Altars of Skronkiness: A Guest Post from Dystrophy
Shortly after we published Edward’s excellent interview with Doug Moore from Pyrrhon, guitarist/vocalist Pete Brown from dissonant death metal doomsayers Dystrophy reached out to us about penning a guest post for our humble blog. Over the course of a few emails, we decided it would be cool to get an inside perspective of the skronk scene. As you’ll see below, Dystrophy have certainly earned their spot in the subgenre, so who better to be our guide? Before you go spelunking, press play on the band’s excellent 2015 release, Wretched Host, and prepare to get skronked.
Over the past decade, and particularly within the past 5 years, extremely dissonant and avant-garde death and black metal has gone from being a favorite genre of message boards to topping year end lists and headlining tours. Borrowing elements from death, black, progressive, tech death and ambient metal, bands are blending these very dissimilar styles together into a new and aggressive sound that delivers the best of their respective genres while leaving plenty of room for experimentation. “Skronk”, as a way to describe music, has its origins going back to describe the abusive, abrasive and dissonant sounds of the 1970’s punk scene. “Skronky death metal” has more recently been adopted as a favorite way to describe highly experimental metal bands.
Dystrophy is a technical death metal band from New Jersey. Our new album, Wretched Host, isn’t tech-death in the sense of a million notes a measure or solos every other riff, but technical in the sense of how we think about using extremely dissonant chords, melodies and rhythms to construct a jarring and cohesive piece of music. We didn’t immediately jump into this style but developed our sound as we discovered weirder sounding bands like Voivod, Atheist and Martyr, and much darker and dissonant bands like Gorguts and Deathspell Omega. So how did we get into this style of music?
*Sidebar – Urban Dictionary’s top definition for skronk is, “The Snorting sound made by the former WWF/WWE Wrestler The Ultimate Warrior”. I’m also fine with this definition being used to describe dissonant metal.
How we got into it
Just like most people, I got into it by word of mouth. Friends, YouTube, Metal Archives and my local record store, Vintage Vinyl, were invaluable for discovering bands. Around 2008-2009, Pete Lloyd (the other Dystrophy guitarist) really got me into the weirder side of tech death. The mix of dissonance and thrash/death on albums like Martyr’s Warp Zone and Voivod’s Killing Technology started having a huge influence on Dystrophy’s sound. Discovering Gorguts and Ulcerate were total game changers in how we looked at songwriting and abstract sounds.
2009 was one of the first times I remember hearing Gorguts. Pete showed me From Wisdom to Hate, and I hated the intro riff to “Inverted”. I was in a total Necrophagist / Arsis tech-death frame of mind and coming off that, I couldn’t understand why he was so excited. A few days later “Inverted” came on my playlist again. Then a few days later I listened to the whole album a few times. It took a little time, but I was hooked when I realized “Elusive Treasures” was stuck in my head for over a week.
Why we like it
Albums like Gorguts’ Obscura and Ulcerate’s The Destroyers of All were completely different from anything I’d heard. Hearing these bands break any “conventional” rules I had about metal genres was like hearing my first death metal band all over again. Their back and forth between extreme dissonance and monstrously crushing riffs was a new sound and challenge we wanted to explore in our music.
Gorguts used chords I had never seen, and their riffs were so jarring to play that even just trying to learn them was an exercise in being uncomfortable. Ulcerate hooked me the first time I heard them. The Destroyers of All sounded like the world was coming to an end and I had no idea why. I couldn’t make out any of the chords, and all I wanted was to learn how to make that horrible screeching noise. I couldn’t just listen to it, and I had to see how they were making these noises with a normal guitar. The problem was that Luc Lemay hadn’t reformed Gorguts yet, Ulcerate lived in New Zealand, and today’s bigger underground bands were either brand new or didn’t exist yet.
Skronk in the scene
Around early 2010, Dystrophy was invited to play one of Curran Reynolds’ Precious Metal Showcases in New York City with Pyrrhon and Flourishing. This was the first time we’d seen these kinds of bands in the underground scene. Since then, newer bands like Artificial Brain, Baring Teeth and Dimesland have released critically acclaimed albums, and older bands like Gorguts, Portal and Deathspell Omega are finally getting the recognition they deserve from a much wider audience.
Last year I saw Gorguts open for Carcass in Silver Spring Maryland. Standing next to me was a group of kids who I assumed were there to see The Black Dahlia Murder. During Gorguts’ set, these kids screamed every word to “Le Toit Du Monde”, “Forgotten Arrows” and “Obscura”. Presumptuous asshole = me. There’s no denying there’s a growing audience for these kinds of bands. Proof enough for me, Gorguts got back together and is a full time touring band again, and international bands like Ulcerate and Wormed have come to the US multiple times.
If there’s one thing metal loves, it’s labeling and dividing bands into subgenres, and skronky metal is no exception to the rules. On the black metal side you have bands like Leviathan, Deathspell Omega and Krallice. For death metal, bands like Gorguts, Ulcerate and Wormed. Progressive and symphonic influences show up in bands like Unexpect. Then there are bands like Portal and Jute Gyte, who almost seem to defy classification in their pursuit for the most jarring noises possible. Whatever your niche, there’s a growing list of bands.
If you’re into avant-garde metal or brand new and looking for bands, check out: Deathspell Omega, Gorguts, Voivod, Martyr, Ulcerate, Portal, Demilich, Human Remains, Wormed, Baring Teeth, Pyrrhon, Artificial Brain, Orbweaver, Dimesland, Unexpect, Dysrhythmia, Inquisition, most death metal from Canada (especially Quebec) and most of Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston’s bands.
If you’re into mid-tempo skronky death metal, check out Dystrophy’s new album Wretched Host.
Thanks again, Pete, for reaching out to us! If you’re into skronk and have yet to hear Wretched Host, you’re in for a treat. As far as technical death metal goes, this album is meticulous. Riffs and rhythms materialize and vanish in plumes of noxious smoke as musical motifs and common themes emerge from the haze. It’s quite the evolution from the Voivod-worship of their previous full-length, Chains of Hypocrisy. The music, though lacking the sheer speed and ferocity of Chains, is far more measured and calculating. The way that the band uses blank space and atmosphere to build tension and heaviness, perhaps best witnessed on “Anhedonia” is mesmerizing.
Every instrument on the album is performed admirably, each working as a single gear in an intricate device, never overwhelming its counterparts. Gregory Bueno’s bass rumbles along menacingly through every song, distinct, snarling, and solid. Matthew Thompson’s drums never overpower the other instruments and are instead used to reinforce and anchor the efforts of the string instruments. Rest assured, though, the rhythmic changes and focused percussion are always hypnotizing, especially during the slower, more collected segments. Pete Brown’s vocals provide a strong, Corpsegrinder-esque focal point for the music without ever distracting from what the instruments are doing.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is the overall feeling of the album. Lloyd and Brown’s bottomless chugs, pick scrapes, and emotive solos (see “Exoparasite” for a perfect example) never feel forced. Everything is used to enhance that dissonant tone that always feels like a slow march to the grave, every black hole dive bomb of a downtuned riff taking you one step closer to oblivion. This record fills a great niche between the more claustrophobic dissonant releases like Ad Nauseam‘s Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est and spazzier efforts like Gigan‘s Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes. Slow, sinister skronk is always welcome here in the Toilet.