[28 February 2006]
Talk about incestuousness! Boston’s hardcore punk scene is quite the musical key party. Mathcore legends Converge share drummer Ben Koller with once-hardcore, now-category-defying band Cave In. Cave In singer Stephen Brodsky used to play bass in Converge. Cave In bassist Caleb Scofield plays in doom metal outfit Old Man Gloom with Converge bassist Nate Newton. Newton sings and plays guitar for Doomriders, who just hired ex-Cave In drummer JR Connors. Doomriders’ debut album Black Thunder was recorded and mixed by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. Black Thunder is out on Deathwish, Inc., the label of Converge singer Jacob Bannon. Not since the Wu-Tang Clan has a collective been so productive.
Like Converge and Cave In, who explore dissonant metal and spacy prog rock, respectively, Doomriders depart significantly from hardcore conventions. The band’s main influence is, surprisingly, ‘70s rock. Punk arose in reaction to the excesses of ‘70s rock, but Doomriders are perhaps the result of discovering that dad’s Thin Lizzy records really aren’t that bad. Accordingly, Black Thunder is full of the harmonized twin guitars at which Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson excelled. But in true punk spirit, the leads are controlled and fairly concise. Still, Doomriders’ influences are bluesier and dirtier than what’s canonized as punk. The band draws from the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Black Flag, Black Sabbath, and Motorhead. Throw in some Entombed, who mix death metal and rock into hairy-chested “death ‘n’ roll”, and you have the recipe for truly beer-marinated jams.
Black Thunder sounds like it was made for vinyl, not CD. This is a good thing. With stellar work on recent albums by Swarm of the Lotus and Modern Life Is War, Ballou is challenging Steve Albini as the king of analog sound. Ballou’s engineering yields warm, thick records vibrant with the electricity of guitars and the wood of drums. Black Thunder is some of Ballou’s best work yet. The album was recorded mostly live, and sounds like one hell of a gig. The title track swaggers with titanic riffs and boogie-woogie rhythms, as Newton roars, “I came up from below / When the she-wolf howled / And the night gave birth / To her only child / Black Thunder”. Despite the bluesy material, Newton’s hardcore roots show through in his hoarse bark. Henry Rollins, too, has yelled over ‘70s riffs in his band’s recent albums. But Doomriders are much more visceral, thanks to a mixdown that leaps out of the speakers. “Worthless” almost careens out of control in its Motorhead frenzy, while “Listen Up!” stomps and shuffles with dueling guitars. Its sole lyrics: “Get off my fucking back!”
The hits keep coming with the dead-on Danzig impression of “Midnight Eye” and the rumbling half-speed groove of “The Chase” (think “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys). For such a stylized approach, Doomriders write strong songs. Chord changes hit hard and solos cut in and out with perfect timing. Perhaps the album runs long, its intensity a little tiring. But it’s not meant for home listening; it’s a taste of a hot, sweaty live show. Shirtless, revealing a startling chest tattoo, Newton strikes ‘70s rock god poses with his Flying V guitar. Jebb Riley, the world’s tallest bassist, pours out volcanic tones with an instrument that looks like a toy in his hands. Not surprisingly, the punk kids eat it up. They may not know the music’s references, but they understand its force. It’s loud, it’s fast, and it swings like a mother. In an age of increasingly toothless rock, this is rock ‘n’ roll that will still piss off parents.