For Whom The Bell Tolls: Battle of Mice

Hemingsaur! I choose you!

So. Bands break up. It sucks, but that’s the way of things. For most of them, the reason is pure and simple; on some level, they suck. Whether it’s only a little, or harder than a $20 hooker, it doesn’t matter; the world doesn’t lose a whole bunch. The members go on with their lives, and probably go on to make a greater impact in other areas of society. Like being that guy who who perennially sweeps up fallen leaves, only to have some douchebag 5-year old kick them all over the place again. SUCKS to be that guy.

Then there are bands that are forced into submission for other reasons: money, conflict – both personal and artistic – or sometimes the fanbase only comes after they’re long gone. This is a chronicle of those bands. Most you will not have heard of, for the very reason that they’re not even around to promote themselves any more. But trust me, they are bands that you really really should listen to.

This week: Hooray, I succedeed! The bitch-tastic Battle of Mice.

In honour of me being basically in love with Julie Christmas at the moment, via a penchant for a) her incredible voice and b) sort of dangerous and batshit insane women in general, this week’s FWTBT goes out to one of her old projects, Battle of Mice.

Their progeny is an interesting one. Christmas founded the band with Josh Graham of Neurosis/Red Sparowes after the latter of his bands, and her other band Made Out Of Babies, played South-by-Southwest in 2005. The story goes that they took an immediate dislike to each other – always a good basis for a solid working relationship – but changed their opinions about each other when the two bands toured together later that year. In fact, they went so far as to enter into a fairly strained and passionate on-again-off-again long-distance relationship which culminated in being unable to occupy the same room.

I do like me a band with an interesting history…

01. The Lamb and the Labrador
02. Bones in the Water
03. Sleep and Dream
04. Salt Bridge
05. Wrapped in Plain
06. At the Base of the Giant’s Throat
07. Cave of Spleen

Their main body of work is this album; A Day of Nights. I was aware of Josh Graham’s work before, having been a fan of both Neurosis and Red Sparowes for some time, but the minute I heard the shrill, almost child-like, and ever so menacing voice of Julie Christmas I knew the album was going to be an experience.

Shift your ears downward for the incredibly creepy Bones in the Water. This is where the batshit insane tag begins to be earned. It’s an immense tune, but fuck me do the lyrics creep me out. From the opening:

Every time I think of pushing you down the stairs I lick my lips. But don’t be upset, its the only way that I know how to show you that I really care.

Given the turmoil between Christmas and Graham during recording (whilst laying down the final track, Cave of Spleen, they couldn’t even bear to be in the same roomas one another, and ultimately recorded their parts seperately), it makes me a little scared about the vocalist’s state of mind. Intended as I’m reading it or not, it makes for some involved listening.

At the Base of the Giant’s Throat is, for me, the centrepiece of the album, and as such is my favourite. The atmosphere it creates is dense and full of foreboding, topped off by some sublime guitar work and, as ever, Miss Christmas’s gorgeous voice. She has absolute mastery of her vocal chords, able to go from mid-range melody to screeching banshee at the drop of a (witch’s?) hat. Sublime.

It’s the clip near the end that really gives the track some extra oomph. For all intents and purposes, it’s a recording of a phone call to a 911 call centre, with a woman on the other end of the phone going spare, hysterically telling someone to leave her alone as the operator tries futilely to get an address out of her so he can send help. Rumour tells that it is Christmas herself, possibly during a spat with Graham. Real or fake, it snaps you right out of the quieter section that precedes it.

So where are they now?

Well, if you’ve been paying attention over the past few weeks, you will already know that Julie Christmas is releasing her debut solo album on November 9th. I’m usually put off by solo acts, but I can already tell this is one album I won’t be able to pass up. Made Out Of Babies are still a band technically, but nothing has been heard from them for a good while, so the jury’s out on whether we’ll hear anything more from them.

Josh Graham, meanwhile, has also been a busy boy. As well as his duties in one of the most influential metal bands of the past few decades (that’d be Neurosis – he does the visual art), he’s been working on a project called Suspended in Light, for whom he left Red Sparowes. He also works with Scott Kelly and Noah Landis of Neurosis on a band called Bood and Time. Busy busy busy indeed.

This is one band I really really urge you to check out if you haven’t already. I know I always urge you to, but this needs to be heard.

– CG

If you have any suggestions for this column, please send them my way to chris(at)heavyblogisheavy(dot)com or leave a message in the comments section!

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