Geist’s Swarming Season: A Conversation

It’s always a little bit special when a UK band perfects a sound that Euros and North Americans have been in-charge of for x amount of time. That’s the case on Geist‘s new release, Swarming Season. The Northern outfit have hit the dark, crusty hardcore nail so perfectly on the head, the hammer has followed through and obliterated what’s left of the wood. Orwellian, introspective, and spattered with fierce performances from each member, it’s a deliciously dark record; putting Geist into the same stratosphere as the bands that vocalist Ian Hunter is an ardent fan of. Shortly before the release of Swarming Season, Hunter took some time to answer some of my dumb questions and gave me an early listen to the album. A few of my thoughts follow, but Hunter’s insights into this menacing bit of music are what you’re really here for.

 

After several smaller releases, the twenty-five minutes of Swarming Season has Geist hitting full-stride for the duration. Teeth-gritting d-beats and industrial-grade guitar tones turn the slippery, slashing chords of “Election Day” into weaponised sounds, with Hunter’s in-your-face snarl letting up only to let the feedback and cymbals crash around his voice. Early single “Sleep Deprived” harnesses the guest appearance of one Chris Colohan (SECT, Cursed, etc) and aims his trademark bark in the listener’s direction, much in the same volatile fashion that his voice has served his previous and current acts.

Having hardcore royalty appear on the record doesn’t take from the rest of the material, with “Silent Hive” showing off the extent of this relatively fresh-faced acts chops on a much more moody, sombre number. It’s not all rapid gear-shifting and punked-out riffs, after all – there’s something special when the band slide from the slow bits into the real bangers. Blackened hands from the coal mines, blackened lungs from the caustic belch of dark, brooding hardcore. I’m all out of coal mine analogies, so we’ll leave it here:

I have no problem holding this record up with the likes of SECT’s Blood of the Beasts or BaptistsBloodmines. It’s just that damn good. Here’s Hunter with some words about the whole brilliant thing.

Having Chris Colohan on the record is a massive coup. How long does it take to shake off the feeling where one of your idols is in the studio performing over the music you’ve created or are you still sitting there with goosebumps?

The way things worked out we didn’t know till the morning of the actual tracking. So the anxiety was real, we’d told a few close friends that it was a possibility but we didn’t want to get too invested in it in case it didn’t work out. Chris was on tour with Sect and the tour package had a breakdown of timings and expectations he needed to fulfil so it was a case of “MIGHT happen” and then a reality in the end. I was tracking vocals whilst a couple of the guys were at the shop and a thumbnail popped up from Chris saying “let’s fookin do this”. To say we went into shock would be an understatement. So we arranged the pick-up and it happened. When Sect played London in November 2018 we managed to spend an hour in a coffee shop putting our personal shit on the table and just generally having a real human moment where it was like, how fucked up are you? Except for the guy on the other side of the table was my idol! So I kind of had a good online friendship with Chris where we’d talk about anything and nothing. Just keeping in touch and being internet friends. He was more than happy to help and he says he really likes our band and whenever I hear his vocals on a Geist track it’s like, “HOLY SHIT”. It’s usually followed by a little laugh. I don’t think it will ever sink in which is why we laugh but it’s happened and both parties were, and are stoked on it!

Swarming Season has a nice, tight runtime but still packs in more riffs and spills than a lot of hardcore/crust records band fit into entire discographies. How much material was left on the cutting room floor? Does Geist just work better in shorter bursts?

We tossed the idea of an album for a little while. We tend to start writing as soon as the previous release is done. Keep the wheels moving with no real idea of what it’s going to be. I mean if there are previous discussions about splits then we know, but with Swarming Season we took a slightly different approach. We started three, four songs at once and when we hit a wall with one, we’d work on another. So a chunk of the writing was done in no time at all. Once we got a comfortable number of songs, I applied myself properly to write or place my phone notes to music. I always write regardless of whether we are. It keeps my head in good shape and without sounding cliche, keeps my perspective razor sharp. We tend to tweak parts a lot so I don’t like to start straight away in case things change (which they inevitably do) and throw some ideas off. Matt has riffs recorded in his memos from previous releases that may not see the light of day or they might. So that’s all that was really left on the chopping block, but no completed were left off. We kind of went on feel. Eight tracks which take you on different journeys. There’s fast, slower fast and slow. Enough dynamics in eight songs, anything else would be overkill. Gotta keep listeners wanting more in some respects

Can you give up any background on where tracks like “Election Day” and “Kennel Cough” come from? The names are vague enough to mean a lot of things, but I can’t imagine they don’t have specific stories behind them.

For sure. “Election Day” was actually originally called “Election Season”. That was before we had an album title. There’s a loose theme throughout the album of a hive. I listened to a podcast which talked about beehives and how they work and it fascinated me. Take that and my love for George Orwell and I put my own twist on it. “Election Day” is pretty much about unwavering dedication to something you don’t really understand, but you always have a specific loyalty. Be it political or whatever. Soldiers go to war for someone else’s dreams and in some cases die. Yes, they sign up for it, but the bigger picture isn’t their dream. So there are some strong political undertones there. “Kennel Cough” is about how easy it is to spread regressive ideas, but also how the initial message kind of gets diluted the more people it passes over, kind of like Chinese whispers but a touch more sinister. Contagious and harmful. That is relatable to so many aspects of everyday life, and things are very much open to interpretation but others have a specific M.O.

Where do fans of Geist go from here, especially new fans? What direction would you point them in if they want to find sonically similar bands that might satisfy their cravings for more dark, grim hardcore?

It would be vain of me to say that we were even in the same league as these bands, and I can’t really speak for all of us as we tend to listen to different things. So I’ll keep it basic and super simple:

Cursed, Burning Love, Converge, Baptists.

Lastly, here’s some time to wax lyrical about anything important to you and the rest of the band. What is twisting your nips right now that you think needs addressed?

In terms of our messages that need addressing. That’s left to me. I have the blessing of Geist to be explicit about what I want and they trust me always. I always talk about mental health and how it needs to be talked about regardless of stigmas or pressures. Everything I’ve written lately has a partial influence from Orwell. The songs we released between Disrepair and Swarming Season were strictly about systematic and trauma-based mind control and institutionalisation. That also appears on Swarming Season as well as the mental health stuff, but the context has changed slightly. I’m always going to be bitter and moody and have something to say about it.

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