(My NCS comrades DGR and BadWolf paid me a visit in Seattle over the New Year’s holiday, and herein lies the tale of one of our nights together, as told by Toledo-based BadWolf. The iPhone photos are his, too. Sample music is at the end.)
It was Thursday, January 2nd, and DemiGodRaven’s face was getting a bit red. Islander turned to me, and said “he looks sick.” I swapped out his high-gravity IPA with my mellower lager—each beer, craft-made, sported enough hoppy bitterness to cleanse the palate of formaldehyde. Such is the style in Seattle.
DGR and I, being men of modest means, had saved up some scratch to spend our New Year’s week in Seattle at the NCS home base, which meant two things: live music and booze. At that moment it looked like the libations might take their toll on my fine Corvid co-writer.
Fitting, since we were drinking at The Pine Box, a Public House situated in what was once a morgue. The speakers played The Misfits, our server had a Rancid tattoo, and we were tipsy at 7pm. Perfect.
Being a holiday week, we struggled to find a decent live show. The most well-publicized metal concert at the time involved In This Moment and Butcher Babies—and we had no desire to have any breast implants burst in our faces that day.
Instead, we opted to see Corrections House, the industrial-sludge supergroup composed of producer Sanford Parker (Nachtmystium, lots of other shit), guitarist Scott Kelly (Neurosis), saxophonist Bruce Lamont (Yakuza), and Mike Williams of Eyehategod doing god knows what. I’d heard the record once and remembered enjoying it. One of the opening groups, Wrekmeister Harmonies, received some praise from Invisible Oranges’ Brad Sanders, and that was good enough for me. We put the beers down and hit the road.
Situated in an oblong room overtop a sex shop, but still serving high-octane cocktails, Highline sports the precise mix of class and sleaze we, as metal heads, ought to demand from our live music venues. I found its ambience superior to the relative industrial void that was Studio 7.
Partially owned and operated by Dylan Desmond, who plays bass in several critically-acclaimed bands including Samothrace and Bell Witch, Highline caters specifically to an extreme music fan clientele, with dim lighting, craft beers, and some classic arcade games (Street Fighter II! Area 51!). The cocktail menu in particular winks and nods at the metal underground.
For example, one may order a “High on Fire,” a margarita made with habanero-infused tequila. At Islander’s suggestion we settled on a few “Orange Goblins” (a bit sweet for me, as far as Bourbon drinks go), and settled down in time for Seattle’s own Great Falls.
As it turns out, Great Falls, a three-piece sludgy hardcore outfit, would be the most conventional act that evening. Last fall the band released an album, Accidents Grotesque, which was the basis for the majority of their set. Bassist Shane Mehling (a writer at Decibel Magazine) drew the most attention, with his wild bass gesticulations—halfway through the first song, he split an audience member’s forehead open with the head of his Fender P, and at the end of their set, he sent it flying into the audience, nearly wounding two people.
Drummer Phil Petrocelli (ex-Jesu), on the other hand, seemed adrift in his own psychic world, riding a few tom and cymbal patterns out into the meditative or trance-like sweet spot that many bands aim for but seldom achieve. Great Falls shifted uneasily from soothing to violent, and my uncertainty over which attitude would prevail kept my interest up throughout their set.
As it turns out, things would only grow stranger from there, with back to back sets of artistic bands falling outside the traditional boundaries of metal. Weirdness began with Wrekmeister Harmonies. the band—really one man, musician and filmmaker JR Robinson—took the stage seated, with his guitar and laptop, and only a single (likewise sitting) guitarist as accompaniment. Without real percussion, Wrekmeister Harmonies focused on loops of sound and a few repeated, often bluesy, guitar licks.
My mind drifted not to metal, but to the instrumental work Nick Cave has done with Warren Ellis. That makes sense; I understand Wrekmeister Harmonies exists more to score Robinson’s films than as a band project proper. Robinson’s music is gorgeous and intricate, but by virtue of its nature, I’m unsure if it benefits from a live setting at all. I’d gladly buy more of Robinson’s records, but I don’t think I’d see him live again.
Then, Corrections House took the stage, wearing the identical black paramilitary uniforms flaunted in their promotional material, complete with arm bands of their bright red insignia. Sanford Parker, now with chopped locks, took the rear of the stage with an array of keyboards, drum pads, and laptop to control it all. Scott Kelly took stage left with a bright Gibson Les Paul, and Bruce Lamont played opposite him with a baritone saxophone. Mike Williams, at center, led the affair from a podium of knobs, affecting the sound levels of his bandmates.
I expected a little more out of the Corrections House record, but live their artistic blend of industrial doom came across with a sense of raw urgency and power. Bruce Lamont slammed his sax around like a baton between bursts of sound while Scott Kelly held things together with some of his best riffs since Neurosis’s Given to the Rising. Sanford Parker seldom drew attention to himself, but during his vocal turns he wrapped the mic cord around his forearm and screeched with enough gusto to convince me that in another life he would have made a great metalcore frontman.
Mike Williams, looking a bit road-weary, brought his weathered, reedy screams to the fore of the mix, and led the audience through such pleasant sing-alongs as “Dead Broke and Mentally Ill.” At times of relative peace, though, Williams read from his book of writings, Cancer As A Social Activity. His style doesn’t quite match my sensibilities, but the man knows how to lodge a few words in your skull. My favorite quip went something like:
If New York is the city that never sleeps, why is everyone passed out? / If New Orleans is the big easy, why is life so fucking hard?
Corrections House closed the night with their song “Hoax the System,” which began as a militaristic chant reminiscent of prime Ministry. Then, the band deconstructed their own sound. Parker wailed on his drum pads while Williams warped everyone’s sound seemingly at random. Lamont jammed his mic down the mouth of his saxophone and then, when he decided he was just not being loud enough, he removed the instrument’s reed, spun the front-stage monitor around, stepped into the crowd, and blew through the reed directly into the mic inches away from the monitor. I’ve seldom heard such astounding feedback. The band simply ceasing to play felt like a pressure drop.
One doesn’t expect a project that is equal parts confessional poetry, art project, and supergroup to leave an audience in such a way.
The crowd dispersed slowly, as if disoriented by the sudden absence of sonic distortion. Seattle metal heads sipped their drinks to nothing, purchased mercy, and stopped outside to light cigarettes. An odd sense came over me, one that perhaps we talk too much, that in some moments there is no need to communicate. I stumbled out into the rain of new-January, feeling no need to fill the sonic void left by Corrections House.