So here’s what happened: we compiled our original list — which ran to 175 bands, give or take — from suggestions dropped into Reddit threads, group texts, and email lists. The original plan had been to create a list of 100 great Richmond bands, and at first no one thought we’d come up with that many. Hahahahahaha.
Once it became clear that we had well over 100 suggestions, the decision was made to include as many of them as we could — to make it a comprehensive list including every well-remembered Richmond musician, artist, or band from the past 40-plus years. As the editorial director, I was the last person to touch the four-part list before it was published.
The problem with being a 45-year-old music nerd who’s been deeply invested in the culture of your hometown for over a quarter-century is that you’ve heard and enjoyed many, many local bands over that era — more than you can ever think of in a day, or even a week. As I worked on the articles, I’d get to a point in the alphabetical running order and think, “Where’s so-and-so?” And I’d add them in. Our articles originally had around 35 or so artists each, and by the time I was done with them, they were all between 40 and 50. There were starting to be load-time problems due to the sheer number of embedded songs.
Then at night, I’d lie awake remembering this band or that band, that rapper or the other singer-songwriter. And because I’d have gotten zero hours of sleep last week if I’d jumped up out of bed every time to add whoever I’d just remembered to the articles at 1 am, I started listing them all in a note on my phone. Plus, we were getting plenty of emails in which people reminded us of their own musical exploits over the past 40 years. By last Friday, I had written down the names of over 125 artists we’d left out. Oops.
There was no way last week’s series of articles could bear the addition of almost as many forgotten artists as had been initially included. So my plan, by Friday night, became to add all of those other artists to a completely new four-part series. Welcome to it. This one will probably last the next two weeks or so — by which time we’ll inevitably have another list of things we’ve forgotten (or, just as likely, never knew about in the first place) to add. I suppose we’ll finish with this whole endeavor eventually, but as the saying goes, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. So let’s keep riding this wave, shall we? –Marilyn Drew Necci, RVA Mag editorial director
Absence Of Malice, “Awakening,” Awakening EP
1985 Attentater Records
The time I spent as a lad loitering around the Krewe House in Richmond, VA –home base of Absence of Malice– brought me into contact with all manner of luminaries of the punk rock world. AoM being the ‘house band’ of Richmond, VA hardcore, it was logical visiting bands be directed to E. Main St. upon arriving in town. In addition to a den of unspeakable iniquity it was easy to find and centrally-located to all the likely venues, in this case the tiny, sauna-like brick room at P. B. Kelly’s in flood-beleaguered Shockoe Bottom. –from A Biscuit In The Sun
Agents Of Good Roots, “Come On (Let Your Blood Come Alive),” One By One
1997 RCA Records
When you think of Virginia alternative bands who got signed to major labels in the post-Nirvana feeding frenzy of the 90s, Agents Of Good Roots probably aren’t the first name that pops to mind (though, like the guy you’re thinking of, Agents Of Good Roots did have a saxophone player). However, this Richmond band certainly had a good run back in those days; their 1998 major-label debut, One By One, spawned a minor hit, “Come On,” and was certainly a fun listen. It remains one, even now, but Agents Of Good Roots have long since disbanded.
These days, sax player JC Kuhl and drummer Brian Jones remain active in the jazz scene around Richmond. However, last year’s reunion show, a tribute to their deceased manager, Jeff Peskin, was the first time in over a decade that Agents of Good Roots graced a Richmond stage. –from RVA Magazine, July 25, 2018
Alabama Thunderpussy, “Words Of The Dying Man,” Open Fire
2007 Relapse Records
Virginia’s ALABAMA THUNDERPUSSY just keeps rolling along, cranking out album and album of southern fried hard rock and metal boogie, no matter who happens to be holding down the vocalist spot. The band’s fifth album, 2005’s “Fulton Hill”, was the first for vocalist Johnny Weils who replaced Johnny Throckmorton. The group didn’t miss a beat with Weils at the helm, as evidenced by the quality of music heard on “Fulton Hill”, a disc that was far more diverse than 2002’s sludgier “Staring at the Divine”. After the departure of Weils, ATP miraculously found what just may be their best vocalist yet in Kyle Thomas (ex-EXHORDER, FLOODGATE) and went for a decidedly more stripped down, balls-to-the-wall rockin’ approach on “Open Fire”, and once again the quality level remains sky high. Thomas wails with fiery soul and whiskey-soaked abandon all over this baby.
