Thursday night, I took a trip to the set of Breaking Bad - er, I mean the dusty, dimly-lit streets of Lancaster, California to see Every Time I Die obliterate a middle school auditorium.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't quite a middle school auditorium, but it definitely looked like one. The show was at the Cedar Center, a music conservatory building with a tiny stage, hardly the type of venue I'm used to seeing bands of ETID's stature.

Part of the fun of the evening came from people-watching. The crowd that filed into the tiny room consisted of high school kids in disgustingly neon-colored Blood on the Dancefloor shirts (ugh), dudes in Iron Maiden shirts, random kids on Razor scooters (yes, REALLY), bros in shirts with huge X's on them, and the like. Basically, it looked like the misfit toys from Toy Story come to life.

Due to the strange atmosphere surrounding the show and the "venue", as soon as I entered the room I had a feeling the night would be eventful. The addition of silky smooth reggae jams pumping through the room's PA system before any bands started playing only heightened the surreality of the night.

First up was The Sparring, a "local" band who said they drove 2 hours for the show. They were energetic, with the lead singer and guitarist choosing to spend the set on the floor rather than the cramped stage area. It was at this point that the hardcore dancing began, much to my horror. I found myself practically hanging outside the door to stage right, dodging the flailing arms and legs that go along with windmill kicks and the other general violence that goes in in hardcore pits. If the kids got this riled up for the opening act, I thought, who knows what will happen later?

After some technical difficulties, Howl hit the stage with their brand of slow, draggy sludge metal. I was surprised when they started playing that type of music, as I had assumed they were a more straightforward metal band, but their shortened 20 minute set was filled with aggression and chunky riffs.

Trap Them was up next, and they packed on more aggression. Apparently they sounded like Converge, as two of my friends told me so. Their set was punctuated by more windmills, hardcore lunging and circle pit action, which I stayed far away from.

After a brief break between bands, Buffalo, New York's golden boys Every Time I Die showed up and went right into After One Quarter of a Revolution. By the time they started playing the first note, fists, feet, heads, assorted debris and bodies were flying from the stage onto the crowd and back up onto the stage and back off the stage and so on. This repeated for the whole set.

Despite the fact that they were playing in a multi-purpose room, ETID sounded great; the guitars were clear, vocalist Keith Buckley's voice was audible, and the drums crunched accordingly. They slammed through a set of songs from across their entire catalogue: After One Quarter of a Revolution, We'rewolf, Ebolarama, I've Been Gone a Long TimeNo Son of Mine, Bored Stiff, Wanderlust, Apocalypse Now and Then, Roman Holiday, The Marvelous Slut, Who Invited the Russian Soldier?, She's My Rushmore, The New Black, and set-closer Floater.

It was Keith's birthday, and before the last song Jordan Buckley, his brother (and guitarist) informed us that "all day, Keith's been telling us how he wants to crowd surf out the venue after the last song". Since the ruffians in the crowd wanted to make their hero happy, we let that happen, and after Floater ended (and there was a party going on onstage), Keith was hoisted onto the arms of the crowd and surfed out the door right next to where I was standing. He had a gigantic smile on his face as he made his way out there, another life goal accomplished.

It was truly one of the more unforgettable concert experiences I've ever had. The shady location, the eclectic crowd of hardcore enthusiasts, the violent "dancing" going on in the pit all night, ETID's great performance (also the first time I've seen them play a full, non-Warped Tour set) made it a blast.

I'm not really a fan of most hardcore music, but Every Time I Die is an exception. Keith Buckley's lyrics, great sense of humor and showmanship, Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams' metal-rific guitar chomp, Josh Newton's sure-handed bass play, and Ryan "Legs" Legler's precision behind the drum kit make them a stand out in a cluttered genre of mostly copycat bands (at least from what I've seen in my life).

Last night was a real treat, and I can only hope to attend a show like that again.

Here are more videos from the night (and sorry it's so dark/grainy, this place didn't have much in terms of lights):

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Albums that start off with screamed lines like "Why didn't you kill yourself today?" usually make at least one of two things immediately clear: either that this band is gleefully avoiding being taken seriously, or that they are simply that pissed off. On Messy, Isn't It?, Southern Californian hardcore collective Dangers' second studio album, they seem to take a little from column a, and a little from column b. By a simple look at the track listing, you can tell immediately that these guys have a sense of humor (albeit rather dark) about themselves. The song titles range from clever plays on words (Under the Affluence and No Vonneguts, No Glory) to downright silliness (Saved By the Buoyancy of Citrus and Teenage Porno Hunter). This doesn't make the harsh, cynical opinions within any easier to digest for those who might not share them, but it accomplishes something that far too many albums with certain mindsets behind them fail to do: it establishes that these are just opinions. Even with as intensely as they're expressed by Al Brown's rabid, piercing scream, there is never a sense of urgency to spread these ideas further than to simply let them be known.

