Slowbleed Bring The Pain

Gabe Becerra

Slowbleed Bring The Pain

Gabe Becerra

I didn’t see Drain. I don’t want to talk about it. Last week, I flew down to an ungodly-hot Austin to cover Oblivion Access, a very cool festival that’s devoted to fringy and extreme sounds. On the last day of the festival, the year’s most exciting hardcore tour came to Austin as part of that Oblivion Access program. Drain, Drug Church, Magnitude, Gel, Restraining Order, Mugger, and Black Mercy played at the Mohawk — an outdoor daytime show when the temperature was well into the triple degrees. That lineup is practically a festival unto itself. I wasn’t there. Had to be home. Didn’t check the festival schedule before booking my flight. Had to celebrate a kid’s birthday. Just one of those things.

Plenty of the stuff I saw in Austin was hardcore-adjacent, either sonically or culturally — MSPAINT, Narrow Head, Lil Ugly Mane, Chat Pile. To find an actual hardcore show before my flight back, though, I had to look outside the boundaries of the festival. I didn’t have to look too hard. The last night that I was in Austin, Oxnard crushers Slowbleed headlined a set that was otherwise flush with Austin bands that I’d never heard of. All of them played in in the Mohawk’s indoor room while an experimental rap show, headlined by Clipping and Clams Casino, was happening on the venue’s outdoor stage. In the venue’s green room, Clipping and Slowbleed sat right next to each other, though I never saw them bonding.

The show must’ve come together at the last minute. As far as I could tell, it had no direct affiliation with Oblivion Access, but I didn’t see anyplace where I was supposed to pay admission for the hardcore show. I met some of the Slowbleed guys before they played, and they said that they didn’t even know they were playing Austin until right before the show. They did two nights at that indoor Mohawk room back-to-back, with different configurations of Austin bands opening each night. It was a randomly occurring hardcore gig, and it was happening a few feet away from a show that I was already planning on seeing. How could you not take advantage of something like that?

Hardcore isn’t quite as regional as rap; you can still find plenty of variance within individual scenes. But whenever you get a chance to see a hardcore show in a different city, it’s a good idea to take it — not just for the music, but so you can see how they do things elsewhere. I’d seen hardcore bands in Austin before, but that was years ago, and I only ever went during SXSW, which isn’t really the right context for hardcore in general. (I can tell you that SXSW crowds always went off for Trash Talk, but that says more about Trash Talk than it does about the crowds.) This one Austin show last weekend didn’t really give me much of a sample size, but it was different from what I’m used to seeing in Virginia.

There weren’t many people at the Slowbleed show — maybe because it all came together at the last minute, maybe because it was brutally hot, or maybe because people were simply saving their energy for the next day’s Drain show. The indoor Mohawk stage is in a tiny room — one that could comfortably fit maybe 50 people. (I once saw Power Trip in there, which now seems impossible to contemplate.) From what I saw at that one show, though, crowds don’t mosh at all for some of the bands — the bands that are apparently insufficiently hard — and they go full horseshoe for the other ones. The space at the front of the stage empties out, and that emptiness comes to encompass most of the room. In the empty area, a few dedicated moshers go bucknuts with the gymnastic spinkicks, while everyone else in the room tries not to get crowdkilled. Maybe most Austin shows aren’t like that. I truly don’t know.

Austin has a long, proud hardcore history that dates back to the very beginnings of the genre; the Big Boys, MDC, and the Dicks were all running wild in the late ’70s and early ’80s. In more recent years, the city has been been home to bands like Iron Age, Glue, Impalers, and Portrayal Of Guilt. In that room on that night, people seemed to respond most fervently to the true heavy shit. The moshers weren’t trying to hurt each other. I saw a few people check their spinkicks just before making contact, and I saw like three girls who seemed to be having a blast taking turns crowdkilling one another. It was never a full-room catharsis thing. Instead, it was all-or-nothing with the ninja shit. I wasn’t mad. It’s fun to watch people go kickbox-crazy, as long as you don’t get too close. I damn sure wasn’t going to try it myself.

The Austin acts on the bill that night were house-show bands, and I say that with love. Openers Disowned play heavy, sincere hardcore that’s informed by thrash and NYHC. There weren’t very many people onstage. It was a singer, a drummer, and one guitarist. They made music that wanted to have basslines and secondary riffs; there just weren’t any basslines or secondary riffs to be found. I could hear exactly what the bass would be doing if it existed — ghost bass. People went off for them, and I was charmed. (YouTube tells me that Disowned sometimes have a full five-person lineup, so maybe the other musicians just couldn’t get off work or whatever.)

