Nineironspitfire - Seventh Soul Sacrificed (1996)
The history of Ryan Frederiksen’s bands is a history of the evolution of metalcore; a rabbit hole through some of the most forward-thinking music in the genre; and the upwards career trajectory of a bonafide talent, all in one. From Nineironspitfire through his time in These Arms Are Snakes, Narrows (with other Botch alumni), and currently Dust Moth, Frederiksen has ridden the cutting edge of metalcore decade after decade, bringing an ever-more-refined and individualistic play-style to ever-more-refined and individualistic bands. Nineironspitfire, one of the most interesting projects he was ever a part of, was also, by his own admission, his first project of any consequence. Although he is said to have joined too late to actually play on the album, his influence is almost osmotically detectable: straddling the groovy/spastic line, these leaping riffs and urgent, twisty arrangements are trademark Frederiksen. There’s no hitch between Seventh Soul Sacrificed and the songs he contributed to the Botch split that followed, further fueling my suspicion that he may have had more of a hand in the record than anyone lets on.
I digress, but this will not be the last time we talk about Frederiksen. Instead, let’s talk about the rest of Nineironspitfire: among its alumni are John Pettibone of Seattle’s excellent Himsa, whose vocals are as intense and articulate as anything he did with those bands, if closer in tone to his work with the hardcore Undertow; and joining him from that band, too, is Mark Holcomb (not the one from Periphery!), making Nineironspitfire both a creative step up and a lateral move in popularity. Their hardcore backgrounds are counterpointed by bassist Morgan Henderson, currently Fleet Foxes’ secret weapon (!) but more importantly, a former member of the Blood Brothers (!!), as well as non-Frederiksen guitarist Demian Johnston, who also spent time in Undertow, and later, underrated metalcore act Playing Enemy. With a resume like that, one expects the hardcore backbone and drastic noise flourishes of Nineironspitfire, but the band were Deadguy fans above all, and it shows. They were also, as Frederiksen notes, very into Today Is The Day and “Slint, Shellac, and stuff like that,” all of whose sonic signatures are writ to varying degrees across the music.
Seventh Soul Sacrificed dropped the same year as Screamin’ With the Deadguy Quintet, functioning as a bridge between it, Fixation On A Coworker, and later metalcore greats like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Eso-Charis, and even The Chariot. Across the album, but also within individual songs, Nineironspitfire vacillate between classic metalcore groove (“Undone”) and proto-spazz freakouts (“Lead Poisoning”), conjuring up juggernauts like “Charcoal Drawings/Weapons of Choice” with its long passages of clashing and climbing guitar noise, and the artillery-fire precision of “In the Comfort of Strangers” and “One Last Wish” along the way. The album does a remarkable job of recreating the ominous atmosphere of Today Is The Day’s Willpower through the lens of hardcore, something I can’t say I’ve heard done so well in other records of the time; and although Frederikson seems to imply that Nineironspitfire got into Slint & Co. after Seventh Soul Sacrificed, their iconoclastic songwriting contributes an obvious thread to the band’s mathy, intricate tapestry.
“Far Too Familiar/Execution” makes no bones about that Today Is The Day influence, coming across like a sonic cousin to Willpower’s eponymous opener. Its queasy guitar and sludgy progression make a great introduction to Seventh Soul Sacrificed, but “Read Between the Lines” could have gone down as legendary: starting with a pitch-perfect clip from The Exorcist (the possessed Regan growling “What an excellent day for an exorcism”) that segues directly into a “classic” Nineironspitfire groove, it shows the band using their influences as springboards rather than guides. “You knew it would happen / but what if it fell flat / like life / on a rainy day?” Pettibone roars, as Henderson steers an off-time groove around Dan Dean’s shuddering kitwork. Johnston’s guitar flashes in and out of the mix, accompanied by a series of background screams that sound like the ghost of Jon Davis, or the outro to “Ball Tongue.” Johnston’s riffs overtake the song and the segment repeats before the song morphs into The End-like ballistics, marshalled back into order by a mission statement: “It’s not what I say / it’s how I say it / and my words / once expressed / can never be denied.”
Seventh Soul Sacrificed isn’t a perfect record, but it has potential to spare and a creative spirit worth admiring. The two songs they contributed to their split with Botch, “The Kid” and “#2,” offer a look at a band that’s already begun to refine the molten inspiration on Seventh Soul Sacrificed, sorting out its strengths and learning to cut the excess. Frederiksen’s involvement on the split ushers in a refreshed technicality and more thrilling turns in the songwriting, coupled with a production boost that fleshes out the role of each instrument in the overall sound a little more clearly. It’s not a perfect evolution, and the split leaves a bit of a ragged stump at the end of Nineironspitfire’s career, but those comparisons to The End and The Chariot made above are a lot more telling than they seem: had Nineironspitfire lasted, I don’t think either Transfer Trachea Reverberations... or Everything Is Alive, Everything Is Breathing... would have been nearly as special. The seeds of both albums are here on this 1996 record, and what could have been might have been bigger than both.