Messy, Isn't It? is an incredibly furious listen. From the complacent housewife bashing Stay-At-Home Mom to the solitude praising (Love Poem), rage and cynicism is the name of the game. The latter is filled with the line, "It's so nice to wake up in the morning all alone and not have to tell somebody you love them, when you don't love them anymore," spoken by apathetic voices that quickly grow in number and overlap each other, which bring the track strangely close to the intensity of the fully played songs. Check, Please also expresses disenchantment with the widely accepted ideals of romance, posing the question, "If meat is murder, what is love?" On Opposable, the band obliterates heralded music figures (Public Enemy, the Beatles, and Pink Floyd to name a few), religious intentions, and war all at once, the first being done with ten times the effectiveness and none of the obnoxious pretension of Scroobius Pip on his single (with Dan le Sac) Thou Shalt Always Kill a few years back. The pair of Cure for Cancer and Cure for AIDS scream of the acceptance of harsh realities, and Bottom of the 9th Ward brings to the forefront the level of apathy people are capable of but never admit. On top of the heavy nihilistic screaming, there's even a Falling Down reference thrown in as well ("Rick, serve me my god damn breakfast"). The lyrics are all very stream of consciousness, and as such are rarely very eloquent, but the ideas and anger behind them are still quite maturely conveyed. It's that genuine punk attitude that has been seen so seldom since the eighties, getting pissed off at societal ills and dismissing them entirely.

Musically speaking, the album is surprisingly well put together. While it's not a huge deviation on the hardcore genre, the band dabbles a bit with erratically placed breaks and random time signature changes, just enough to switch things up from time to time, but it's also subtle enough to avoid detracting away from the brutal attack of the vocals and loud, raucous guitar. In fact, it's the overall purity to the abrasive musical assault that really makes the album feel more genuine; it backs up Brown's venomous delivery with musicianship clever enough to stand out, while being aggressive enough to sound every bit as angry as he does. It ain't pretty, but it's about as accessible (and thought provoking) as this kind of music gets.

Messy, Isn't It? comes with a mesmerizing fury, and manages to maintain its intensity over the course of nineteen tracks which, admittedly, only add up to just under forty minutes. Dangers have produced something absolutely unrelenting and oddly charming, and along with a scant few other standouts from the last year or so, have given a tired genre a huge jolt.

While bands like Fucked Up giving the hardcore genre a slightly more intelligent and thought out approach is certainly appreciated and enjoyable, there's something to be said for a band who gives it an unrelenting, unapologetic brutality, and Seattle's Black Breath is more than happy to give it. On their full-length debut, Heavy Breathing, they fulfill the promise of their buzz generating EP Razor to Oblivion, melding punk, hardcore, and metal with a fury not seen since Superjoint Ritual's last album. Label Southern Lords (home of Sunn O))) and Pelican, to name a few) quite excitedly picked these guys up after hearing Oblivion, and while it may have seemed that the young band wouldn't be able to match the standards set by their respective drone and progressive labelmates, Heavy Breathing proves that they'll have no trouble keeping such company.

Excluding the instrumental title track, which is the only somewhat tame track, Heavy Breathing is a blistering exercise in brutality from start to finish. The album is rife with the familiar thrashing hardcore reminiscent of the crossover movement of the mid to late eighties, but one notable change from their earlier work is the incorporation of death metal techniques. There are rapid tempo changes abound on Breathing, something completely absent from their EP, and incredibly fast tremolo picking; there are points throughout opener Black Sin (Spit on the Cross) or the intense Escape from Death where the band sounds almost like Bleeding-era Cannibal Corpse.

While they still aren't exactly virtuoso players, the writing aspect has grown tremendously. Virus is probably the most indicative of the jump the band has taken; half of it is straight-forward hardcore, stomping and furious, complete with a scream-along-if-you-know-it chorus, until the middle when they suddenly switch gears in favor of a more free form structure, complete with multiple change ups and a solo. Unholy Virgin starts out with a typical thumping drum and bass intro, but quickly morphs into an off beat, and switches back and forth until the churning break. Heavy Breathing has an excellent flow as well, something which becomes more evident as the space between songs shrinks while the album progresses, culminating with the closer Wewhocannotbenamed, which like the rest of the album, alternately thrashes and grooves with tight yet incredibly aggressive playing.

