The Scowl/Militarie Gun Tour Is The Future That Was Promised
Ian Shelton was hurting. When Militarie Gun rolled through Richmond last month, Shelton’s bark sounded as commanding as ever, but he visibly struggled to summon that bark. After Dazy’s James Goodson finished singing “Pressure Cooker” with Militarie Gun, he let the crowd know that we needed to help Ian get through the set. It made me wonder how often that happens. I’ve talked to professional singers who constantly go to doctors, who take voice lessons, who trade tea concoctions and take care to rest their voice whenever possible. Maybe some hardcore singers work that hard to care for their voices, but I’m guessing that most don’t. I’ve met Ian once or twice, and he doesn’t strike me as a guy who does vocal exercises. He screams more than he sings, and when his voice isn’t acting right, he has to scream that much harder.
Have you ever thought about what it must be like to scream for a living? How exhausting it must be? I can’t read my kids a story at night without going through three or four cough drops, but I know people who make their livelihood by bellowing and growling and burping and urrrgh-ing energetically every single night. That can’t be easy! In the current climate, most hardcore bands don’t tour full-time. Instead, lots of band members have day jobs, and they do weekend shots and festivals. But there are still hardcore bands out there who tour, who spend their lives on the road. Militarie Gun are among those bands, which means Ian Shelton does not get a chance to stop screaming.
When the word “professional” comes up in a hardcore context, it’s usually derogatory. A band is pro-core if it has lights and guitar techs or whatever. When hardcore bands have any kind of commercial ambition, it tends to make people uncomfortable, which then leads to tiresome “industry plant” discourse. (Please let me assure you that the music industry has bigger problems than how to effectively manipulate the hardcore underground.) Scowl and Militarie Gun are two bands who make melodic, impactful, catchy-as-fuck music that resonates outside the hardcore sphere. They both have songs in Taco Bell commercials. Post Malone likes both of them. A certain segment of the hardcore community will always view bands like this with suspicion.
But after seeing Militarie Gun and Scowl back-to-back on what would’ve otherwise been a sleepy, rainy Tuesday night, I can tell you that these two bands bring the fire. This should not be a surprise. The vast and overwhelming reaction to both bands has been absolute praise and excitement, and they have earned it. Neither band has been around for long. Militarie Gun started as a pandemic project, and Scowl were just getting going when the world shut down. Both bands are comprised of people who have been in the trenches; in Regional Justice Center, Ian Shelton has to scream while also playing ridiculously fast and complicated things on the drums. Both bands also write serious anthems. For my money, “Pressure Cooker” was the best rock song of 2022, and “Opening Night” is the best rock song of 2023. People are amped about these bands because these bands kick ass.
When I bring up professionalism, I’m not trying to argue with strawmen or cheer on some encroaching wave of venture-capital hardcore startups. I just want to point out that what Scowl and Militarie Gun do is difficult. The show that I saw in Richmond was fucking awesome. It takes a rare combination of energy, talent, charisma, and dedication to put together a solid month of shows that pop off as hard as the one that I saw. They did it. They’re doing it. Ian Shelton could’ve gone the easy way out, spending most of the night by passing the mic out to people in the crowd. He did not. He never stopped going in. His bark sounded ragged by the end of Militarie Gun’s set, but the obvious effort made those songs hit that much harder.
Scowl’s Kat Moss, meanwhile, is an absolute star who was not having any problems with her voice, at least that night. Scowl’s music has gone though a lot of changes in the past year or so. They once mad raw, fervent basement music, and they can still do that. But they started lacing their music with big riffs and ’90s alt-rock hooks, and that shit is working. Scowl have been touring just as hard as Militarie Gun. Earlier this year, I saw them play the very same room as the third band on a five-band bill. While they were on, the guy next to me got kicked in the chest so hard that he had to be helped out of the venue. Now, Scowl are headlining, and I did not see one person get knocked out. (A bunch of people did eat shit while stagediving during the show, though. Ian Shelton, who did plenty of stagediving of his own, said that maybe we need to pick up a new hobby.)
Scowl and Militarie Gun sound nothing like each other, but both of them hit the same pleasure centers. I hear them, and I get excited. It was an absolute gift to see these two bands going back-to-back, blasting hooks and ideas and charisma in all directions. For the first half of their tour together, Scowl and Militarie Gun had an opener with plenty of hooks and ideas and charisma of their own: MSPAINT. (Milwaukee band Big Laugh opened the second half, and they’re cool, but I’m glad I was at one of the shows with MSPAINT.)