Above all else, “Open Fire” kicks ass from beginning to end; things never mellow out and momentum is never lost. And let me tell you, these boys know how to rock with a vengeance and it all starts with the blazing guitars of Ryan Lake and Erik Larson. This one is bursting at the seams with hot licks and even hotter solos. –from Blabbermouth.net
Amoeba Men, “Fuck The Computer Kill the Programmer,” Worried About Your Wiring?
2011 CNP Records
AMOEBA MEN come out of the gate swinging with a “One, Two, Blackout!” – EXACTLY what I was looking for! Every song sounds like they are jacked on caffeine and flipping out. Dense, rapid-fire drums, jittery buzzing synths, scathing guitar attack, and yelped out vocals. They’re not as mathematically precise as the Ex-Models, but all the herky-jerky energy is there. There’s also some new-wave oddball flavor, particularly coming from the keyboard and vocal delivery – almost a DEVO or, heck, even an Oingo Boingo vibe. But where Oingo Boingo or theatrical bands like them can come across a little self-consciously “aren’t we soooo arty and weird?” the main purpose of the Amoeba Men would seem to be to ROCK OUT. I’d also compare them to the Silver Daggers who share their focused but raw, rock’em sock’em vibe.
So these Amoeba Men are another Richmond, VA band featuring Mr. Jason Hodges, and I know I keep talking about his projects but hey, if you want to form a half-dozen killer bands and send me a new awesome album every month then maybe I’ll keep talking about you too. –from No Core
Andy Jenkins, “Illuminated,” Sweet Bunch
2018 Spacebomb Records
Kinda country, kinda indie, and very Southern — that’s local singer-songwriter Andy Jenkins in a nutshell. The latest overnight sensation from the world of Spacebomb Records, Jenkins’s debut full-length, Sweet Bunch, has a laid-back, smoothly rolling feel that’ll put you in the frame of mind to rock contentedly in a porch swing as the lazy river rolls by. Some moments hit upon a sort of pastoral Van Morrison-ish feel, while others bust out the sunbaked twang of the Bakersfield sound. All of it is easy to enjoy. –from RVA Magazine, December 31, 2018
Are You Fucking Serious!?, “Suburban Slaughter,” From Dirt To Dish
Arriving in Richmond from central Florida circa 2004, Are You Fucking Serious!? were all about both being a raging fast hardcore punk band and having a lot of fun. When they arrived, they recruited legendary Richmond punk drummer Jonny Z (RIP) and proceeded to blaze a speedy trail across the river city. Their career was all too brief, but two members (Joe Hunt and Chrissie Lozano) went on to make major contributions to the Richmond scene later down the line. –MDN
Asylum, “Riding High,” Asylum EP
Richmond is still their favorite place to rage. “Some of the best nights we have had have always been in Richmond because all of our friends are there. Especially at Strange Matter, a couple of the band members are staff there. With Richmond you can always count on good vibes and a community that is always really supportive of what you do,” said Simcoe.
When it comes to their sound, guitarist Forest Mallonee said its definitely evolved over time. “During the beginning, we definitely started out with more of a rock and roll influence, but gradually transitioned toward more of an 80s British metallic crust direction,” he said. “We definitely get a lot of comparisons to Sacrilege which is dope in my opinion.
And this latest record definitely showcases them tapping into the crust punk/dark metal genres.
