Originally written by Ramar Pittance
The following is a portion of a list of grindcore acts described as “no nonsense,” according to a quick Google search.
Extreme Noise Terror
This list, while not comprehensive, tells us less about bands than it does about our expectations of grindcore. To label a grindcore act as “no nonsense” is to lionize their rejection of frivolity and pretension.
This makes sense. Grindcore rejects nonsense in much the same that it rejects just about everything — compressing sound along each axis to create something impenetrable, utilitarian. It is a killing thing.
Right now, there are a couple of albums generating some buzz for testing the limits of grindcore’s nonsense probation. One is Liberteer’s Better to Die on Your Feet Than Live on Your Knees, an album that stacks nonsense — in the form of turn of the century American Folk interludes — on top of what you could probably get away with calling no-nonsense grindcore. It’s daring in its own right, but it knows that it’s weird. Liberteer recognizes the distinction between nonsense and no-nonsense, and plays on it in a way that’s meant to affect the listener.
There’s also Norway’s Beaten to Death, a band that’s so subversively weird because I honestly don’t think they’re aware of that distinction.
Xes and Strokes is a weird and infectiously melodic grindcore album. But, probably not in the way that you’re used to thinking of weird and infectiously melodic grindcore albums. These guys aren’t Birdflesh. Beaten to Death doesn’t introduce unconventional instrumentation or melodic vocals to the mix, either. The songs mostly run in the 1:30 to 2:30 range, and the tempos swing between marches and blasts. The weirdest thing aboutXes and Strokes, then, is that Beaten to Death seems to believe that this is how grindcore ought to sound.
What does it sound like? Think Lykaethea Aflame interpreting “Where the Slime Live” on Les Paul guitars, with the stipulation that there needs to be at least 20 seconds in every track where Dan Hoerner (Sunny Day Real Estate) could make a guest spot on vocals if he wanted to. And, again, the weirdest thing about Beaten to Death’s take on that eye-rollingly convoluted brew of styles is that they execute it with a conviction which suggests that these sounds do belong together.
In terms of production, Beaten to Death’s sound has even less to do with grindcore, sounding instead like the band snuck into the Foo Fighters’ recording studio and decided to do some very, very cruel things to the instruments. The mix works, though, as Beaten to Death’s songs need room to breathe.
On “Soulless Alarm,” the band builds melodies from hazy arpeggios, casting them against rattling, martial grind passages. Bass is free to roam in its own register, and steers the song to crescendo when it finally swallows itself whole. Beaten to Death doesn’t so much balance opposing forces and they reject the entire notion of opposition. Bright major chord progressions and post-rock melodies — like those found on “A Word to the Wise” or “Groundhog Day” — aren’t so much introduced into tracks as they are booted into the fray and forced to fight for purchase. And while that might suggest a haphazard design, what it really makes for is an album that sounds almost uniform in urgency, no matter how sunny the sounds get.
While Beaten to Death will probably never be known as a no-nonsense band, Xes and Strokes succeeds in establishing its own eccentric standard — a sound entirely their own. These are sounds that demand to be heard, because nobody else is making them.