Watching MSPAINT for the second time this year, something occurred to me: I simply do not have the language to properly describe this band. As a rock critic, it’s my job to describe what bands do. I do that all day. But MSPAINT make that difficult. There’s a genuine prettiness in some of the Mississippi band’s synth textures, but it’s not synthpop. There’s a whole lot of Korn in singer Deedee’s choppy, rap-adjacent bark, but it’s definitely not nü-metal. MSPAINT make sense at a hardcore show because of the hard-crash physicality of their music, but they’re not trying to be a hardcore band, the way so many hardcore bands are. It’s this deranged and intoxicating combination of sounds, and it makes absolutely zero sense, but it works.
A few months ago, I saw MSPAINT play a nighttime festival set in Austin, and it was so hot in the room that people couldn’t mosh or even really move, though Deedee still wore his psychotic stage gear — shirt with one sleeve cut off, pants with one leg chopped short, a single fingerless glove. In Richmond, MSPAINT had a humanly habitable room and a crowd that was ready to move, and they also had Ian Shelton come out, sore throat and all, for some guest-bellowing and stagediving. On a show that was already full of addled, euphoric energy, MSPAINT added something different, something that could not be replicated. All three of the bands on that tour could and probably should be headlining their own shows. To get all three on the same night felt like winning a lottery.
In Richmond, we got extra-lucky. Dazy haven’t played very many shows since James Goodson became a dad a few months ago, but the Dazy/Militarie Gun combination is so strong that Militarie Gun basically can’t play in town without Dazy. Dazy is Goodson’s pandemic-era home-recording project, and he makes the records himself, but he usually plays live with a band. At this show, though, Goodson was entirely solo — just himself, his guitar, and his sequencers. Goodson seemed a little nervous about how the whole thing was coming off. He shouldn’t have been. His Dazy songs are good enough that they can stand on their own — perfect little shimmering love letters to early-’90s alt-rock radio, when you’d hear the Lemonheads right next to Jesus Jones. Goodson works that combination hard — fuzzed-out guitars, bemused vocals, funky breakbeats, overwhelming hooks. He doesn’t make hardcore, either, but he makes perfect sense at a hardcore show.
It’s one thing when a bunch of bands with potential get together to tour. It’s another thing to go see a bunch of bands who are actively in the process of realizing their potential. Scowl, Militarie Gun, MSPAINT, Dazy — they’re all just starting out, but they’ve already done truly great things. The tour isn’t even over yet — still a couple of West Coast dates left — but it already feels like it’s part of history.
Fuming Mouth – “I’ll Find You”
Mark Whelan, leader of the Massachusetts band Fuming Mouth, almost died a couple of years ago. He had leukemia, and it took months in the hospital to save him. Chemotherapy. A bone-marrow transplant. When you hear Whelan talk now, he can’t believe he made it through. Fuming Mouth have always straddled the line between hardcore and death metal, and I have to imagine that the phrase “death metal” means something else when you have been forced to confront the real possibility of your own death. “I’ll Find You” rips feverishly, but it’s not about anything badass. Instead, it’s about love beyond death: “If you’re dead, then so am I/ Our corpses intertwine, our souls reunite.” Actually, maybe that’s the most badass. [From Last Day Of Sun, out 11/3 on Nuclear Blast.]
Last Gasp – “Seizure The Day”
I honestly think it’s fucking awesome that we’ve got one band called Final Gasp and another one called Last Gasp going nuts at the same moment, partly because they’re both good band names and partly because nobody’s ever going to get them confused. There’s nothing goth about Cleveland’s Last Gasp. Instead, “Seizure The Day” is frantic, pummeling skate-punk — a song that could’ve come out of early-’80s California, at least until the moment when Don Foose, leader of ’90s Clevo OGs the Spudmonsters, come through with some syncopated bellowing on the breakdown. We need songs like this — songs that go so fast that they can reflect the chaos in your head right back at you, giving you a rare moment of weightless equilibrium. [From Who Wants To Die Tonight?, out 10/31 on WAR Records.]
Mil-Spec – “Marathon”
I could’ve honestly picked any song on the new Mil-Spec album. I could’ve picked one of the nine ferociously vulnerable melodic hardcore entrail-wringers at random, and I also could’ve picked the electronic spoken-word track where the singer’s wife recites the story about when the band went to Dallas and hung out with Power Trip for the last time. The title track almost is a random pick. Like every other song on the album, it’s spectacular. Like every other song, it lets you see its bruises. Even as they speed on into infinity, Mil-Spec make sure to twinkle quietly — hope in the anxiety, spark in the darkness. On “Marathon,” this all comes in service of a meditation on the endless search for inspiration or peace or transcendence: “Never got where I hoped to get/ But I guess it’s not over yet.” [From Marathon, out now on Lockin’ Out Records.]
