I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’m not going to claim that we’re amidst a “noise rock renaissance.” What I will say, though, is that we have been getting a ton of great noise and noise-adjacent records over the last few years. Fantastic recent releases from Buildings, Wrong, Metz, Kowloon Walled City, Protomartyr, and more prove that nobody is shy about taking up the “burden” of doling out sonic kicks to the teeth. Though as recent as they may be, it might not be an exaggeration to talk about releases from the likes of Couch Slut and Whores. as bonafide genre classics. Shit, even KEN Mode got in on the action and put out a full-blown ‘90s noise record (Steve Albini in tow) a few years back. Still, it’s not like these groups are rediscovering a lost musical language. The vets haven’t gone anywhere. Bands like Melvins, Unsane, Oxbow, and Hot Snakes have aged gracefully, refining their bread-and-butter and experimenting enough to keep things from getting stale. New or old, loud rock fans have options. But is there room for more? That answer is (always) yes, and if Kansas City trio Bummer are an indicator, the new blood getting in on the action might just push us into a new golden era of noise.
Bummer’s debut long-player, Holy Terror, has all the ingredients necessary for a classic-sounding noise rock record. There are plenty of odd-timed, angular, and near-mathy beatdowns. From the off-kilter stomp of opener “HeXXX Games” to the sludgy gear-grinding of “Arts and Crafts,” they demonstrate a mastery of Helmet’s slow-to-mid tempo robo-churn. Sam Hutchinson’s drums are ever-hefty, delivering blows that frequently sound like the greatest hits of painful belly flops. It’s the exact kind of thickness and snap you need behind bass this meaty (but not too fuzzy) and a scouring, in-your-face guitar attack. Bassist Mike Gustafson and guitarist/vocalist Matt Perrin are an outright loud duo (this record begs to be cranked), yet Hutchinson cuts through on the skins while the darker cymbals sit back a bit. It’s a great balance and helps to accentuate the heavier side of their sound with a little throwback nod.
“Pledge Week” and “Reefer Sadness” show off the band’s punkier side, where Perrin’s barks bring to mind the sneer of Pissed Jeans’ frontman Matt Korvette in a harsher, more distressed light. So yeah, the attitude here is spot-on, and like any noise group worth their salt, their cynical tone and humor is worn right on the sleeve (I mean, have you been reading these song titles?). They’re brash, they don’t dawdle around (runtime is slim 23 minutes), and they’re here to take you on a completely reckless joyride through expertly brief and asymmetrical songwriting. With the majority of Holy Terror’s tracks running at a lean three minutes, there’s little time to waste on beating riffs to shit, frilly artistry, or poppy hooks. The foot is basically always on the gas, even on more calculated tracks like “Dimebagged” or “Frown Job” where there might be a tiny break or two for a short melodic stroll or a miniature tension build. No drawn out, contemplative feedback squeals. No quiet or delicate passages for dynamic contrast. Their approach is focused, concise, and rabid. This, too, feels like a slight deviation from their peers. Yeah, it’s pissed off, but it seems to take itself less seriously than their peers. The vibe is loose and carefree, with an emphasis put on rocking the fuck out at all costs. Bummer is more closely related to hesher riff worship than the mathy, intentionally difficult brands of noise.
What’s most compelling about Bummer, though, is how the marriage of their surly brawn and punk edge coaxes out some unique flavors. Noise rock has always straddled the worlds of punk, metal, and hard rock; so they’re not necessarily rewriting the playbook here, but they do add some new wrinkles. Even at their dirtiest and sludgiest, tracks like “Astro Bastard,” “King Shit,” and “Fred Savage 420” let the raunchy hardcore freak flag fly (achieving some nearly Every Time I Die or levels of teeth gnashing ‘tude). On one hand, it totally makes sense for metalcore hints to come out of the woodwork in this incestuous overlap, but the degree to which Bummer embraces it and puts it under the lens of “traditional” noise rock provides a fresh perspective. Like, is that even a breakdown? It sounds like a breakdown, it feels like a breakdown, but Bummer’s ball-busting baseline of heavy blurs the lines a little bit. These are less cheeky, less forced, less formulaic and merely an extension of their dingy, constantly pummeling nature. These dudes just don’t know how to not fucking crush at every turn.
Holy Terror is a thing of beauty in that fans of the old guard of noise rock can jump right in and see that the future is bright without wasting their time on something too familiar or derivative. Those who are missing the noise rock itch might catch it with this record, too. Now, it wouldn’t be fair to call Holy Terror a crossover album, but it may serve as a helpful bridge for the unacquainted to get into The Jesus Lizard, and for that alone we should be thankful. Bummer’s no-frills, get-to-the-point style of noise rock is a blast from the moment you press play – and that what’s truly important.