By: Eric Greenwood
Depending on your perspective, The Blood Brothers are either musical terrorists or the punk equivalent of Terrance and Phillip. It's a tough call. But, then again, any band that polarizes on extreme levels is doing something right. It's better to be either loved or hated than not thought of at all.
For eight years, The Blood Brothers have been pushing the boundaries of punk from the inside out. Wearing its influences proudly on its collective sleeve, the band combined a love for punk staples like The Damned and Dead Kennedys with the noisier assault of the San Diego noise rock scene led by Gravity Records' artists like Angel Hair and Mohinder.
Honing its skills for several years, The Blood Brothers didn't debut in album form until 2000's This Adultery Is Ripe. That album's destructive intensity foreshadowed how abrasive and shocking the band would become. With relentless energy and verve, The Blood Brothers ripped the entrails out of punk's boneheaded playbook with disjointed, shrill guitars and a pair of blood curdling screams, adding its own twisted sensibility and impressive arsenal of unorthodox melodies and hooks.
By 2002's March on Electric Children, The Blood Brothers had taken its shriek show to even more radical depths by spazzing and screeching the melodies and rhythms into your skull via clever wordplay and memorable refrains. Lyrically, The Blood Brothers avoided the trappings of emo by hurling disdain and mockery outside of its own frame of reference. The politics of personal despair are overlooked in favor of assaults on the media, exploitation, and politics.
Decrypting the band's message is no easy task, however. The dual-screaming is an assault on the senses above and beyond the typical hardcore growl, especially since the band uses screaming in untraditional ways. Instead of reserving a full-throated rasp to express rage like most bands, The Blood Brothers deconstruct predictable tension by screaming – whether the music deems it necessary or not – to shift the dynamics within songs just like any instrument would.
I asked one of the vocalists, Jordan Billie, if he felt the screaming pushed would-be fans away, and he said, "It's definitely abrasive. The words are hard to understand, so, yeah, I can see how it might be difficult for the uninitiated." I also asked how it was possible to tour and maintain a voice after such relentless abuse. Billie dismissed it as anything too serious, saying that quitting smoking has helped the most.
Being rooted in punk is a ball and chain for most evolving bands because typically the abrasiveness tapers with age, and the fans that were there from the beginning cry sell out the moment things start to slow down. But Billie doesn't fear any such transition. I asked if he could see the band together ten years from now, and he immediately said that "there's no reason to stop as long as we are pushing ourselves creatively, and the ideas are still good."
After hooking up with nu-metal guru Ross Robinson for its sonically ferocious yet borderline grating Burn, Piano Island, Burn album in 2003, The Blood Brothers faced a new level of commercial exposure. Billie denied any pressure or concerted effort to cater to any sort of commercial medium now that the band is on a subsidiary of Virgin Records, and the band's latest, Crimes, certainly defends that stance.
Heavier on the politics this time around, Crimes lashes out at the Bush administration in typically cryptic and mocking abrasiveness, specifically on "My First Kiss at the Public Execution." Crimes indulges more hooks, computer noises, melodies, and actual singing than anything preceding it, specifically on "Teen Heat." The dual-screaming is still a constant, as are the herky-jerky guitars and spastic changes ("Trash Flavored Trash"). The tangential musical interludes erupt into ferocious walls of noise like carnival music on crack. Sarcy nods to dance-punk are cleverly disguised by metal-edged clamor, and there's no denying this band's prowess. Crimes is a mass of contradictions that are scary and hummable; you'll either be dancing in an epileptic fit or curled up in the fetal position.