Celebrator: The Blood Brothers Retrospective

I have followed The Blood Brothers since 2003 after hearing ‘Ambulance Vs Ambulance’ on a compilation, which made me have that ‘ohmygodi’vegotsomefuckingjaffacakesinmypocket’ realisation. I’d listened to a lot of hardcore punk/metalcore before, but nothing prepared me for this. The castrated vocal squeals, the raw guitar scratches, the nonsense lyrics  ”“ not to mention the glockenspiel. It all seemed to fit together in a weird, dysfunctional way ”“ and I was immediately hooked by their scattered My goal in life is to have that beard. intensity.

The Blood Brothers began in 1997, featuring vocalists Johnny Whitney and Jordan Blilie, drummer Mark Gajadhar, bassist Morgan Henderson and guitarist Devon Welch (who was soon replaced by Cody Votolato). They didn’t record their first album until 2000, having released a stream of 7” records (which were later compiled as the ‘Rumours Laid Waste’ Ep, which also features Welch on the cover). Their debut, ‘This Adultery Is Ripe’ was a raw, scrappy cluster of noise and epileptic shouting. Dual vocalists Whitney and Blilie were like two yappy little dogs, biting and snapping at each other in a blind fury. Two years later, the band returned to the studio to record concept album, ‘March On Electric Children’ a 9 song short story about the bleak lives of the characters Mr Electric Ocean and The Skin Army. This was the band’s first foray into utilising other instruments, aside from the standard guitar, bass and drum set up. Henderson’s use of korg synthesisers as well as a range of samples came into play, however, the terrifying highlight is the bizarre closing track that features only Whitney and Blilie sat at a piano. The pair alternates between mashing the keys, and screaming like unruly children to a rather Bugsy Malone-style, honky-tonk lead of flamboyant optimism. It’s a jarring, and disconcerting end to an album that took the template set by ‘This Adultery is Ripe’ and ripped into the notions of egotistical superficiality.

The band was soon snapped up by V2 Records and released ‘Burn, Piano Island, Burn’ in March 2003. With a bigger budget and nu-metal maestro Ross Robinson on board, it soon became their breakthrough record. Between ‘Burn”¦’ and ‘March”¦.’ The Blood Brothers evolved significantly. For one thing, ‘Burn, Piano Island, Burn’ was twice as long as their previous release, clocking in at just under 48 minutes. Their style had changed considerably ”“ the hardcore element still remained, but become tighter, reigning in more chance at experimentation and the extension of sounds. Songs like ‘God Bless You, Blood Thirsty Zeppelins!’ were cut into various scenes, shifting from alt-rock to fiery hardcore punk through razor-sharp time changes. ‘Every Breath Is A Bomb’ was the sound of a circus playing Black Flag songs via a Gay Pride Parade. ‘The Salesman, Denver Max’ spliced acoustic and stoner elements perfectly, whilst the slow burn of ‘The Shame’ and the chaotic noise-core thrash-fest of ‘Cecilia and the Silhouette Saloon’ emphasised just how far the band had come in creating something totally mind bending. It was a triumph and is often regarded as their best work to date.

Crimes’ followed a year later and saw yet more change. Votolato’s shrieking guitar was toned down in places, whilst more macabre sounds were injected into the fold courtesy of Henderson and Whitney as well as more percussive elements alongside Gajadhar’s drumming. The album had a subtle political message, targeting both military policy and the Bush administration, with the closing two tracks ‘Celebrator’ and mostly ‘Devastator’ critiquing the US military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘Love Rhymes With A Hideous Carwreck’ became a massive hit and was on regular rotation on the hard rock music channels, more so than ‘Ambulance Vs Ambulance’, which came out a year before. After touring ‘Crimes’ Whitney and Gajadhar worked on a new project called Neon Blonde; which mixed more electronica-based elements and dance-rock alongside the harsh punk of The Blood Brothers sound. They released the EP ‘Headlines’ in 2005 and followed it with their only album, ‘Chandelliers in the Savannah’. Blilie and Votolato joined with Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian of the Locust to form Head Wound City, a band described by Bilile as sounding like “The Alien and Predator’ starting a band instead of fighting each other.” The only recorded output is a 10 minute self-titled EP, which was also released in 2005.

