hen I was in high school, delving into the roots of the music I loved was a primarily disappointing journey. Rarely did the artists responsible for influencing my favourite albums measure up to their modern counterparts. (Who else bought that Sub Pop Vaselines reissue after Nirvana covered “Molly’s Lips” and “Son of a Gun”?) Often it comes down to dated recording (I still have trouble finding the beauty of Big Black) or the fact that a band became influential locally and a neighbour of theirs became famous internationally (a large amount of pre-grunge Seattle bands fall into this category). It made me feel like I was missing something -- like I was incapable of perceiving the greatness of certain artists -- and that made me feel stupid.
In the past few years, however, I have stumbled across a great many groups whose influence I can clearly detect and whose music I can thoroughly enjoy. But here’s the kicker: they have all been metal bands. I’m more immersed in metal now than I have ever been. The novelty the genre holds for me, combined with my expanded definition of what music can be, has resulted in my recognition of a long list of bands (Slayer, Carcass, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Brutal Truth, Sleep, Napalm Death) who all had an unfathomable impact on heavy music in the late-1980s and early-90s. When I listen to their music I can hear the roots of what is, for now, my favourite genre.
But I don’t hear the roots of the newer breed of metal. There isn’t a great deal of Slayer or Napalm Death in metal-core (or tech-metal or complicated-core or whatever it’s being called this week). It’s a sound built on insanity and experimentation, qualities not found in most classic thrash or death; and despite what too many people think, the Dillinger Escape Plan did not invent it. D.E.P., while great, is simply another respectful descendent of Human Remains.
Human Remains existed between 1989 and 1995, and during that time they blended death metal, hardcore and grind better than anyone before or after them. It’s violently heavy and completely out of control, but the music Human Remains created was also very astute. Drool-inducing technicality (courtesy musicians that would go on to Deadguy, Discordance Axis and Burnt By the Sun) resulted in complex song structures, diverse guitar and bass tones gave the material a constantly changing depth and a phlegm-y, Lemmy-meets-Kevin Sharp (Motorhead and Brutal Truth, respectively) vocal attack infused the material with bizarre glee. It’s as twisted and fun as it is disturbing and powerful, and Where Were You When , Human Remains’ complete discography, shows the group to still be ahead of the game.
Disc One is all of the band’s legitimate releases: 7”s, e.p.’s and compilation tracks, and it is nothing short of fantastic. “Patterns In the Grass” is a sludge-y, low-fi maelstrom of energy, a vicious combination of break-neck speed and blood-drenched hardcore. “Forked Tongue” is warped, battering punk-thrash supported by barking, gremlin-like vocals. Three of the next four songs demonstrate the band’s weirdness. “When Forever Becomes Until”, “Weeding Out the Thorns” and “Rote” all contain the nerdy, squiggling guitar stabs which, along with the vocals, defined the band’s sound. These movements, sometimes introductions, sometimes breakdowns, resemble heavily processed, ridiculously rapid volume swells and, when placed overtop of or in between violent grind, they stick out like a knife handle in a back; very striking, very effective. “Spoiling of Beauty” stalks and growls, the stringed instruments swooping like bats on acid; “Mechanical” contains the most ripping, inhuman moments of the band’s career; the poisoned, blackened dirge of “Fragrance of Souls” sounds like an homage to Morbid Angel; “Symptoms of the New Society” is simply horrifying.
Disc Two is a collection of the band’s demo material. Unlike many demo collections, Where Were You When ’s second disc contains several songs not on Disc One. The material that does reappear is often unrecognizable. The beauty of much of these songs is the absolutely disgusting recording quality. Normally this would be a complaint, but the fidelity of these tracks -- wobbling, hissing, warped, cavernous -- actually enhances the material. These songs could have been recorded in the basement of an abandoned, burned church. They sound exhumed, rotting and unspeakably evil. “Blessed Paradise” and “The Malignance” blast away, vile, black and screeching; the first of three alternate versions of “Human” is a revolting orgy of unhinged squalor; “Chemical Life” highlights the precision of the band, with each note of each flurry being absolutely spot on. The backing vocals sound like those of a dragon. Disc Two ends with very faithful demo versions of the Relapse material found on Disc One. Far from essential, with the differences existing mostly in the bass sound, these tracks still provide a fine ending, as they showcase the band in all its murderous, adventurous glory.
By album’s end, Where You When seems like less a title and more an accusational question. Where were you when these incredible songs were new? Where were you when Human Remains played your town? Where were you when the band broke up?
I don’t know about you, but I was in high school, looking for the roots of the music that moved me. Funny how some things never change.
Reviewed by: Clay Jarvis
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01