“Collectively, I just think we have a bunch of anger we enjoy releasing with our punk music,” Simcoe added. –from RVA Magazine, March 9, 2018
Atta Girl, “26 Dune,” Betty’s Begonia
2017 Trrrash Records
According to Livingston, the group has grown steadily in the short two years they’ve been together. The short length of the album allowed them to focus on the overall quality and according to her, the best of their music yet. The album came naturally, with Livingston arranging the lyrics to the already-formulated guitar parts.
“I love writing to [Chris’] music and Darien’s guitar parts, we have similar tastes and I’ve like everything I’ve heard them write,” said Livingston. “It’s really fun, this is my first band, and it’s like solving a puzzle, figuring out how to make the melodies work.”
The group refers to themselves as twee-punk, which draws from Brit-pop influences like 90’s band Heavenly, but Atta Girl’s sound is still punk at heart. The product is clean, sparkly guitar parts and expressive vocals, but it doesn’t stop there; Betty’s Begonia has a deeper meaning, and grapples with such themes as loss and remembrance. –from RVA Magazine, March 21, 2017
Balaclava, “Victims,” Crimes Of Faith
2011 Southern Lord Records
The first time I saw Balaclava was at Nara Sushi. I was there to see someone else, and didn’t know Balaclava at all. I distinctly remember my first impression of them: “Holy balls, these guys listen to a lot of Isis!” That was probably 5 years ago.
In the intervening years they have gotten tighter, more brutal, and all-around better, and now, all of a sudden, their latest record (and very first official full-length) has been released as a CD on Southern Lord Records, as well as on vinyl from Forcefield/Cosmic Debris. Southern Lord is a very well-known label from Los Angeles, responsible for releases from The Accused, Black Breath, Weedeater and Wolves in the Throne Room, among many others. I’ll come right out and say it: a lot of other local bands are jealous.
Richmond is teeming with tight, brutal, amazing metal and hardcore bands. Most of them enjoy a few blistering years of house shows and a few self-released CDs before dashing themselves to bits on the shoals of chronic alcoholism, graduating and moving away, or getting married and settling down. So far, Balaclava haven’t succumbed to any of that, but still–why them? There is no larger-than-life Tony Foresta/Dave Brockie-like frontman anywhere in sight. They’re not strongly connected with the rest of RVA’s so-called rock “royalty.” They don’t tour much, and there’s not an ounce of relentless self-promotion in the band. I had to get to the bottom of this seeming Cinderella story. –from RVA Magazine, December 19, 2011
Battlemaster, “Cursed Boots Of Perpetual Dancing,” Battle Hungry And Swordsworn
Battlehungry and Swordsworn is the first new Battlemaster release we’ve seen in half a decade, but these death metal warriors haven’t lost a single step during their time away.
These 10 songs, captured perfectly by Windhand’s Garrett Morris, are full of shredding lead guitars, speedy and skillful drum fills, and plenty of throat-rending screams. The traditional sense of deadpan humor that’s always been a big part of what made Battlemaster so much fun is still here as well, showing through on songs like “Cursed Boots Of Perpetual Dancing,” “Fearless Penetrator,” and “Displacer Feast.” Battlemaster’s music combines the best aspects of death metal, black metal, and thrash into a hybrid that should appeal to partisans of any of those genres, and their overall worldview makes them a perfect soundtrack for your next D&D campaign or afternoon of reading George R.R. Martin novels. –From RVA Magazine, April 10, 2015
Beex, “Butch,” The Early Years 1979-82
2021 Beach Impediment Records
