Much like skinning cats, there's more than one memorable way to scream in a song. There's the artfully abrasive method: a full-throated screech with enough primal intensity to make Edvard Munch stop and stare. There's the discordant and painfully deranged animal cry: Think of a confused Jim Morrison wailing at his most repulsively graphic demons in purple-microdot-enhanced wide-screen. There's the chilling but oddly erotic caterwauling of icy Diamanda Galas, who, while climaxing hysterically atop Lucifer's battering ram, issues unearthly sounds that could peel paint off the walls. And there's the deadly bait-and-switch bellow of unblinking Johnny Rotten, who favored smiling -- then lunging like a Doberman for the Queen Mother's windpipe.
From Seattle's east side, the Blood Brothers are screaming themselves hoarse to enter the pantheon of shredded rock-and-roll larynxes. Like all great shriekers before them, they understand melodrama and rage. They revel in shock and disgust. They thrive on nightmares and decay and are fully committed to making an ugly world uglier. Best of all, they're good at what they do.
Raising hardcore's pain threshold, the youthfully snotty quintet of tag-team vocalists Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney, guitarist Cody Votolato, bassist Morgan Henderson and drummer Mark Gajadhar are not the fresh-faced choir boys that they appear to be. They've been pissing razors and vinegar for close to six years, ever since Blilie met Votolato in high school and the two began swapping records by such artists as Angel Hair, Area 51, the Misfits and VSS.
Like a lot of dark, belligerent acts on the current scene, the Blood Brothers commit themselves to the bleakest aspects of the human condition -- nothing exactly new there. But they manage to separate their spaz rock from today's angry pack of stray mutts and Korn wannabes by breaking tradition with hardcore's structural and lyrical content. Progressive time signatures take the tunes on wild joyrides, complete with unexpected hairpin turns at reckless speeds. Though the band's lyrics are hard to make out without a cheat sheet, dual front men Blilie and Whitney paint startling but minimalist pictures peppered with lisping roses, pregnant sirens, laughing guillotines, swollen vaginas in the sky and deviants having sex with shaved horses.
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The two scream in complete sentences, however, and they can do it at the top of their lungs -- seemingly for hours.
"When we play shows, our fans who are familiar with our music and everything are singing along and stuff," Blilie says. "And if someone hasn't been exposed to us or misinterprets us or doesn't understand us, it's kind of their problem. I'm not really responsible for how anyone takes us in after we've, you know, completed our end of things. I understand how a lot of it can get lost on a 13-year-old, though.
"I remember when I was 13 and trying to decipher lyrics, and it was sometimes tough," he continues. "But it's really not that big of a concern of ours. We're more concerned with pleasing ourselves and pushing ourselves creatively -- and trying to make that translate as well as we can."
So far so good. Having already established a pimply fan base in the Pacific Northwest (during a late-'90s scene that included the Death Wish Kids and Behead the Prophet No Lord Shall Live), the Blood Brothers continue to spurt their sweat and hormones in an easterly direction. Hemorrhaging away on the strength of its most recent album, March On Electric Children (released on Three One G. Records), the band offers more than mere self-destruction to the punch-and-cookies set. Demonstrating sophisticated humor and artiness beyond its makers' tender ages, Children surpasses 1999's monochromatic, self-titled debut on Hopscotch and the twisted eroticism of 2000's speed-metal fest, This Adultery Is Ripe, on Second Nature.
Spinning a conceptual narrative with themes, characters and plotlines, Children follows the adventures of Mr. Electric Ocean ("Birth Skin/Death Leather") through a close call with the phony world of fame and fortune ("Meet Me at the Water Front After the Social"). On the title cut, another protagonist screams his way into the ranks of an odd military faction like a pint-sized Ezra Pound with a tummy ache: "So join up, juggernaut child! / Join up, ye hungry barbed-wire holes! / March on, skin army soldiers! / March on to hills of ripe mold! / March on across the Xeroxed horizon! / March on, murderous little world!"
"That should be taken a little more tongue-in-cheek than a literal call to arms, per se," Blilie insists. "The whole title is a metaphor for how we perceive today's youth to be so literally plugged in to mass-media constructs. The ideal fit that our media puts out for our youth to hold on to dictates our behavior and how we grow up. And skin army is sort of interchangeable with that.
"As the record progresses, you see this character that we've created deteriorate more," Blilie points out. "Today's youth culture is largely concerned with the exterior, outward appearance of people, the superficial, the shallow. If all you value is the exterior, then once that's gone, you're basically left worthless, a mockery of your former self."
The growing pains of becoming fake never sounded so bombastic. Thankfully, there are enough musical thrills along the way to make the metamorphosis bearable. Besides, heard in a live setting, this shit must be a blast to mosh around to, pretending it's the last day on Earth and all.
ARTISTdirect Records certainly hopes so, having recently signed the Blood Brothers to a two-record deal with options. And if hired gun and nü-metal knob twiddler Ross Robinson (Limp Bizkit, Korn, Slipknot, At the Drive-In) doesn't overproduce and ruin the Brothers' tone-deaf chemistry, Burn Piano Burn Island (scheduled for release in February) might help Blilie and company beat the odds of getting ripped apart by the very machinery they so despise.
"It took us a long time to make this step to sign to a bigger label, but we weren't sure that we were still gonna be able to do whatever we wanted to do," Blilie concedes. "But thus far, it's been the case. We're happy. Nothing has changed for us as far as the kind of tours that we want to be on or the kind of people that we want to play with -- and, more important, the kind of songs that we want to write. We're not gonna compromise."
That's good, because certain friends of Fred Durst have a way of helping bands do just the opposite. Fortunately, reaching the lowest common denominator with toilet talk doesn't seem to be part of the Bloods' ambition. Placing artistic vision over politics (aside from a little hometown cheer with the WTO rowdies last year or playing the occasional benefit for a women's self-defense organization in Seattle called Home Alive), the Blood Brothers plan to ride this freak wagon until the wheels fall off. They're committed to each other, like Tom and Huck, America's original B-Bros, who pricked their fingers and swore on their souls -- come hell or Injun Joe -- that dreams, goddammit, are worth chasing.
And if all else fails, their next 40-ounce is just a plasma donation away.
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