Music

Botch: We Are the Romans

One of the most influential extreme albums of the last decade has been deservedly given the reissue treatment.


Botch

We Are the Romans

Subtitle: Deluxe Edition
Label: Hydra Head
US Release Date: 2007-09-11
UK Release Date: 2007-09-17
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Ever since the mid-'70s, punk and metal have had an often uneasy yet symbiotic relationship over the years. The DIY aesthetic of early indie labels like Stiff and Rough Trade inspired late '70s metal imprints like Music For Nations and Neat Records. Bands like Slayer and Anthrax derived their thrash metal sound heavily from the hardcore of the West coast and East coast respectively. Suicidal Tendencies and Bad Brains evolved from early '80s hardcore favorites to metal crossover successes later that decade, underground acts like Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front drew curious listeners from the metal side, and Stormtroopers of Death's classic Speak English or Die was a hardcore album performed by metal musicians that scored big with both crowds.

By the time the 1990s rolled around, grindcore, power violence, and crust had blurred the lines between metal and hardcore even more, but it wasn't until the late '90s that the most significant progress was made, as some highly creative bands drew equally from both punk and metal, with thrilling results. While the Dillinger Escape Plan's Calculating Infinity and Converge's Jane Doe had a massive impact, it still does not compare to the influence of Seattle band Botch, who with only two full-length albums changed the relationship between metal and hardcore irrevocably. The first, 1998's American Nervoso, was an enormously confident debut full-length, but its follow-up would go on to be deemed, deservedly, a modern classic.

Even though it was released mere weeks before the start of the new decade, We Are the Romans remains the most influential album in extreme music over the last eight years. Just as At the Gates' seminal 1993 disc Slaughter of the Soul influenced an entire generation of young bands that would adopt their melodic death metal approach, the aggressive, discordant style of We Are the Romans has been copied, co-opted, and bastardized to near overkill. There is no metalcore or noisecore band alive that is not indebted to Botch: Norma Jean, Between the Buried and Me, the End, the Chariot, Every Time I Die, Underoath, the Devil Wears Prada… the list goes on and on. Yet none of these bands has ever come close to equaling the towering, visceral, grotesque majesty of We Are the Romans. Today still, one listen to the recently expanded and remastered album immediately renders the subgenre it spawned irrelevant. But just exactly why does it succeed where so many other pale imitations fail?

1. Discipline

A full-throttle assault on the senses can be an exhilarating experience (just ask anyone who's been to a death metal or grindcore show), but what often works even better is when an extreme band holds back just enough to create an undeniable tension in the music, and that feeling registers instantly on We Are the Romans, and doesn't let up for a second. On opening track "To Our Friends in the Great White North", Dave Knudson's guitar alternates between a repetitive, oddly catchy descending riff and jarring, atonal chords that are punctuated by drummer Tim Latona. "Mondrian Was a Liar" is a lurching beast of a track, anchored by the menacing groove by Latona and bassist Brian Cook, Knudson's slicing chords more nervous than aggressive. "C. Thomas Howell as the Soul Man" comes close to the over-the-top energy of the Dillinger Escape Plan, but the quick, finger-tapped guitar accents possess a surprisingly strong sense of melody, which in turn leads us to…

2. Accessibility

This album is still an awfully long way from being considered mainstream-friendly, but in a world where the more chaotic strains of noisecore have now become commonplace among the Warped Tour crowd, We Are the Romans spends a surprisingly good amount of time letting subtle melodies and hooks wriggle their way into our collective subconscious. Take the aforementioned "C. Thomas Howell as the Soul Man", for instance; the first 100 seconds absolutely throttle the listener with its herky-jerky cadences, but Knudson's chiming notes suddenly slow down, introducing a brooding coda that can be described as gloomily gorgeous, before climaxing with a flourish that echoes the theatricality of metal. Elsewhere, the considerably mellower "Swimming the Channel vs. Driving the Chunnel" explores more subtle territory, the bass and lead guitar melodies interweaving around Latona's straightforward, lugubrious drumming, while for all its seething rage, the rampaging "Saint Matthew returns to the Womb" boasts a wickedly contagious groove that would ignite any crowd.

3. Eloquence

One aspect of songwriting that has diminished in quality the most during the subsequent dilution of metalcore has been lyric writing, attempts at sounding profound coming across instead as either inarticulate, juvenile, or just plain pretentious, often hidden by the fact we rarely can tell what the hell they're screaming about anyway. Vocalist Dave Verellen, on the other hand, has plenty to say on We Are the Romans, most of which centers around the main theme reflected in the title. According to Verellen, we're in a modern-day Rome as it's about to fall, as popular culture, politics, and the plight of the working class have all contributed to a culture spiraling out of control, and each song brims with pre-millenial anxiety. Eight years later, the album is still relevant, as America is in worse shape than it was in 1999. Tracks like "Mondrian Was a Liar", "Transitions From Persona to Object", and "Saint Matthew Returns to the Womb", sounding disturbingly prescient.

4. Grandiosity

Combining "progressive" and "punk" is about as easy as mixing oil and water, and prior to the 1990s many would have said those two styles had no business commingling anyway, but Botch pulls it off with astonishing ease, especially on a trio of songs that serve as the thematic apex of We Are the Romans. "Transitions From Persona to Object" is a tour de force on the part of Knudson, who leads the foursome on a labyrinthine ride through movement after movement, Latona keeping the diverse track grounded with his steady, almost patient groove as Knudson's guitar work becomes increasingly more abstract. "Frequency Ass Bandit", on the other hand, is the closest we get to that tension unraveling, the riffs displaying a decidedly metallic, muscular crunch, the stop-and-go, quite-and-loud dynamics put to brilliant use, everything coming to a head with Knudson's swooping, explosive riff at the 2:34 mark. The 10-minute title track is the clincher, however, the band opting for a much more streamlined yet bombastic approach. Tom-toms are pounded theatrically, guitars and bass enter with a flourish, and Verellen bellows his lyrics as if inciting a massive chant: "We are the Romans!" The song then dissolves into a decidedly anti-hardcore instrumental jam, the vocals now resembling a Gregorian chant, before coming to a spectacular, rousing flourish, a blast of hyper-distorted bass serving as a blast of sonic pyrotechnics.

Appended by a bonus disc containing seven demo tracks and four live recordings, the deluxe edition of We Are the Romans serves up plenty of rarities to please the longtime fans, but despite the strength of the bonus tracks (the performance of "Hutton's Great Heat Engine" is ferocious), the real draw remains the original album, which continues to grow in stature with each passing year.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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