Top-tier slept-on shit from Richmond, Va., in the era when punk was a poetic art student thing. Beex played dark and catchy clean-guitar punk with a singer named Christine Gibson whose ominous croon splits the difference between Patti Smith and Exene Cervenka. This record’s got a gatefold cover and a recording session from ’79 on one side and ’82 on the flip — eight songs total, including “Butch” which is on Bloodstains Across Virginia and has been stuck in my head for weeks. By ’82, the band had added guitarist Tom Applegate from another OG Richmond punk band called L’Amour (who also have a tasty reissue on Beach Impediment), and he brought some of his old band’s speedy rock’n’roll bounce along with him. I wish more people got to hear Beex, because they would love them. Now I’m fighting off the urge to say that this band would be as well-loved as the Dead Boys or X if they were from a bigger city because that’s a snub to Richmond, which has been a punk mecca for decades. And there’s something very Richmond about the nihilism in these songs about suicide cults, vicious dogs, and absentee dads. It feels more like Oregon Hill than the Lower East Side, anyway. Get this record and find out where it started. –from Razorcake
Ben FM, “WTF,” World Peace Motherfuckers
2016 Gritty City Records
Ben FM is the Tommy Chong of Richmond Hip-Hop. Half funny, dark humor, undeniably talented, but often eccentric, sometimes off-puttingly. This is the guy that remixed Soulja Boy’s “Turn My Swag On” and performed what he called “Woke Up With My Bag On” while wearing a trash bag. Luckily, despite the project kind of starting off on a not so serious note with “WTF,” produced by Ant The Symbol, Ben FM manages to toe the line of fun and game. This project is a mix of nontraditional song structure, odd background vocals, solid at times Wu Tang-esque production, strong wit and obvious intelligence, and a whole lot of individuality. Ben FM isn’t doing this any other way than he wants to, and as a listener you have to respect that to truly appreciate this project. –from RVA Magazine, October 24, 2014
Benjamin Shepherd, “Hindsight Waltz,” Eleven For The Road
A week before my festival, I ventured to Charlottesville to see Avers and The Trillions perform. On the car ride back, we listened to records. It was in this moment that I was reminded of one release and how it was quite possibly my favorite of the year. I’m talking about Benjamin Shepherd’s Eleven For The Road. In a time where post production is a key element for recording, it seems almost old fashioned to record an album live and in one take. Shepherd walked into Montrose on a winter night and did just that–and the end result is incredible. A seasoned songwriter who is acclaimed by many in town, this was a crowning achievement for Shepherd. It was a moment where Richmond began to take notice of his talents and became aware of the treasure they had in close reach. –from RVA Magazine, January 2, 2015
Book Of Wyrms, “Blacklight Warpriest,” Remythologizer
2019 Twin Earth Records
Book of Wyrms draws influences from Black Sabbath, High on Fire, Hawkwind, Blood Ceremony, the Melvins, and dark Appalachian folk music. Lindsey said for the material the band draws on all sorts of concepts.
“We all are transfixed by science (and science fiction), fantasy, legends, history, the occult, the unknown, and all sorts of other vague topics,” she said. “Jay has been a metal fan since he was a kid, and among heavy music I bring to the table influences from the hippie and jazz scenes to the artistry of Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins.” –from RVA Magazine, July 22, 2015
Bracewar, “Calling Out,” Juggernaut
2007 Nineteen Seventeen Records
Is a band just as good if they don’t have the hype? In today’s hardcore scene, I feel like a lot of bands get passed over for lack of glorification and message board fame. Now, it’s hard to tell if Bracewar is really one of those bands; I would say they are on the lower end of the fame spectrum, but Nineteen Seventeen has become a reasonably large label and they have played both Sound and Fury Festivals. But kids are still busting nuts over Ceremony and Have Heart, so Bracewar gets a little lost in the shuffle. Fortunately for us, Bracewar has come back with their debut full-length, bringing more of their sound we saw on last year’s Bracewar 7″.