Of course, Black Breath doesn't really offer anything new with their latest. This isn't groundbreaking material, and it's certainly not going to change anyone's mind about the genre if they don't already like it. Being that as it may, Heavy Breathing displays quite a bit of range, more in fact than many hardcore bands have throughout their entire careers (*cough* Agnostic Front *cough*). And as accomplished an album as it is for a still fledgling band, it still has every quality that hardcore fans want - it's loud, it's visceral, and it's brutal.

fall of troy in the unlikely event

I’m willing to bank that most of you have never heard of the term Mathcore (a subdivision of hardcore),  outside your statistics class at the local JC. As always, I’m here to educate you on what you might otherwise be missing. Like Robert Glasper and his insane piano precision with jazz, today’s band under review, The Fall of Troy, uses peculiar timing that somehow comes together with mathematical precision.

Power trios are few and far between, but the founding members of The Fall of Troy have been at it since they were 17 years old. Unfortunately, original bassist Tim Ward left the band a few years back because of stress related issues (and apparently the way he dealt with them). I was relieved however that one of my kinfolk was lucky enough to be chosen to take his place. I’m talking about Frank “Black” Ene, formerly the lead guitar and vocals from Of Stalwart Fads.

Why “Black”? Well in case you haven’t scrolled down to the picture of the band, hes the black one. I find this a personal accomplishment, because it’s finally becoming “cool” to like this kind of music as a black person. And of course, Frank plays my instrument of choice, while assisting front man and lead guitarist Thomas Erak.

Thomas Erak is an enigma, but just like that rusty ol’ machine from the Second World War, it operated with a strange mathematical precision, revealing its secrets in the form of the band’s latest album, In the Unlikely Event. What I also find endearing about Thomas, is that his voice range is very extreme, with the ability to hit high notes one second, with a throaty scream the next. He has been nodded to several times for his guitar ability as well, with sounds and styles I had until The Fall of Troy, never really conceptualized.

On this album, and the ones before it, drummer Andrew Forsman keeps every hit in his set up strong and clipped to perfection. What I love about his drum work is his ability to sneak in another hit in between what you are expecting; if that’s even possible to expect where this band is going. What’s more, is the note matching to the guitar on the new album. I hadn’t really noticed it as much on previous albums, but this one has many of those moments.

But I digress.

With their late 2008 EP, Phantom on the Horizon, we were greeted with the first taste of Black to the band. The album told the story of a Spanish galleon that has an encounter with a ghost ship from regions beyond, with a droning intro worthy of Tales from the Black Freighter. Told in five parts (the second being my favorite) was a taste of the new musical level the band was on; a prelude to what we would discover to be a love/hate story with In the Unlikely Event.

In the Unlikely Event gets right to business with the track Panic Attack!, an endearing song about have just that. It captures the thoughts that go through one’s mind when we blame ourselves for something that clearly is beyond our control. This leads to confusion and lying, in this case set to a grinding breakdown at 1:20.

The fourth track, A Classic Case of Transference embodies a conversation to a once loved female, who has apparently turned into a whore. In response, Thom has focused on keeping himself afloat. For some reason I felt like this song took to circus music-esque bridges, which would go well with the tone of the song.

falloftroy

One of the more wild songs was track eight, Dirty Pillow Talk. Not only is the introduction guitar on a sci fi level of confusion, but Rody Walker, lead singer of hardcore band Protest the Hero makes an appearance as well. At about the second minute of the song, there’s also is sickening wordless breakdown by the trio that it worthy of giving a listen.

I loved the direction of this album from the upbeat guitar intro of Panic Attack! to the ending track Nature vs. Nurture, feeling like what AFI should be sounding like these days. The final track even has the classic echoing “whoa oh”s that we came to love with Davey Havok and his crew; and we even are treated to an intense few lines of poetry, strong spoken, not sang.

However, the best song on this album for me had to be Battleship Graveyard, with its robustly confusing timing, with breaks during the verses that have the guitar and drums matching each other note-for-note. Erak takes time to hold extra long vocal notes, before yelling my favorite line “barely here, you’re losing your touch my dear”. The breakdown at 1:37 drops the tempo to about 80 percent of the original, with a secondary and auxiliary breakdown that slows the song to 60 and 50 percent respectively before picking back up.

We then are serenaded again at 2:46, before finally pounding our bones to dust with another round of a rollercoaster of breakdowns, and back to the note-for-note matching, and final punishing on Thom’s vocal cords, and word of warning to the unfortunate girl this song was aimed at.

That may have been the most descriptive I’ve ever been about a song. But when you’re dealing with mathcore, are you really that surprised?

The Fall of Troy has given us fans a new instant classic (yes I realize the juxtaposition), and will have new listeners getting out their calculators in the unlikely event that they try to decipher what the hell is going on in this album. See what I did there? Heh.

Until next time my friends,

~Flak