Racetraitor – “Eid”
Did you know that Pete Wentz used to be in Racetraitor? Did you know that Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley is still in Racetraitor, beating up his instruments with a sense of apocalyptic force that I don’t think he ever applies to his main band? I just finished Chris Payne’s Where Are Your Boys Tonight, an ultra-compelling oral history of boom-time ’00s emo. That book has a whole lot of talk about Racetraitor, the Chicago hardcore band who pushed a lot of people’s buttons by injecting radical racial consciousness into an extremely white scene, refusing to let anyone get too comfortable. Now Racetraitor, who broke up in 1999 and reactivated in 2016, are finding new ways to access something radical. There might be other songs like “Eid,” songs that fuse devotional Islamic music with walls-caving-in heavy hardcore. But if those songs exist, I’ve never heard them, and this one sounds fucking awesome. [From Creation And The Timeless Order Of Things, out 11/17 on Good Fight Music.]
Rat Cage – “Kill The Autocrats”
I mean. Come on. What do you want? This shit is called “Kill The Autocrats,” and it’s about how we need to kill the autocrats. It’s insanely fast British sewer-rat punk music, and I can’t understand a fucking thing that the guy says. It sounds like it was recorded inside an exploding hand grenade. It’s obviously the best. [From Screaming Death four-way split, out now on Bunker Punks Discs & Tapes.]
Stiff Meds – “Born For Violence”
You have to laugh. How could you now laugh? It’s all so fucking disgusting. The cover art is a picture of a guy getting his head sawed off, and it looks even grosser than the description implies. The song is one minute long, and it’s called “Born For Violence.” The guitar tone could make you hunch over and barf right in your own lap. The speed is frantic and disorienting, but it’s just slow enough that you can feel every riff churning in your gut. It sounds like your own liver coming to life, becoming gigantic, and swallowing the rest of your body so quickly that your brain doesn’t have time to process what just happened. If you’re not laughing, then what you are doing? [From Tales From The Slab, out now on Quality Control HQ.]
Strange Joy – “Power Pop”
Why is this song called “Power Pop”? It doesn’t make sense. The song doesn’t sound like power pop. It’s not about power pop. From a certain perspective, maybe that melodic air-raid guitar solo is a tiny bit pop, but nothing else about the song is. It does have power, though — a fast, ugly old-school monster jam about how everyone around is fake and it’s more than Strange Joy can take. If you want to hear some New Pornographers-type shit, this song is going to disappoint you. But if you want to hear something that will cause someone to throw a chair at a total stranger, well, then maybe “Power Pop” is the kind of power pop you’re in the market for. [From Power Pop EP, out 10/20 on Coreruption Records/Sunday Drive Records.]
Vantage Point – “Slow To Fix A Feeling”
If I’m hearing “Slow To Fix A Feeling” right, it’s a song about how words are useless, how only actions should be considered. But words aren’t the only form of language. The tone of your voice is language, too, and this voice is raw and tired and screamed-out and frustrated. A thundering gutpunch of a riff can also be language. And when some serious-minded mosher plows into all the people around them as this song rings out, whether or not the mosher in question is you, that’s language, too. [From Against Myself, out 11/10 on Triple B Records.]
Violent Way – “Scum Like You”
It’s probably hopelessly reductive to talk about oi in a hardcore column; these are two totally distinct genres of music with their own styles and traditions and origin points and cultures. But there’s overlap. I saw Buffalo bruisers Violent Way play a hardcore fest once, and those guys are all in another band with Terror’s Scott Vogel. And anyway, are you upset to encounter this ultra-catchy, muscular ass-beater anthem in the context of a hardcore column? I didn’t think so. [From This Is For Us EP, self-released, out now.]
Year Of The Knife – “Your Control”
It’s hard to hear a new Year Of The Knife song without projecting things onto it. A few months ago, the Delaware band got into a terrible car wreck while on tour, and almost everyone in the band was hurt severely. Singer Madi Watkins is now heroically recovering from a traumatic brain injury, and you can watch every step of that recovery happening online. It’s heavy. When YOTK recorded their new songs, they had no idea what kinds of obstacles they would face. And yet “Your Control” radiates both contempt and strength, as if the things that get in this band’s way are barely even worth their sneers and spit. I know that’s not the case, and I know that this kind of pat narrative always just works to make things seem easier than they really are. But I hear that sense of purpose in their music, and I hope they’re carrying it over to every other aspect of their lives. [From No Love Lost, out 10/27 on Pure Noise Records.]