After time apart with other projects, the band went back to the studio and recorded ‘Young Machetes’ their 5th and final album. The 15 tracker, would be their longest album to date. It was also a possible foreshadowing for their split; as it brought together all the various stylistic shifts the band had gone through since it’s inception. Songs like ‘Rat Rider’ and ‘Johnny Ripper’ harked back to the days of ‘This Adultery Is Ripe’ hardcore punk, whilst ‘Laser Life’ gave a nod towards the heavy use of keys and samples as heard on ‘Crimes’ and ‘Set Fire To The Face On Fire’ and ‘Vital Beach’ had elements of the band around the ‘Burn”¦.’ sessions. Of course, their current sound was also in play: tracks such as ‘1,2,3,4 Guitars’ blended a sombre Radiohead-ish vibe of despondence with their caustic hardcore, whilst ‘Street Wars/Exotic Foxholes’ mixed ambient trance elements with a new-wave pop edge and ‘Giant Swan’ fixated on the celebration of large birds under a staccato rush of noise.

After two UK tours at the beginning and middle of 2007, the band was put to rest through a collective decision. Blilie stated later that the split was also down to “not being able to find a middle ground where everyone was happy” and generally just drifting apart.

What I admire about The Blood Brothers is their talent in creating such exciting music. Their shifts and alterations in sound over their 5 albums shows real progress in redefining their music and style. It was still heavy and discordant enough to engage those who liked the more raucous side, yet it had that dark pop edge and chaotic punk rock streak of scatter-brained insanity.

They basically destroyed what I knew about hardcore punk ”“ they made all other bands in that spectrum of music sound pretty much irrelevant. Their music was harrowing ”“ it stalked me. When I first got ‘Burn, Piano Island, Burn’ I found it such a difficult listen. I’d make it about halfway through and have to turn it off and just sit there thinking “shitting crikey.” I think if an album can make you do that, then it’s truly something special indeed. It was such a concentrated rush of unrelenting rage and wailing emotion, mixed with a dangerous fire of unhinged brilliance. I kept going back to it though, re-listening to certain songs over and over before moving on. It began to consume me. This was the only thing I’d listen to. I’ll always remember the look I received from my friend Tom who lived next door to me in halls who looked in during one of Whitney’s testicle-retracting screams ”“ it basically said “you either lost your hearing ages ago” or “Ross seems to be listening to the soundtrack of someone having various vital organs removed through their nose.” ”“ Possibly right on both accounts.

Their lyrics were largely nonsense, full of non-sequitur shouts and visions of warped depravity and at times, commentary on the current political climate, especially the material from ‘Crimes.’ A mythical place dubbed ‘Piano Island‘ was a regular lyrical feature; appearing in both their debut album and as a subject throughout most of ‘Burn….’ Due to the dual vocal attack, most of their songs were deranged conversations between Whitney and Blilie, trading lines with each other like two warring misanthropes and were for the most part, extremely unsettling once you deciphered their content.

It sounds cliché, but there will never be another band quite like them, (mostly because no-one in the world can imitate THAT voice) but they should feel proud to be one of the most experimental and influential bands associated with the post-hardcore community.

Where are they now?

Johnny ‘sounds like a castrated choir boy being tortured’ Whitney and guitarist Cody Votolato joined with J Clark of Pretty Girls Make Graves to form Jaguar Love, a dance-punk/indie/weird beast ”“ all camp screams and flamboyant mannerisms. Jaguar Love are now currently a two piece (Whitney and Votolato) and are set to release their second album, ‘Hologram Jams’ in March this year.

Mark Gajadhar, Morgan Henderson, Jordan Blilie and old guitarist Devon Welch have formed Past Lives, who’s debut album ‘Tapestry of Webs’ should be out soon. They released the EP ‘Strange Symmetry’ back in 2008.

Video

Click on the player below to listen to ‘Cecilia and the Silhouette Saloon‘ taken from the ‘Jungles Rules‘ DVD.

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Links

The Blood Brothers
Jaguar Love
Past Lives
Neon Blonde
Head Wound City

By Ross Macdonald

Lizard Hips

Lizard Hips

Junior Vice President of Keep It Fast. In other news: I work in social media, talk about dinosaurs, run a book club and have amazing facial hair. I am also a male man who is still not dead.

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