When grindcore originated, it was not exactly the epitome of high art. Bands such as Napalm Death and early Carcass played at frantic, breakneck speeds, focusing on combining punk’s unrelenting speed with metal’s full force auditory assault to make a sound that was always offensive. There was little, if any room, to explore any emotion besides anger or through any other means than a snotty attitude. As such, grindcore gained a reputation for being a genre bent on pushing what the most extreme point could be, but also one that seemed somewhat juvenile in the face of its peers in black, death, and doom metal, as well as hardcore, as they pushed the boundaries into more emotionally driven, “artistic” directions.
However as the generations progressed, grindcore’s “no boundaries” approach to making extreme music began to evolve in a rather interesting way. It began to encompass the stylistic (dare I say more “artistic”) approaches its peer genres were taking, incorporating the most exciting new elements of both punk and metal into its sonic arsenal. It helped to influence the powerviolence and noise revolutions of the late 80’s, as well as the (at the time) infantile post hardcore, emo, screamo, and metallic hardcore scenes. Then, after it seemed these genres had evolved beyond grindcore, leaving it as a relic of the past, it drew them all back into its grasp, leading grindcore to a new age of prosperity. Soon, melody was not frowned upon, broad experimentation was not only encouraged but widely sought after, and emotions other than anger became valid in the arena of grind.
Now, grindcore faces yet another renaissance as it moves further into this new territory, driven by bands such as Ed Gein, Full of Hell, and Column of Heaven, where it is almost the most coveted form of artistic expression in extreme music. For these acts’ aesthetic, poetry and more weave into their frightening sonic assaults, marking a strikingly human approach to a genre that once sat so far out of boundaries it was almost untamable. And, finding their place in this new wave of artsy-fartsy (said with all the love in the world) grind band’s is Philadelphia’s own Die Choking, a band who prides themselves on their relentless blend of death metal, grindcore, and crust leanings. It is a truly terrifying sound but one that continually warrants re-listening as there is always more territory to explore in their work then what is present on the surface level, something that we were more than happy to explore with them as they talk through the concepts and art that encompasses their latest album, III.
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As a baseline, what does “III” conceptually stand for, or what are the concepts that drive the record? Do “I” and “II” play into these concepts as well, or is “III” sort of a stand alone entity in the cycle?
Paul: ‘I’ and ‘II’ were stand-alone.. Although, most of those songs hit similar territory from a lyrical standpoint.
With ‘III’ on the other hand, we set out with a specific framework. It’s about birth, enslavement, rebellion, power, and the corruption and self-destruction that follows.
Prior to recording “III” I was really devouring a lot of classic and more recent sci-fi. In particular, Anne Leckie’s ‘Ancillary Justice’. She combines ideas of politics, class, identity and gender in an interesting and fun way. Nothing entirely new but hivemind style shit specific to the control and functioning of an intergalactic warship. I also was reading another book called ‘The Bomb: A Life’ by Gerard DeGroot which is a very readable history of the atomic (and hydrogen) bombs. As always, I intersect a lot of classic readings in democratic, communist, and fascist thought. ‘III’ brings in a lot from ancient and classic Greece but applied to the decline of the capitalist American model. Overall, it is fuckin’ hard to do music of this style really well without it consuming you. It can take your thoughts to some pretty wild and negative places.
How, in your eyes, does the art help to convey this message and carry it throughout the record?
Jeff: The art for this record mostly comes from the concept in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” The front cover is a representation of the inside of the cave looking outward toward the light. Inside this cave is an ancient cemetery growing outwards towards the light which represents the generations of people who were trapped inside the cave and lived their whole lives knowing nothing but the inside of the cave, each generation slowly learning from the new shadows and shapes experienced inside the cave and slowly progressing towards the light. (-Editor’s Note: you can find a lot more information about the amazing art for III right here).
How important do you believe album art is in general to conveying the message of a record or setting the tone for the record before even opening it?
Jeff: I think album art can play a huge role in shaping the listeners perception about what they are hearing. Giving visual art a platform to illustrate ideas that are represented in the music and lyrics can strengthen the project as a whole. Crap album art can ruin a good record or at least make you avoid it for a while, but also great album art can’t make a bad record any better. I really think there has to be strong communication between the songwriters and the album’s visual artist to really get down to the core of the music and to collaborate on ideas to find the aesthetic or imagery that best suits the group of songs.
What limitations do you believe the digital age has created for presenting a record as a full “multimedia” (visuals in addition to music) package vs. a physical record? What benefits do you think it has introduced that a true physical copy cannot and what opportunities do you think it will continue to create?
Jeff: The digital age has definitely led to people absorbing, accumulating and discovering music in new ways. Instead of a massive CD collection it’s more common to have an iTunes library or Spotify playlist. People see the album art but it’s much smaller and way less important, it just becomes a small thumbnail or an icon to click on. A lot of people still obviously collect records and CDs. CDs turn into junk pretty quick and I think the general consensus is if you are purchasing something physical then vinyl is the smarter purchase. I prefer as large an image as possible and the least amount of plastic with an album, if possible.
Have artists such as Jacob Bannon (Converge) or Jeff Whitehead (Leviathan), who have created visual counterparts for tracks in the past, influenced you in any way? If so, how, and what do you think their visual stimuli add to the music?
Jeff: Absolutely, I’ve been a fan of Converge and Jacob Bannon’s art for a long time. I think he’s a great example of a visual artist who works really hard to create a graphic aesthetic that comes alive with the music and you can see and hear how passionate he is about what he is doing.
Do you believe that the “visual album” format, such as those presented recently by artists like Frank Ocean, or even Metallica’s ambitious new project to create a video for every track off their new album, have a future in an ever expanding digital-music-marketplace?
Jeff: I hope so. I love seeing that a band put that much thought into each song to go as far as making a video for every track. I think it adds importance to the project and shows that they loved what they made. When done tastefully, I think a video for each track could be a great “multi-media” addition to an album. There is a lot of potential for this type of a release, especially if multiple styles and techniques of film and animation were used to show off each song.
In relation to not only the music, but to the lyrical themes as well, how do you believe visual accompaniments help to communicate the themes presented on the album?
Jeff: I think it’s similar to watching a movie of a book you already read. The same way that a movie can skew your perception of what you thought the characters in the book looked and sounded like, the visual accompaniments to an album can shape the feeling and context of the music. If done well, I think it can be a symbiotic in defining a more concrete aesthetic.
By incorporating visuals with every track, what do you as a band hope to achieve? It’s a rather ambitious move that adds a significant amount of work on your end when releasing an album, so in the end do you believe it’s all worth it?
Jeff: I thought the concept for the album was really interesting and I wanted to make a digital illustration for each track that could be paired with lyrics in an online format. Really, this is the way most people seem to listen to music these days.
Paul: We’re a pretty new band and figuring out to how combine the music, art, and message in a unique way is why it is fun… We are lucky to have the things we do internal to the band. We don’t need to rely on others to build the vision of what WE like in an aggressive and fast band. It is a selfish thing, but for me the worth of Die Choking is whether we like it. If it felt contrived or forced or if it was a band I myself wouldn’t be a fan of then that would be the end of it. We felt like the Blogspot was a unique and fun way to present the record, read the lyrics, and look at the art in tandem. We initially posted it on election day. I felt that was appropriate.