People didn’t really go off for Leche, who make fast and bratty punk and who I also thought were pretty charming. Their singer wore a “decapitate Elon Musk” shirt, and they opened their set with a sneering parody of Texan white-boy blues that was called “Stevie Ray Vaughan Was Assassinated” or something like that. People didn’t mosh for them or for Pinko, a trio who play heavy, angular noise-rock — another Austin tradition. In plenty of other cities, bands like that simply don’t play on the same bills; they’ve all got their own little micro-scenes. I thought it was really cool to see them together. (I missed Virtue, who played at the same time as Clipping, but their 2019 EP No Absolutes is very heavy. I bet that crowd loved them.)

I’d already been wanting to see Slowbleed for a while. When I listen to Slowbleed alone in my office, I still feel like someone’s about to elbow me in the face. They’re that kind of band. Singer Jon Stephenson once told No Echo that they’re “a metal band playing hardcore shows,” which sounds about right. Last year, they released The Blazing Sun, A Fiery Dawn, a mean-as-hell full-length that takes a ton of inspiration from classic thrash and death metal. Both guitarists are fully capable of full-on shredding and ominous acoustic interludes, and one of them, John Laux, used to be in straight-up thrashers Warbringer. But Slowbleed make music for hardcore shows; every change in every song seems custom-engineered to make the pit go crazier.

Jon Stephenson lives in Austin now, while the rest of Slowbleed stays back in California. That’s got to make it difficult to conduct business as a DIY entity, but hardcore bands do shit like that all the time. At the beginning of Slowbleed set on Saturday, Stephenson told all of us that we would not be his friends or his enemies while Slowbleed were playing: “Instead, you’re all NPCs, and I’m an 11-year-old child with access to the internet and violent video games.” (I’m paraphrasing that quote, since I didn’t want to catch an errant backfist while typing those words into my phone.) The small crowd in that small room did exactly what he wanted. People were wilding out to Slowbleed.

It can’t be easy to set it off when you’re playing in a small room without that many people in it. Slowbleed pulled it off. I’d love to see them play a bigger room, with more people, just to create the actual warzone conditions that their music demands. But it was still an absolute pleasure to see them go wrecking-ball mode in these conditions, in a city that I hadn’t visited in years. I’m still bummed that I missed the Drain show, but Slowbleed are more than a consolation prize. They are absolute destroyers, and one day, the world will know.

Béton Armé – “À Travers Les Temp​ê​tes”

Why does oi sound so good in French? Is it just a case of upending stereotypes, of goonery taking a form that most of us don’t associate with goonery? Or is there some innate musical quality to the language that goes well with fists-up soccer-hooligan music? I truly don’t know, but this Montreal crew goes so hard with the chanting and the straightforward riffage that they push their music into something like jock-jam territory. This song reminds me less of Cock Sparrer and more of that EDM song with the chanting. Google tells me that I’m thinking of Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400,” which should really change its name to “That EDM Song With The Chanting.” Béton Armé’s massed whoa-ohs deserve to echo around a stadium just like that. [From Second Souffle EP, out now on Primator Crew/Roachleg Records.]

C4 – “Acidic Blood”

C4’s version of old-school hardcore is so fast and guttural and unadorned that it almost seems like parody — so over-the-top in its devotion to reckless early-’80s Boston shit that it must be an intentional exaggeration. But I would not advise you to ask C4’s singer — he’s got a name, but I continue to think of him as the big blonde guy with the bandana and the Timberlands — whether he’s kidding around. It’s better to think of them as a band so vicious that mere mortals like us can’t identify with the depths of their aggression. We can only admire it, and maybe we can run around in a circle while it’s playing real loud. [From Worn/C4 Split Your Skull In Half split 7″, out now on Tribe Dream Records.]

The Chisel – “Cry Your Eyes Out”

Oi band used to get booked on Top Of The Pops. Sham 69, the Cockney Rejects, the Angelic Upstarts — they all lip-synced their brutish working-class anthems on the UK chart-countdown show with the flashing lights and the dry ice. For a little while, at least in the genre’s homeland, this fight music was pop. In the decades since, oi has mostly been the province of some of the scariest basement shows you’ve ever seen. But the Chisel are so good at this shit — so emphatic, so hooky, so driven — that they make me think that it could be pop music again, or at least that it could move vast numbers of people. It feels a little weird to hear a song like this recorded so cleanly, but that’s a condition of history. History changes. If the Chisel blow up, it’ll be because they kick ass. I’d love to see it happen, and with a song like this, it feels like a real possibility. [Stand-alone single, out now on Pure Noise Records.]

