If musical genres could be compared to animals, then metalcore would be like an unbroken horse. Its lyrics paint powerful, emotional landscapes and its song structures demonstrate complex and technical character, but in the end, the unbridled sound throws its listeners to the ground in a sweaty heap. Metalcore, deathcore and their crusty cousins, hardcore and grindcore, are not musical subgenres for the weak. They simultaneously feed off of and fuel the angst and rage of fans and band members alike, even as many songs collapse into grins and laughter at the end. It is as if the blunt force trauma of the sound engenders the kind of euphoria one feels after narrowly escaping serious injury—or death.
That was pretty much the mood Dec. 30 at The Sidebar Tavern in Baltimore, which featured five area bands that roughly fall into these musical categories. I caught the last three of those that performed: Disette, Above All and American Womanhood.
On Facebook, American Womanhood describe their sound as “preppy guy grind.” The combating vocals of Asa Gillis and Marc Dyer volley over the jazz AND punk infused musical backdrop of Mike Barth on drums, David Gills on guitar and Adrian Baines on bass. The resulting effect is something like dueling beat poetry, only way cooler. A slightly less disciplined Dillinger Escape Plan comes to mind when I hear this band.
Above All launched a full frontal assault with the crushing riffs from guitarist Aaron Schenning and the unrelenting rhythms of bassist Andrew Capino and drummer Wade Civitarese. Meanwhile, Jamie Bruce vocally sparred with die-hard fans, who all wanted to grab the mic and sing along. The group’s emotionally charged set, dedicated to a fan who’d lost his father to cancer shortly before Christmas, whipped a good portion of the audience into a fist-pumping frenzy. If exercise increases mood-boosting endorphins, then thrashing to the sounds of Above All is probably an effective therapy for grief.
The final act, Disette (French for dearth or famine) began with singer Pete Hegeman intently pacing before the stage. Within a few seconds, he transformed from unassuming band spokesman into a blackened font of inconsolable agony. Guitarist Todd Ferger and Adam Zenich executed strikingly melodic death metal riffs and bassist Shannon Huster laid down a stunningly complex bass line. Drummer Sean Otte held it all together with pounding rhythmic glue, enhanced by thoughtfully placed fills and black metal inspired blast beats. The contrast between the surprisingly harmonious and slightly experimental tunes with the animalistic growls evoked a strong crowd response, with fists, knees and elbows flying. A brief scuffle broke out at the back of the room, but Pete charged headlong into the crowd to break it up. All in all, everyone was smiling by the end of the night.
American Womanhood, Above All and Disette all expect to complete studio recordings in early 2012. These groups as well as the first two, Waves and Nekota, which played before I arrived, can be heard on Facebook.
Mary Spiro is a full-time writer fro a major research university. In her spare time she goes to see bands and sometimes writes about the local music scene in Baltimore, MD. Her favorite musical genres are death metal, black metal, prog rock, ambient, experimental, industrial, cool jazz and underground hip-hop. And Devin Townsend. You can follow her on Twitter at @mary_spiro.