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Fem fatale: Crisis’ Karyn Crisis at Valentine’s. Photo by: Leif Zurmuhlen

Corrosion of Nonconformity
By Ann Morrow

Crisis, All Out War
Valentine’s, April 3

‘We’re baaack,” crooned Karyn Crisis, who caused an outbreak of applause just by stepping onstage. Frontwoman for metalcore act Crisis, a band who proved too extreme even for Metal Blade Records, Karyn was coyly referring to Albany, the band’s second home during the 1990s until they left New York City for metal-mad Los Angeles. The quintet’s last area appearance was more than four years ago, just previous to their morph into Skullsick Nation, a more accessible yet bizarrely hypnotic incarnation, which led to another hiatus. But as of late last year, Crisis are back and in a big way, with a new label, a new release due next month, and an impressive new drummer. And judging by the enthusiasm shown at Valentine’s on Saturday, they’ve lost very little momentum with local fans, who responded to cuts from 1997’s The Hollowing as if it had never left their turntables.

That release, and its “landmark” predecessor, Deathshead Extermination, should have—and were expected to—launch Crisis into the abrasive stratosphere of hardcore metal. That neither release performed as well as their rabid following had indicated was likely due to the band’s uncompromising allegiance to art-damaged aesthetics (a largely Lower East Side movement exemplified by Live Skull), as well as, perhaps, Karyn’s edge-of-lunacy take on raw hatred, raging defiance, and grisly interpersonal musings. But that was then, and right about now, the music industry is catching up to what extreme music is really about. And if it isn’t quite there, who cares? Crisis are recording, touring, and pushing the envelope with their characteristic ferocity, and that’s all that matters—to them, and to fans both old and brand new.

The band’s Skullsick sojourn, part of their evolutionary “journey” (according to Karyn), seems only to have accelerated Crisis’ savagery. Songs from the upcoming Like Sheep to the Slaughter release were, unbelievably, even more skin-blistering, spine-chilling, and lyrically disturbing than anything that’s come before. A world-class “growler” long before the term was coined, Karyn’s astounding vocal power is undiminished, and her banshee caterwauls, ethereal trills, and guttural eruptions were freshly startling in their intensity. Seen live, there is the added disorientation of the singer’s physiognomy, which can best be described as an electrified sprite with the face of angel. Which didn’t stop her from prowling the stage in a close approximation of homicidal rage. “This is the force of a body rejecting itself,” she roared during “Nomad,” flinging herself with enough force to send her yards-long dreadlocks flying like berserk octopi.

Along with the scarifying “Nomad,” two other standouts from Slaughter were the monstrously percussive “Blood Burden,” an antiwar rant (being shot this week for video); and the eerie, Sabbathy “Rats in a Cage.” Meanwhile old fave “Seething” sounded current enough to peel the ears off of any newbie death metaller. One of the things that has always made the band more interesting than the majority of their peers is the integration of the members’ divergent experiences. Sludge-master bassist Gia Chuan Wang, for example, is also a conservatory-trained trombonist who lists Stravinsky as his heaviest influence. Moreso than before, industrialist lead guitarist Afzaal Nasiruddeen incorporated sitar-sounding licks and Near Eastern shadings (as well as flicking Karyn’s dreds off his fretboard with practiced quickness), while drummer Josh Florian brought a cataclysmic edge to the band’s massive rhythmic attacks. Despite the ferocity of the mosh pit, however, the show’s overall vibe was one of communal festivity, which Karyn celebrated by decorating the sweat-soaked audience with handfuls of glitter dust.

All Out War, the most prominent of four opening hardcore acts, put out a muscular but formulaic set centered on their new Condemned to Suffer release. Though the audience was condemned to yelled-hoarse vocals and a guitar that squealed like a stuck pig, the band had plenty of takers for an onstage mob-along.

Fans First

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Rapture
Pearl Street Nightclub, Northampton, Mass., April 3

“This isn’t about who’s playing last or who’s playing first. It’s about you guys,” said Black Rebel Motorcycle Club bassist Robert Turner to fans surrounding the stage at Pearl Street Nightclub last Saturday. His statement was cryptic, but not overly hard to decipher: Somewhere, people were bitching about the ordering of the bill, which featured San Francisco’s BRMC as the headlining act while New York City’s the Rapture opened up. Hard to say which act is bigger these days. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the subjects of a major-label bidding war in 2000, are popular in indie-rock circles for its guitar-heavy reverb revivalism and brooding pale-skinned chic (hence they’re loved in the U.K.), while dance-punk revivalists the Rapture have been one of the hottest bands in New York City since their Gang of Four-flavored “House of Jealous Lovers” became a crossover indie-rock hit and dance-floor anthem in 2002.

Rapture saxophonist Gabe Andruzzi shrugged off the issue after his band’s sweaty, danceable Pearl Street set, pointing out to my friend that the two bands are actually taking turns headlining this tour. (Though, amazingly, he also remained similarly unfazed and good-natured when my friend compared the Rapture to ’80s one-or-two-hit wonder Haircut 100). “We’re the dance party and they’re the 4 AM chill-out,” Andruzzi suggested after my friend noted that BRMC are a tad more low-key than the frenetic Rapture. It wasn’t a far-off description of the show: The Rapture’s angular synth-punk anthems managed to get Pearl Street indie-rockers shaking their corduroy-clad booties on the club floor, while BRMC’s spaced-out, druggy guitar rock seemingly anesthetized the crowd.

A band comfortable with Haircut 100 comparisons also are a band unafraid of embracing the technological trappings of synth pop. The Rapture’s rock-dance hybrid works well, onstage at least, because they fuse the two often-exclusive genres together rather seamlessly. Drummer Vito Roccoforte flailed away at his drums with all the energy of a great rock drummer before abandoning his kit on certain songs to preside over synthesized beats with a drum machine; multi-instrumentalist Andruzzi alternated between his bleating sax and the thwacks of his amplified cow bell; bassist Matt Safer played his bass with one hand on the ballad “Open up Your Heart” while he plunked at a keyboard with the other. Front man Luke Jenner—a spazz whether dancing awkwardly around the stage, playing jagged guitar riffs or singing in strangulated tones—engaged the crowd in a call-and-response on “Sister Savior,” an invitation to the dance floor that was the night’s best song.

Following the Rapture, BRMC’s black-clad, tight-lipped minimalist stage manner seemed almost austere. Oft compared to British bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, BRMC don’t shoe-gaze in the strictest sense. Rather than stare down at the floor in the tradition of ’90s British indie bands, BRMC shrouded themselves in muted lights, plumes of machine-made smoke and tufts of overgrown hair, rarely even making eye contact with each other. It didn’t start that way: Guitarist Peter Hayes began the set alone, quietly strumming an acoustic guitar and playing harmonica on a new song, the Dylan-esque “Complicated Situation.” Then, true to form, BRMC plugged in for a run through a set of swaggering, overamped guitar-driven tracks: “Spread Your Love,” “Six Barrel Shotgun,” “U.S. Government.” Given only a minimum of stage chatter, and nary a dance move, some in the crowd may have been bored with the lack of visuals and the overall sameness of the songs. But for others, BRMC’s fuzzed-out sound alone was enough to sustain the set: Hayes and Turner cranked out some distorted guitar-rock bliss from behind their vintage guitar-pedal army.

—Kirsten Ferguson

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