[4 September 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
When you go to a day-long metal fest these days, be it OzzFest or Sounds of the Underground, you’ll get the odd young band onstage that prefers to ignore the more linear style of metal music in favor of the much more haphazard, wonky arrangements of metallic hardcore. And whenever one of these bands starts to play, the hardcore dancers emerge from out of the woodwork, flailing limbs like spastics attempting to dance the Charleston, or doing kung fu moves that make the metalheads in the crowd double over in laughter. The hardcore dancing vs. moshing debate has become a contentious issue among fans of extreme music (who here hasn’t had a metal set ruined by obnoxious karate kickers?), but one thing both sides can agree on, however, is that the music that bridged both modern hardcore and metal in the late-‘90s is undeniably great, whether it’s the unrelenting fury of Converge, the disturbing dissonance of Today is the Day, the brutality of Coalesce, or especially the inspired diversity of arguably the most influential band of the lot, Botch.
Hailing from Tacoma, Washington, Botch’s time together was fleeting, yielding a stack of singles and a measly pair of albums in the late 1990s, but their influence on the American extreme music of this decade has been immeasurable, as bands like Norma Jean, Spitfire, Daughters, and Every Time I Die have helped take that sound to a new generation of fans, either by evolving that style further, or simply mimicking it to great effect. Yet aside from the few bands that do it well (like the aforementioned acts), metallic hardcore has become an incredibly diluted talent pool, with new bands copying the other to the point where it seems most of them have no idea where this music came from in the first place. So as we critics might roll our eyes at the sight of the latest band to employ anguished screams, off-kilter riffs, and technically adept guitar squeals, the release of Botch’s newly remastered first album American Nervoso serves as a welcome respite from all the repetition.
It is absolutely astounding how fresh Botch sounds nearly ten years after the fact, thanks in part to the stunning remastering job producer Matt Bayles has done on the newly reissued disc, but mainly due to the contagious energy the album still exudes. It might have been the quartet’s debut full-length, but is such a confident, audacious piece of work that neophytes can hardly tell it’s the band’s first album. “Hutton’s Great Heat Engine” doesn’t so much explode out of the gate at breakneck speed as fly off in all directions at once like a cluster bomb, Tim Latona’s tom-heavy percussion desperately trying to keep the song grounded as guitarist Dave Knudson lets loose myriad skronks and screeches and vocalist Dave Verellen spews enigmatic lines like, “It’s so quiet here and the heat is my new friend”. Brian Cook’s bass sound in the new remaster is astonishing, as he becomes the song’s focal point during the extended breakdown, taking the song into an unexpectedly lucid direction before resuming the mathcore chaos.
After opening with an inspired, highly distorted, minute-long series of drum fills by Latona, “Thank God For Worker Bees” launches into a ferocious groove, Knudson’s lurching riffs, highlighted by his punctuating squeaks and wicked string bends, the driving force in the song, which seems indebted to both the Melvins and Drive Like Jehu at the same time. The blinding fury of the insanely paced shredfest “Oma” is suddenly interrupted by a coda of plaintive piano chords, while “John Woo” beats the Dillinger Escape Plan to the punch with its own brand of highly intricate, yet impeccably disciplined chaos. Meanwhile, “Dali’s Praying Mantis” exudes a playfulness that is arresting, sounding like a hardcore interpretation of the Fall, Verellen hollering indecipherably in the distance.
Six additional bonus tracks are tacked on to the re-release, highlighted by the non-album track “Stupid Me” and an extended version of “Spitting Black”, as well as a handful of early demos of album tracks, but the real draw here remains the original American Nervoso, which has aged beautifully over the last nine years. The band would go on to record its masterpiece We Are the Romans less than a year later, setting the template for metallic hardcore for the next decade, and if this fabulous remaster is any indication, the future two-disc reissue of Romans will be just as welcome, if not more. Drop that Devil Wears Prada CD, kids, and go pick up the real deal instead.