Fury Unfettered: A Review of Buckshot Facelift’s Living Ghosts of the North Shore
In 1995, a young environmental activist from Portland, Oregon was visiting her social worker cousin in New York. After a day of taking in the sights and smells of New York City, she decided to attend a genuine NYHC show and stumbled into a small, seedy venue where Sick of It All were tearing through a rambunctious set. During a rowdy pit-stomper, she happened to lock eyes with a mohawked, tattoo young punk bedecked in a tattered denim vest emblazoned with a bold anarchy logo across the room. Something feral and fleeting in his eyes set her heart ablaze, and she brazenly crossed the pit and offered him a club soda. The two hit it off and spent all night drifting through Central Park, swapping stories of social progress and political ideologies. The two’s hearts became inextricably intertwined as the sun rose, and after a brief and torrid few months of dating, they signed a marriage contract in front of the Justice of the Peace.
The young bride purchased an older Brownstone along the North Shore using an inheritance earned from civil rights litigation. The two DIYers quickly set to work restoring their older home, planting a small vegetable patch and installing rainwater collectors. The vibrant pair attracted the attention of their neighbors, a slightly older couple seeking cooler climes than sunny Florida, and a pair of pretentious art school dropouts from the Bronx. The three couples grew close, and when the young environmentalist grew pregnant, the other couples, along with their children, vowed to be the proverbial village to help rear the child. In December of the same year, the environmentalist and anarchist pair delivered a shrieking, spirited child into the world of men.
The boy grew in spirit and fervor as the years marched on. From his volatile father, in jail for public disturbance and civil disobedience as often as he was free, he learned passion and an unyielding sense to see problems fixed by any means necessary. His budding temper and rash decisions were thankfully tempered by his mother’s gentle but firm steadfastness and resolute mindset. Years of growing up next to the children of artists and death metal veterans gave him a taste and appreciation for both the posh and the obscene. He delighted in the intellectual and dabbled in the profane, melding both within his ego and perpetually staying ahead or behind of cultural expectations.
The young man continued to mature and absorb bits and pieces of the prevailing zeitgeist, adapting what fit and discarding what didn’t until the dawn of hisown manhood and independence approached. Then, in the fall of 2012, the single most important creative impetus of his life loomed up from the Atlantic. As Superstorm Sandy plodded its deadly path toward the East Coast, the young man’s family and neighbors all evacuated. But the young man, in a foolhardy act of youthful defiance, ignored his mother’s urgent pleading and willfully stayed home to see the ominous specter of devastation firsthand. The hurricane came, and the young man greeted it with adolescent hubris. Lightning split the tar-black sky and danced provocatively across the anvil clouds. Thunder roared and pummeled the usual serenity of the coastal environ. Nature raged, but the boy’s heart retaliated with equal emotive force. As the deafening cacophony of mother nature’s fury resounded all across the eastern seaboard, the young man stood tall. His house collapsed. The seas roared. The towering waves crashed and rebounded. Yet, the young man maintained his vigil through the night. When his parents returned to survey the devastation, they found the man poised amongst the carnage of twisted beams and snared fabric, furiously scribbling lyrics into a tarnished notebook.
I’d like to believe that the above exposition is the genesis of Buckshot Facelift’s devastating career and that Hurricane Sandy is the baleful muse that maddens and drives frontman Will Smith. The fury and devastation of Mother Nature provide the perfect backdrop for unfettered wrath and unadulterated chaos of this caliber. As the band themselves explain, “Buckshot Facelift. The splendors of earthly indulgence to the depths of human depravity. The wine, feces, women and cripples that make our days. The love, the violence, the regrets and the endless flaking dreams. The Grindcore of dying, vane American gods. We fight, we bleed, we work, we die.” However, the origins of the death metal and hardcore outfit is a bit different than my flight of fancy, albeit no less interesting. Formed in 2004 by scene workhouse and mouthpiece of Armageddon, Buckshot Facelift have been working tirelessly to cement themselves as the preeminent force in a crowded pool of vitriolic hardcore and metal acts. After recording a 2005 demo in an attic, the band has consistently marched to the beat of their own war drums, eschewing the norm and striking a singularly interesting path.
Blending the disparate elements of grindcore, crust, D-beat, death metal, and progressive rock in a Gorguts-shaped industrial food processor before wrapping the mélange in a distinctly hardcore-flavored package, Buckshot Facelift have unleashed another testament to the human endeavor and man’s unrelenting fight against the primordial in the form of Living Ghosts of the North Shore. The band counts members of moody doom act Grey Skies Fallen, evocative acoustic group The Back of My Face, grindy noise mongers Spermwerm, and vigorous hardcore unit Thirsty! amongst their ranks, in addition to the aforementioned Will Smith, the imposing vocal chords behind the indefatigable fan favorites Artificial Brain. Buckshot Facelift most certainly wears all of the influences on its sleeves, but when you pierce the veil and dig a little deeper beneath the tumult, you’ll find this band is greater than the sum of its parts.
Ricocheting between blistering D-beats and unhinged, angular riffs that bounce and collapse under unconventional time signatures and pulsing blastbeats, the band batters you with wave after wave of devastating and dissonant death metal with a delectable dab of hardcore. No two songs on this release sound the same. “Living Ghosts of the North Shore” opens with a tempest of raging vocals from the different members of the band and proceeds to barrage you with chaotic riffs and swirling drum fills. The Artificial Brain-esque assault continues on the subsequent tracks, but things definitely slow down to a lumbering brawl on “15,000 Missing” that channels the early assault of Gojira. However, the band is not content to rest and stampedes through blistering sprints of pure crusty deathgrind on “Slithering Stallion” and “Colossal Meat Smorgasbord.” Aside from the oddly idyllic ambient piece “Sacrificial Specimen”, the band bludgeons you with every single track, and they do so with remarkable acumen and diversity, like a pit brawler raised on the streets and armed with a deadly assortment of makeshift weaponry. Every track stands out amidst the rubble and ruin.
In fact, the strength of each individual track is so great that the stark contrast between the heaviness and the sublime on “Sacrificial Specimen” becomes all the more problematic. On a much longer album, a track like this would make much more sense, providing a much needed respite from the onslaught. But on a seven song release with two tracks right around the 1:00 mark, it seems strange to include this sort of song. However, if the length and a peaceful instrumental track are my only complaints with an otherwise stellar and furious releae, then surely Will Smith and company are doing something right.