For heavy music scene vets, getting older has its advantages. But not many
Published: October 26, 2011
Charm City Art Space Nov. 4. For more information visit ccspace.org.
“You’re fucked from birth/ born of a hopeless world/ You’re fucked from birth/ just left to rot and die/ Worthless humans/ They’re breeding diseased spawn,” snarls Pulling Teeth’s Mike Riley on the band’s recent track “From Birth” (released this year on its Funerary LP). Riley, also of Charm City Art Space and an all-around punk scene figure, has one of the more distinctive voices in hardcore, sounding almost like a taunt or sneer on top of the more usual throat-scraped vocal acid. The lyrics, his voice, the almost anxious guitar thrash, and percussive heavy artillery are antipathy on steroids, sure, but as the record keeps going it’s clear Funerary and Pulling Teeth are more than “fuck you.” It’s music so very bleak and hopeless, but also evolved.
On “Brain Drain” the band takes a shot at suburbanites, which is about like taking a shot at a brick wall. But the lyrics are weirdly empathetic, which is something more:
I know why you made your choice but still I feel a bit betrayed self-imposed suburban exile, white flight for the modern day I hate to say it but you know it’s true This city’s dying ’cause of people like you You believed the myth, you bought the lies of greener grass and bluer skies.
Our suburbanite friend is implicated in something awful beyond himself; he’s caught “the disease.” In other words, it’s hard to say “fuck you” when, in fact, everything is already fucked.
Maybe it’s weird to say that’s comparatively mature. At least it’s a function of age, perhaps: You get older and you realize more and more just how totally bad things are, and how out of control and hopeless they are. Maybe you personally don’t agree about the hopelessness part (yet), but at least admit that generally the world doesn’t start to look rosier as one ages, if you’re paying attention at all.
Pulling Teeth isn’t a young band. These are dudes that have done their time in basements and cruddy bars “in bands that have toured the U.S. kind of aimlessly,” Pulling Teeth guitarist Domenic Romeo explains in a phone interview. The band was formed in 2005 to be a sort of next stage in its members’ evolution together in the Baltimore heavy-music scene. “This was the band to put our goals to fruition,” he says. “Not like to be famous, not stupid goals like that. Like, I’ve always wanted to be in a band that goes to Japan. So we figured out a way to take the band to Japan.” Goals like that.
Pulling Teeth generally doesn’t tour in the United States. Romeo has a job and a new child; all the members are dealing with either work or school. They’re heading to Europe for 10 days mainly because they don’t have to do any planning or coordinating with the tour: just show up. At least a few members of the band have already crossed the 30-years-old mark. Which might seem silly as an age marker, but head down to a punk show at the Charm City Art Space one of these nights and you might change your mind.
“It’s amazing how time flies and all of a sudden you’re an older band,” Romeo says. “You go to shows and everyone’s half your age. It kinda happens overnight. It’s always about the 50/50 crossover, where you try to get younger kids to like your older bands and you try and get older bands that are stuck in their era and say, ‘Hey there’s all these newer bands worth your time.’ It’s [the young kids’ job] to put the next branches on that family tree. I do what I can to help get them in the right direction. It’s up to them what to do with it.”
Funerary ends sadly in its most human moment, as Riley talks quickly in the song’s background about the death of a (his?) father, broken with outbursts of “just take it back, please take it back, I don’t want this.” It’s unexpected, and could maybe be missed on the record (the lyrics aren’t always easy to make out here). The song ends in few lines of acoustic guitar and the sound of Romeo’s crying baby.
It’s that crying that actually closes out the record, and there’s something more to it than a heartfelt moment. Pulling Teeth, Riley’s lyrics coupled to post-genre hardcore cut with sludge and thrash and very heavy, can make for an oppressive weight. It’s not a weight that should be particularly foreign to fans of any sort of extreme metal, but you could suffocate in it nonetheless.
I ask Romeo about reconciling the bleakness and hopelessness and all-around world-is-fucked spirit of Pulling Teeth songs with, well, having a new baby. “It’s a harsh, bleak criticism, but it’s true just how hopeless everything is,” he answers. “Even something like these Occupy protests seem like such a great idea, and I think that if every person that should be upset by it including myself, getting fucked the way they are . . . we should do something about it. But man I gotta go to work every day. I have mouths to feed.
“It’s just frustrating that the world is set against you,” he says. “It doesn’t mean your life has to suck. You just have to find your happiness within that framework, and that’s what I want to teach my daughter, that you don’t have to have a ton of money. If you have something in your life that makes you happy—for me it’s music, for my wife it’s music—as long as you have a way to make your music, you go to your job, do what you got to do to exist. It’s hopeless but at the same time within that hopeless frame there’s a lot of beauty.
“Imagine a box and that box is life and you’re stuck in that box,” Romeo continues. “But you can make the inside of that box whatever you want. That’s yours. No one can change that, or take that away from you. That’s what I hope to bestow [on my daughter], like when she’s old enough to stop biting me and smashing stuff.”
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