THE BLOOD BROTHERS with PLOT TO BLOW UP THE EIFFEL TOWER and BIG BUSINESS at the Mod Club (722 College), Wednesday (May 18), $13.50. 416-588-4663. Rating: NNNNN
My throat hurts just listening to the Blood Brothers.
They do have four of the best lungs on the planet. Cue up their latest effort, Crimes (V2), and within seconds of the opening cymbal crashes and lurching low-end thud you can feel the hairs in your ears collapsing from the wallop of Johnny Whitney's high-pitched, blistering howls. Along with co-shouter Jordan Blilie's, Whitney's raw, penetrative vocal assault gives the Seattle quintet's high-impact rock its visceral drive.
I'm wondering how the Brothers vocal team keep from shredding their larynxes to shit.
"The only time screaming gets hard is when I'm, like, sick as a dog with a throat and chest cold," laughs Blilie, who's strikingly sweet and soft-spoken offstage, although our conversation is marred by weird bursts of pseudo-punk distortion. Apparently, you don't get great cellphone reception when you're riding in a van through the Arizona desert.
"Johnny does vocal warm-ups before we play, when he can find a place that's private enough, but I'm not really into that. And we try not to drink when we have shows, but I'll have a couple shots of whiskey before we play. To help my voice, I mean," he adds sheepishly. "Seriously! It's really good for singing."
If vocal warm-ups and moderate Jameson consumption don't sound like your idea of a hardcore screamo crew, then you're bang-on. The Blood Brothers may have started flailing with the messy grindcore of 2000's This Adultery Is Ripe, and hit their extreme banshee peak with 2003's Ross Robinson-produced Burn Piano Island, Burn, but they've evolved into something else entirely.
On Crimes, they manage to balance primal caterwauling and savage aggression with adroit moments of low-key counterpoint, intricate electronic enhancements and delicate, almost baroque melodies.
Take a song like the fabulously titled Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck, which opens with a chiming, wiry post-punk hook and Blilie's lump-throated crooning while Whitney chirps in falsetto like a demented Supreme before exploding into a feverish metal shriek on the epic bridge. Or Live At The Apocalypse Cabaret, with its saloon piano plinking and cabaret-tinged call-and-response, which sounds like a lusty cockfight between AC/DC and Hot Hot Heat circa the Knock Knock Knock EP.
Typical screamo? I don't think so.
"Screamo is just wack - it's the worst of all worlds," groans Blilie. "We feel more of a kinship to people like the Liars or Pretty Girls Make Graves or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs than to any of the bands people usually lump us in with. And even when we were, like, 15 or 16 and listening to hardcore, we never felt part of all that macho posturing.
"We were more into stuff like Behead the Prophet, this group out of Olympia who were really aggressive but also the furthest thing from that macho, stereotypical bullshit you can imagine. They had a flamboyant singer who was totally out there, and a 70-year-old playing violin with them. It was something we could immediately identify with and hold onto, cuz we were so alienated from the hostility of male hardcore."
Between their distaste for archetypal aggro bombast and the fact that most of the members look like scrawny art-school dropouts, the Blood Brothers have endured their share of "faggot" catcalls from hardcore hecklers, but Blilie and his bandmates couldn't care less.
With Crimes, they were more concerned with reflecting the fact that their musical skills have expanded beyond "aggressive technical bludgeoning," and putting across a scathing social critique motivated by events in their troubled country.
The Brothers' political views aren't always immediately evident, since they encrypt their incisive attacks on Dubya and his war-profiteering cronies in dense, grotesquely vivid imagery. The songs on Crimes describe a post-apocalyptic wasteland where caged girls fuck switchblades, masturbating priests piece together bombs out of Bibles, prancing peacocks witness police beatings, and rats devour aging prostitutes.
While some of their macabre horror-show metaphors are a bit excessive, the overall effect of the Crimes' lyrics is similar to that of Blilie's and Whitney's bloodcurdling screams: an immediate, visceral steel-toed boot in the guts.
"Some of those punk bands with their protest songs, the writing is fucking awful," snorts Blilie, who talks about the Blood Brothers' writing process in distinctly literary terms. "Can't you think of a more creative way to say 'Fuck Bush'? We spent a long time trying to find a happy medium between political and creative content on this album, which is not to say our early drafts weren't laughably obvious.
"But we didn't want to write lyrics that came from a soapbox. We've always tried to have some sort of undercurrent, some underlying message that encourages the reader to engage with what we've written before they realize what's been said, rather than coming out with something that sounds like, well, 'Fuck Bush,' or some academic paper written by a poli-sci student."
Describing the backdrop against which the Brothers created Crimes - the Clash's Sandinista offset by a never-ending series of CNN reports of war hysteria - Blilie gets animated.
"You'd turn on the TV and see Rumsfeld or Cheney or Bush acting like horses' asses and cracking smiles while they bombed another country, and it was so apparent that it was a game to them. The marketing of war, the idea it's something we should get excited about, is sickening."
That frustration is crystallized in the album-closing tracks Celebrator and Devastator - one a twisted take on feeling alienated from patriotism, the other a bleak, gospel-style hymn of destruction that ends, "Death campaigns are a fucking gold mine."
Provocative content and all, Crimes marks the first album the Blood Brothers have released with heavy-hitter V2. Blilie says he's thrilled to have that additional support to bring their anthems of angst and dissent to as wide an audience as possible.
"The Clash are one of my favourite bands of all time. They were on a major label, and it did nothing but get that message to the masses," he insists. "I'm not proposing that bands need majors to reach wider audiences. If you can do it without the aid of a corporation, then I congratulate you. There are tons of great bands who have, but we're not one of them.
"It's important to get our statement to a 15-year-old kid who shops at Hot Topic; those are the people who need to hear what we're saying," Blilie continues. "A kid my age who's been going to shows for 10 years already knows, and there's no challenge in preaching to the choir."