Friday, August 28, 2009

Black Army Jacket vs. Hemlock

Has anyone noticed how few split records there are now? Although the theory didn’t always work in practice, the split record was a great way to get turned on to new bands throughout the 1990s. Or maybe the split would serve as a definitive document of a particular time in the scene. Sure, bands like Agathocles and Unholy Grave will continue to release multitudes of split seven-inches. But it seems like the idea of two bands facing off on a record isn’t used nearly as often as it used to be. A big part of the reason has to do with oversaturation—there really aren’t very many splits in my collection where both bands continue to be worthy years after the fact. But here’s one of the exceptions. Our contenders for this heavyweight bout have a nice clashing of styles that make for an interesting matchup.

In the first corner, we have Black Army Jacket, hailing from central Queens, New York. Along with Devoid of Faith from upstate, Black Army Jacket was one of the bands that held down the fort for real hardcore in the state of New York during the late ‘90s, as far as I could tell. Their 1997 demo got a lot of attention for sounding different than what people usually expected out of hardcore bands from New York. Instead of tough guy histrionics and continuous metal chug breakdowns, Black Army Jacket delivered fast hardcore that was along similar lines as West Coast powerviolence. Their guitarist Andrew Orlando (formerly of Milhouse) also co-wrote Monkeybite zine with Noothgrush bassist Gary Neiderhoff.

In the opposite corner is Hemlock from Brooklyn, New York. Although black metal had become laughably trendy in the late ‘90s; the focus was mainly on Scandinavian bands with a little Cradle of Filth thrown in. Most black metal snobs thumbed their noses at American bands in the genre, but Hemlock proved to be a notable exception. Maybe it was because they’d released their Crush the Race of God CD on the Norwegian label Head Not Found, and would have almost certainly been on Deathlike Silence had Euronymous not met his untimely demise. Or perhaps it was due to their approach. Years before people rated bands based on how “grim/kvlt/nekro” they sounded, Hemlock played ugly, uncompromising black metal that was meant to be uneasy on the ears. No majestic keyboards. No pretty female vocals. No acoustic guitars to convey Norse god worship. Just raw Satanic hatred. As it turned out, Hemlock was the product of members from two of the most hate-fueled ‘90s sludge bands—Cattlepress and Iabhorher—and Dan Lilker of Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, SOD, Exit-13, and Brutal Truth.

Black Army Jacket lands an astounding nine shots in rapid succession, including my personal mix tape favorite “Hot Date” about an attempted date rapist meeting his demise. But then Hemlock rebounds with three hard and heavy blows that blacken the eyes and send the opponent’s mouthpiece flying into the crowd. “We Attack, We Fight, We Win” is one of Hemlock’s song titles, and an appropriate one as they do just that in this bout. It was a hard-fought battle. But what’s this? The state athletic commissioner has just come out with the revelation that the Hemlock tracks were not original material. Apparently these three songs were intended for the drummer’s Terror of the Trees project, but Hemlock adopted them as their own for this bout. The commissioner wants to see a disqualification, but ultimately this decision is up to the judges.

Become a judge here.

7 comments:

Stormy said...

Thanks for this! I've always loved this split, and it has the only BAJ material not on the discography CD, so it's worth it for that alone. I always thought the Hemlock side was lacking a bit, but they became much better. Funeral Mask was their masterpeice.

Keep up the fine work.
Vin

The Evil Eye said...

Thanks, Vin. Glad somebody out there appreciates it! (So sayeth the guy who sucks at posting comments on others' blogs...) I think it's funny that the Black Army Jacket side isn't included on the discography CD, as I think it's some of their best work. Certainly better than the full-length they did, which I remember being something of a disappointment.

Stormy said...

I actually really liked the LP, even though i haven't heard it in years. Witte's drumming is excellent as usual. My personal favorite is the split with Noothgrush. The song Pretenders to the Throne is a monster, and i love that Joe Pesci sample in the beginning.

Vin

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing B.A.J, Cattlepress and Hemlock devastate the Gilman at one of the Fiesta Grandes that Slap A Ham used to do. I didn't make it to the 1st one but everyone after that. Alot of blurry times....buds and suds haha!........Mr.T

The Evil Eye said...

Black Army Jacket played the 1998 Slap a Ham Fiesta Grande, and Lino from Hemlock did guest vocals on one of their songs. It might have actually been the DRI cover, come to think of it. Cattlepress played the (I think) 1996 Fiesta Grande, but Hemlock was never included. I was actually supposed to set up a show for Cattlepress and Hemlock at Gilman nine years ago, but that never came to fruition.

Anonymous said...

Yes I knew that they were not all on the same bill. I've seen so many amazing bands that my memories of exact years are not that great. I think I'm getting Hemlock confused with some other unit.....Great Blog, I just dicovered it yesterday....Mr.T

Lee Sound Views said...

I released this records -- and still have copies! -- and it's nice to see it getting props so many years later. Wow.