Dead Heat – “Endless Torment”

It’s a risky thing to begin a hardcore record with something other than a big riff, but Dead Heat have been killing shit for years, and they know they’ve built up at least enough goodwill for 30 seconds of ominous keyboard drones and Undertaker gongs. When that riff hits, when Chris Ramos lets out an ungodly demon-grunt, I want to clothesline a wall so hard that I reduce an entire building to dust. Dead Heat are so steeped in ’80s thrash that they no longer sound like students. They sound like they’ve fully internalized that apocalyptic feeling, made it part of their collective worldview. When the world ends, the members of Dead Heat are going to be the guys walking around with skulls impaled on the ends of their spears. I bet they can’t wait. [From Endless Torment EP, out 7/28 on Triple B Records.]

Ends Of Sanity – “Last Rites”

There’s some mad science happening on this track. Toward the end, there are all these changes, all these new riffs, and all of them seem custom-designed to make people at shows go more and more berserk. It’s like Ends Of Sanity are trying to see whether they can reduce their audience to squishy puddles of goo. I appreciate it. These days, there’s all sorts of online discourse about the ethics of elbow-smashing a stranger in the jaw when you’re at a show, and it’s all pretty boring and tiresome. If you’re going to go to a hardcore show, you should be fully prepared to deal with elbow-smashes from strangers. And if a song like this is playing, you really shouldn’t be thinking at all. You should lose all contact with the rational part of your brain, and you should simply react. That’s what this shit is for. [From Eligible To Die EP, out now on DAZE.]

Fiddlehead – “Sullenboy”

Pat Flynn spent years traveling the world as the leader of the great straight-edge torch-bearers Have Heart. He’s now a high-school history teacher who makes tender, thoughtful songs about his feelings, and he only tours when his schedule allows. But Flynn still has a beast inside of him, and I hear it on “Sullenboy.” This is a song about battling through your own inherited depression and doing everything in your power not to pass it onto your kids, and Flynn belts it out with the fire of a thousand suns. That’s what the song demands, what the feelings deserve. Complicated emotions can be just as urgent as simple ones. Fiddlehead have made a lot of truly beautiful music, and I’m glad they’re doing it, but I really love it when they drop the hammer like this. [From Death Is Nothing To Us, out 8/18 on Run For Cover Records.]

Knocked Loose – “Deep In The Willow”

It’s not just that Bryan Garris yells “Knocked Loose, motherfucker” on the breakdown. It’s the way the whole thing hits — the quick burst of chiming air-raid feedback, the way Isaac Hale comes in on the word “motherfucker,” the overwhelming juddering explosion of the riff that follows. Knocked Loose are a big band — in that Turnstile zone where they open arena shows and have more than a million monthly Spotify listens. They don’t need to be making music as fiery and ignorant as this. But someone needs to bring overwhelmingly ugly heaviness to the youth, and Knocked Loose have taken it upon themselves. Bless them. [From Upon Loss two-song single, out now on Pure Noise Records.]

Restraining Order – “Misled”

No disrespect to anything else, but this is the best song in the column this month. Restraining Order, motherfucker. Holy shit. This band’s first album was just anthem after anthem. It’s not just that Restraining Order resurrect the sound, style, and feeling of early-’80s hardcore better than anyone else. It’s that they write the songs, too. You can hear a Restraining Order track for the first time, and you can know that you’ll be bellowing along with it at top volume years later. “Misled,” the first single from their next album, is Restraining Order in midtempo-stomper mode, which is their best mode, and I need to be in a room full of people who know all the words immediately. [From Locked In Time, out 7/21 on Triple B Records.]

Shroud – “Entranced”

Shroud come from Springfield, Illinois, and they put out their first EP last year. That’s it. That’s all I know about them. I don’t need to know anything else. “Entranced” tells me all I need to know. It looks, sounds, and smells like the dusty, sweat-encrusted floor of a punk-house basement after an argument over the rotating chore list turned bloody. A band like this should only play generator shows in the Mad Max wasteland. They are too pure for this world, and I love them. [From This Will Define You EP, out now on Delayed Gratification Records.]

Sunami – “10 Toes Down”

It’s pretty funny to hear Sunami end their devastatingly heavy hometown-pride rager with a few seconds of Dionne Warwick daintily singing “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?,” but I get it. Sunami know that it’s funny, but they also love San Jose, and they’ll pay respect to their hometown with every tool at their disposal, whether it’s blitzkrieg murder-riffage or semi-ironic sample. The band’s full-length is exactly the piece of delirious ignorance that I wanted. Listen to the drums here. Listen to the little breaks between riffs, where the drums sound like Wile E. Coyote, just after he’s skidded off the side of a cliff and just before he’s plunged back down again. Sunami’s great power is their ability to stretch that moment out into infinity — that instant when you know some bad shit is going to happen but before you feel the pain. [From Sunami, out now on Triple B Records.]

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