As recounted by The Washington Post, “As night fell on April 4, 1968, newly declared presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy stepped in front of a microphone atop a flatbed truck in a poor, predominantly black neighborhood in Indianapolis. Looking out onto the crowd, Kennedy turned and quietly asked a city official, ‘Do they know about Martin Luther King?’”
King had been assassinated just a few hours earlier, as Kennedy had boarded a flight for Indianapolis. In response to Kennedy’s question the official told him, “We’ve left it up to you”.
What Kennedy then said to the waiting crowd over the next six minutes was what many historians have called one of the most compelling speeches in U.S. political history — the brother of an assassinated president announcing another traumatic assassination just two months before he would also be killed. Understanding the impulse for revenge, in which violence would beget more violence, Kennedy instead called for love, wisdom, and compassion.
On the next day, April 5th, Kennedy spoke again in Cleveland, as riots provoked by King’s assassination were still in progress across more than 100 U.S. cities. He began with these words (the full text is here):
“This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
“It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.
The Chicago band Of Wolves have excerpted the words of Kennedy’s April 5 speech in a song from their new album, Balance, which will be released early next year by Cimmerian Shade Recordings. The name of the song is “Bloodshed“, and although we are now 50 years on from the time when Kennedy spoke the words, regrettably they are still highly relevant.
“Bloodshed” is a short track, made of slow, groaning chords, detonating drum blasts, and Kennedy’s words, slightly warped by distortion. It is a bleak 63 seconds, but we live in bleak times, and Of Wolves don’t shy from confronting the poisons of the current day head-on — and not just in this track.
“Bloodshed” is one of three songs that the band originally composed as stand-alone pieces. But as the band began to play them live, they realized that the songs flowed together so well that they should be presented as a single track on the new album. For now, they will be presented separately: The first of those tracks, “Clear Cutting“, premiered at DECIBEL in early October, and the third one will be presented by The Sludgelord in the coming weeks. The band will then release the entire tripartite piece through a single video and as a single on all streaming media formats.
Kennedy appealed for unity and compassion in the midst of division and hatred. Of Wolves — guitarist/vocalist Steve Sherwood, drummer/vocalist Jon Kulpit, and bassist/vocalist Ivan Cruz (also of Yakuza) — warm to those sentiments, but they also clearly feel frustration and fury over the tactics and ideologies that continue to ignite divisions and fuel prejudice. That comes through in the sounds of “Clear Cutting” — in the cold, thick, sludgy, murderous riffs and the deep booming drum beats, in the roiling leads and Sherwood’s furious caustic shrieking. And there’s a feeling of disgust even in “Bloodshed” that we’re still needing to heed Kennedy’s words half a century later, maybe more than ever.
Perhaps what Of Wolves are seeking to express through their music, as suggested by the album’s title, is the need for a balance that’s damned difficult to achieve, between the need to powerfully resist the forces of hatred and prejudice, with no punches pulled, and the need to make room for love and compassion. It’s a worthy quest, even though it’s far easier said than done.
For those new to Of Wolves, they’re hard to pin down in genre terms, drawing upon crust, punk, hardcore, stoner, doom, and sludge to craft the musical therapy for what ails them (and us). They’re not prolific, but they hit heavy and hard, and there’s genuine, heart-felt passion in their music, which is very much worth hearing. You can check out what they’ve done before through their Bandcamp page (linked below). For more info on the forthcoming single and the new album, watch these spaces: