Deadguy - Screamin' with the Deadguy Quintet (1996)
Deadguy is no stranger to The American Metalcore Project, but we always seems to stall at Fixation On A Co-Worker as if they released nothing else of worth. Sure, vocalist Tim “Swinger” Singer and guitarist Keith Huckins are crucial factors to their success, but the album that followed their simultaneous exit from the band should not be dismissed out of hand just for not being Fixation. It captures a leaner, more streamlined Deadguy, one that still prioritizes groove and favors aggression over nuance a little more obviously.
Tim “Pops” Naumann, moving up from bass to vocals, possesses an acidic screech as fit for the rock-and-roll tone of Screamin’ as Singer’s was to Fixation-era Deadguy just a year prior. He needs no introduction on “Human Pig,” smearing himself all over the seesawing riffwork like he owns it. Tom Yak and Jim Baglino, picking up second guitar and bass, take a shot at the Fixation-isms of “(Escape From) The Fake Clink” and “Turk 182” and make themselves comfortable in the Deadguy camp: packed with mathy stop-start dynamics, these tracks are a welcome callback illuminating the band's progression in just under a year. “Turk 182” sees the band deploying one stellar hardcore groove after another and some jangly guitar effects without compromising momentum. “Free Mustache Rides,” along with “Angry Dwarf,” flesh out the album’s rock-and-roll influences, and “Hidden Track No. 6” ends things with a bang: it’s essentially one riff stretched out and exploited for maximum headbangage, and by the time it ends, you can almost feel the blood and sweat trickling down the frets.
Altogether, Screamin’ with the Deadguy Quintet is twenty minutes of excellent, underappreciated metalcore they were able take on the road with Bloodlet for a far more successful tour cycle than 1995’s disastrous turnout. One can only imagine all the ways Deadguy could have grown from here if they had toughed it out past 1997 - that rock-and-roll influence is intriguing but hesitant, a simmering je ne sais quoi that never fully takes hold. It’s hard not to think of Botch between all the bendy chords and jagged song dynamics, but Botch had only two EPs and eight songs to their name by 1996, and neither Faction nor The John Birch Conspiracy Theory were operating at this level. It gives Screamin’ a bit of prescience and surprising staying power. Both ahead of its time and very much a part of it, it’s a patch of fertile soil in the scorched earth that poor sales and horrendous touring conditions made of Deadguy’s career that, at the very least, deserves another look.
Aftershock - Through the Looking Glass (1999)
For those who came up on metalcore after 2001, the name “Dutkiewicz” is synonymous with one of two things: Adam D. the Guitarist, and Adam D. the Producer. As a guitarist, he belongs to Killswitch Engage, arguably metalcore’s most successful band ever. He’s a charismatic presence on-stage and the founder and songwriter of the majority of KSE’s catalogue. As a producer, he had a hand in seemingly every metalcore album released in the decade following Killswitch’s breakthrough, and was instrumental in perfecting the “hard verses/melodic chorus” format and the “sound” of the genre. For better or worse, Adam Dutkiewicz is one of modern metalcore’s architects.
But before all the prestige, Adam D. founded and co-fronted the legendary Aftershock in Boston, Massachusetts with his brother, Tobias Dutkiewicz, together with future members of both Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall. They might be the perfect entry point for fans looking to journey into the past. Through the Looking Glass is the conclusion of a trail of EPs, splits, and one other full-length - Letters - which shows the band in a rough spot, just trying to finding their feet. Comparatively, its follow-up is a running leap, but it didn’t get much air: it was followed by a split, a compilation, and a live EP before the band called it quits. Tobias quietly stepped out of the picture, and Adam went on to bigger things.
Were they better things? Up to you.
No matter what, Aftershock’s existence is vital to what metalcore became. Apart from Killswitch Engage, their disbandment led Jonathan Donais and bassist Chris Fortin to join up with members of Overcast and an unproven Phil Labonte (later of All That Remains) to found Shadows Fall. Even with these credentials, Aftershock and Through the Looking Glass still fly way under the radar for too many genre fans. If you’re one of them, just be warned: this is a different beast from a different time, one when Adam D.’s and Joel Stroetzel’s thrash riffing over Tom Gomes’s punky drumwork was cutting-edge. The Swedish influence that would dominate the metalcore of the '00s can be felt at times, but it’s Slayer more than In Flames that informs Dutkiewicz and Donais’s fretwork, keeping things punchy, focused, and all-American. Of One Blood, The Art of Balance, Alive or Just Breathing, and Behind Silence and Solitude all mimic its successes to some extent, but they do not match it. Not remotely.
This is due in large part to the fact that Aftershock have incredible tonal control for a bunch of newcomers (mostly teenagers at the time!), capable of arranging dense leads, chugs, blasts, breakdowns, and dreamy interludes in expressive, but always overpoweringly heavy ways. From essential opener “Prelude to Forever,” which charts all the ground the album will cover in a cool seven minutes, to late-album standout “Impenetrability,” the album is a metalcore tour-de-force like few others, especially for its time. The only clean singing on the album comes in the form of spoken-word, and most of it is confined to “My Own Invention,” a multipart behemoth that plays like a rough draft of Alive Or Just Breathing’s densest moments, with a finale that lands like a hammer to the jaw.
What might have come from a follow-up is anyone’s guess, but Looking Glass’s death metal overtones (check out “Jabberwocky” and “Living Backwards” and tell me those leads couldn’t have been spliced straight from some '90s OSDM banger), coupled with the examples set forth by Somber Eyes to the Sky and Killswitch Engage, hint at what could have become Aftershock’s future. It’s tantalizing to speculate, but we have what we have - and all in all, this is a stellar album from one of metalcore’s better underground acts at their peak. Their willingness to experiment with structure and direction, not to mention their ability to write the hell out of an old-school metalcore riff, makes Through the Looking Glass a stunning curio of what the genre was shaping up to be: focused, melodic, adventurous, and most importantly, fun.
So here we are now, at last ready to traverse the shadowy wilderness of metalcore, the way mapped for us by our six classics-that-weren’t. We have markers and milestones with names we might recognize, bands we knew of but never explored, and have since vanished into the ether. The way is fraught with one-offs and workhorses; with promising starts and premature ends; with professionals and amateurs; with stalwarts, traditionalists, iconoclasts, and everything in between.
From here on, although we may pause to spend more time with one band or another to locate their place in the metal continuum, we’re in flyover mode. We’ll stay true to the purpose of the American Metalcore Project to shine some well-deserved light on all this overlooked and underappreciated music, but we will also have to temper our ambitions with the reality that some things will slip our notice. Not everything can be gotten to, but maybe it’s up to you to wander off the path when you outgrow these (limited, maybe ill-informed) maps, shine a little of your own light around, and see what you find out there in the dark.
But you’d better know where you’re coming from or you’re going to get really lost really fast:
It’s generally agreed that metalcore originated during the metallic hardcore/“crossover” period that took place between the waning years of heavy metal’s dominion over the 80s and the dark age of the 90s. Converge, Earth Crisis, Integrity, and Starkweather were the result of the overlap, their early work best imagined as hardcore punk outlines colored in with heavy metal. This template would change over the next decade, but its first evolutionary leap occurred during this five-year span that ostensibly marks the first “wave” of metalcore.
These are pre-Jane Doe days in a pre-Alive or Just Breathing age, which means The Big Four of Thrash (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer) are at or approaching their nadirs with Load/Reload, Risk, The Threat is Real, and Diabolus in Musica. Nu-metal is on the rise with Korn and Limp Bizkit in the vanguard, blazing a trail that hundreds will follow to metal’s lowest era, lasting from now until approximately 2003. Florida and New York’s underground metal scenes are red-hot, spawning dozens of short-lived but widely-respected death metal acts vying for power. Caught between these two subterranean explosions is the metalcore scene, pulling itself together under the flag Pantera waves for mainstream American metal. It has a few years to go before maturity, but in its molten state, metalcore disciplines the rage that fueled the metal of the 80s with the tight song structures of hardcore punk, forging an exciting new force in the American underground.
Enough history. Rev your engines. This is lift-off.
Wherein Brian hilariously overanalyzes a subgenre of metal!