Saturday, May 18, 2013

Baptists - Bushcraft (2013)

Full Length, Southern Lord Records
February 19th, 2013

Genre: Hardcore
Region: Canada

Now that it's been out a little while here's the new Baptists record. Links will probably get taken down via DMCA complaint I would think but who knows... I haven't received one of those in a while.

Baptists had a nice 7" record a while back that showed great promise. I remember stumbling on it and enjoying it but never giving it too many replays honestly. Bushcraft is a little different obviously since I'm coming back quite often. The attitude is one of solid confidence. They know what direction they're going for and they nail it pretty damn well on record and even more so in live environments; without paying much mind to inevitable detractors. I recommend you see them if they drift by you.

So people have been comparing them to Converge a whole lot. This is not without reason, I mean a cursory listen is all you need to recognize what people are recognizing. Kurt Ballou brought them over to record this, and the guys have been admitted Converge fans from the start — it's kind of hard to not find their influence somewhere at this point.

But I would argue there's a far bigger east coast Cursed style/sound cascading throughout Bushcraft that mixes nicely with their love of Converge (whether intentional or not). Couple that with their experience within local grind/crust acts and the west coast atmosphere there's a comfortable synthesis, creating very catchy and energetic expression of hardcore somewhere between the old and new.

By comfortable I don't mean lazy. Baptists have struck a wonderful balance between the crusty-punk discord and anger of Cursed and the twangy high-speed pummeling hardcore that Converge have helped pioneer. I think a closer comparison could be made with All Pigs Must Die maybe, certainly if you compare songs like "Sacrosanct" with "In Droves" where both are drawing out that vehement punk energy from the past and bringing renewed vibrancy.

Obviously each band there has different plans of attack. For Baptists the one they've cut works well and reminds me of the type of thing Vilipend is doing by bringing back old school metalcore, where Baptists are less on the Rorschach end of things.

Their sound is kind of an anomaly in the context of their peers and colleagues regionally. At least as far as my limited experience or knowledge tells me. While the Vancouver and Victoria areas are no stranger to filthy grind and powerviolence, most of the crusty hardcore that I've heard like FAMINE, Subsist, or Erosion does not dabble in the chaotic, Deadguy/Rorschach twang arena that is becoming more recognizable (especially in the Deathwish Inc. stable). Nor the dark rusted hatred of Cursed and it's distinct 'Toronto' aura —  instead the island and mainland groups often fall along Infest and Nasum lines, while also subtly skirting the recent blackened wave too.

Baptists have embraced and tempered this selectively and injected it with a 'cascadian' ethos which casts scorn on the concrete expansion over the beauty of their west coast home. I'm not arguing that this makes their sound wholly unique but there's enough spice in there to ensure that Bushcraft escapes the 'copy-cat' label in my opinion.

Almost in a stealthy manner actually. Like I said if you give it only a few listen the comparisons to Converge are unavoidable, but I found that a few of the tracks like "Russian Spirits" and "Bullets" forced me to return due to their ridiculous hooks. Eventually I found myself running through this 27 minute record twice in a row every other day, it really crept up on me and I have a feeling this is the case for a lot of people. Even those who are tired of Southern Lord's grip on what some designate 'faux'-thrashcrust should look into Bushcraft.

As you can expect the production is rich which is great for their sound, so only gains since the 7" in that respect. The percussion is right fucking there and the guitar tone fees quite lively, bright but with some jagged edges while the bassist slickly carves a spot in the madness. Some are going to cry about the production and I understand.

Regardless, all four members are undeniably skilled in their crafts. The passion is evident as they layer on the simple and rewarding or cathartic formula of thrashcore ingrained in them. From the outset of "Betterment" we are met with a series of dark twangs and into a hissing drum surge before the track actually kicks in — switching between jerky slams and midpaced galloping, vocal chords shredding through words of regret. You get a good sample of his range from more deep death-like barks to gritty snarls/rasps. A good opener before getting to the more meaty sections.

"Think Tank Breed" is a scratchy furious tune and the shortest on the record. It makes up for it in frantic bludgeonings and later some shining injections into the rhythm and a violent chunky closing riff. On more laid back tracks like "Still Melt" my attention doesn't drift: the rhythm is hypnotic both the melodic riffs and the metaphoric, hallucinogenic lyrics together while the drumming is consistently compressing in more controlled blasts.

This aspect is always an impressive battering like axes on a felled evergreen. The intro to this track for example is real nice in that regard. "Soiled Roots" is another slow one that will bind you over it's five minute ritual, entirely groove-laden bass-filled, and as heavy as logging truck tumbling down a mountain. That weight increases ten-fold in the last minute.

On the subject of words: lyrically there's the classic punk social commentary through short and clever lines laced in venom."Mortar Head" for instance, not only blazing and awesome with a touch of that blackened vibe, but could be interpreted multiple ways. It remains interesting if it's commentary on the societal or state reliance on bureaucratic ideological power groups ("Think Tank Breed") who are disconnected from reality on the ground. Maybe I'm reading to much into it. But Baptists also tackle that raw expression of humanity's connection to the forests and biosphere blatantly as well (if the cover and title didn't tip you off).

It's not always obvious: shorter tracks like "Crutching Trails" give the impression of possible relation to the environment but deal more in carving ones own bath in terms of belief, release from moral slavery over a high-speed, slightly dissonant thrash attack which gets a little more complex during the brief chorus.

On the other end the whole title of the record and the song "Bushcraft" as well is just spelling it out plain over some wicked riffs: "I want to practice bushcraft and the leave this shit behind!" over intense snare work and feedback. I'm pretty sure anyone living in the Cascadian region (or anything like it) in the current climate has seriously considered this at one point — just it's never been expressed this well through chaotic and wailing hardcore. Normally it's a more meditative black metal approach so this is refreshing to me and the self-titled track is particularly captivating.

"Abandon", dealing with abstraction and apathy (perhaps?), is the final song and turns into an extremely boisterous one at the end following a bass solo. In a live environment this is another one that ignites the venue with it's bouncy cadence and groove.

As I already mentioned my favorites are probably "Russian Spirits" and "Bullets" because they're sincerely excellent jams on every level. If you don't have time for the whole thing at least give those two a chance. "Bullets" might take the cake: it's is wild and flailing, whining bent strings punch through and stormy percussion overwhelms for the entirety until at two minutes in the break down comes — its a magnificent moment on the record (drummer's a beast). However slams that end "Russian Spirits" make me reconsider which is heavier.

Overall Baptists have released something awesome and different from even the local fare even if external comparisons make this seem less significant. You can tell they had fun pouring their energy into this and I think it payed off. Bushcraft is the kind of album I imagine blasting in a beater pickup truck (or hatchback as is often the case here) while tearing through the gravel logging roads and muddied trails of the mainland and Vancouver Island, hollering as you escape the encroaching industrial landscapes in that brief afternoon of freedom.

That is, if people around here who went bush-bombing didn't only listen to AC/DC, Lil Jon, and Steel Panther.
You can get this probably at a local record shop but if not you go to Southern Lord or a distro who carries their titles (there are many). Or go to bandcamp because they have it up finally. You should probably follow them too.

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