshing and such.
        I know want to seem like a know it all for trying to dissect your thought process, but it seems like you hear this music->reawakens a certain time (uninformed, convenient politics through and with HC)->juvenile. I get this. In many ways, this is one of the things that impresses me about HC because it does simplify certain politics, which is incredibly comforting when my entire life, and anyone who follows news on the Internet these days, is so inundated with news that complicates one’s core beliefs. I see positives and negatives to this understanding of the complexity of politics/ideologies because, if one’s too concerned with its complexity, it’s paralyzing, so middle ground has to be found and HC often helps me with this.
        But, eldave, brother, you HAVE to check out Botch’s “C. Thomas Howell as the ‘Soul Man,’” (lyric sheet in hand, obviously) which directly touches upon the posturing often found in HC. A little background, this song is pretty much a diss of Racetraitor, whose drummer and bassist would go on to be members for Fall Out Boy. Cunts.

      • You’re a loser, these guys don’t sound like anyone else at all, in my opinion. If you don’t like heavy music, you may just be a pussy.

  7. You guys are all so cute.

  8. No mention of Royal Headache?

  9. “doing this thing for new generations of high school kids.” Haha, so clueless. Maybe you should actually go to a local Hardcore show before deciding that the DIY community exists to entertain children.

  10. Chaos A.D.>>>>>>this album

  11. Long Live His Hero is Gone

  12. I can understand disliking a vocal style. I can’t understand getting aggressive about these types of vocalists and making a bunch of assumptions about why they do it. In the entirety of music, there are so many odd styles in otherwise accessible places like folk and blues. Cultures develop around these things, and new bands reflect them back. It’s not about being juvenile, or manly posturing, although plenty of bands like that do exist. I mean, in this case, it’s not even that hard to put together: The vocals are nearly another percussive instrument, matching tone and pitch with the rest of the music. It isn’t about being pretty, but what about this music is?

    As for it all sounding the same, well, no, it really doesn’t. Even in the same sub-genre, there are plenty of vocalists who sound nothing like this. And maybe the fixation on someone doing something decidedly not much like singing makes it hard to realize, but the variations in style and pitch are fairly broad if we’re going to talk about “screamy” vocalists as though they’re part of one large genre. Tragedy’s vocalist ain’t exactly Varg Vikernes.

  13. people complaining about tragedy vocals, calling them unoriginal = people complaining about Diablo3′s focus on repeating the game on higher difficulties.

    in other words, if this is your first tragedy album, you really don’t get a say.

  14. a bit late, but this one is a fucking monster. I can dig it.

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