At the risk of pigeonholing this band, I would say Bracewar can be categorized in the larger genre of what I would like to call modern hardcore. I only put this out there because they cross over a few types of hardcore. They have the blindingly fast power-violence beats ala Infest and Negative Approach, combined with the slow mosh parts that you can’t help but to bang your head to. Juggernaut opens with a new “Intro,” which brings slow and heavy instrumentals that remind me a lot of Mind Eraser. The lack of lyrics on this track helps you ease into the band and the contrasting second track, “Calling Out.” It blasts you with a fast changing punk beat and almost incoherent yelling. Towards the end, as in most songs on Juggernaut, everyone slows down to really hammer in the heavy parts. –from ScenePointBlank
Brief Lives, “Kipple,” Weird Energies
RVA post-hardcore quartet Brief Lives revamped their lineup and kicked things up a notch earlier this year with the addition of Valient Thorr’s Valient Himself on vocals. This month brings us the first recorded appearance of Brief Lives’ new lineup with the release of their new EP, VHS. The integration of a straightforward metal singer with a post-hardcore band that draws on late-80s DC bands like Fugazi or Shudder To Think for their musical inspiration continues to make way more sense than it seems like it should on paper.
Of the three songs from VHS available on Bandcamp, “Kipple” is a particular highlight; this longer, slower tune features lyrics that reference the impermanence of civilization and even life itself, and its melancholy tone compliments the ideas being put forth through the lyrics. The other two songs on the EP are standouts in their own way, their more upbeat rock n’ roll riffing offering opportunities for guitarist Chris Compton to rock out in his own inimitable fashion, while the rhythm section holds everything down with some tight, swinging grooves. –from RVA Magazine, September 15, 2014
Broken Chains Of Segregation, “Timebomb,” Conscience
2019 Ovolr Records
Formed on the Southside of Richmond, VA in the spring of 1993, Broken Chains of Segregation helped reinvent the Richmond hardcore scene of the mid-1990s. Inspired by the New York hardcore bands of the late 80s as well as early 90s post-hardcore acts like Quicksand and Fugazi, B.C.S. took their name from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and with the help of their energetic live shows and deep-rooted belief in youth freedom, they built a loyal following during their short stint together. Fueled by punk’s DIY ethos, they used all the proceeds from their shows to record 2 EPs, but they released only one of those in the spring of 1994. B.C.S. broke up the following year as the founding members went their separate ways. –from Ovolr Records
Butterglove, “Dirtbench,” The John Morand Session
1997 Speed Kills Records
Pen Rollings is a genius. And not in the way that Tavi Gevinson is a “genius” or Paul McCartney is a “genius,” but a real fucking genius. Pen Rollings is known as “the Godfather of Math-Rock.” Guitar is math and creative intrigue. It’s left brain and right brain. Once upon a time, Rollings had a band called Butterglove. I don’t expect most of people to “get” this band. Butterglove was not around very long, released one full-length record you can actually find (The John Morand Sessions in 1997), played in small bars, and their greatness can never be replicated. My friend who introduced me to Butterglove told me that at one show, Rollings was changing his guitar string, smoking a cig, and playing a riff without a fucking guitar strap on. That’s legend behavior. Someone keeps putting up live footage on YouTube, so I just pretend I’m in the crowd. –from Vice
Cannabis Corpse, “Cylinders Of Madness,” Nug So Vile
2019 Season Of Mist Records
The deal with this band, which it took me a long time to understand, is that they take New York death metal band Cannibal Corpse’s gore-obsessed song titles and lyrics, and change the words to be about smoking weed. For a long time, I thought they were a Weird Al-style parody cover band, and wondered why they bothered to release albums, but when I finally heard one of their albums, I realized that, despite the words being parodies of Cannibal Corpse songs, the music is entirely original. And in fact, I like Cannabis Corpse’s music quite a bit better than Cannibal Corpse’s. Cannibal Corpse, like a lot of New York death metal bands, play in a style that focuses on slower heavy riffs, only occasionally speeding up. For me, this style gets boring pretty quickly. Cannabis Corpse, on the other hand, have lots of tempo changes in their songs, and tend to focus on uptempo thrash riffs, which are a lot more fun to listen to. They’ve still got the neck-snapping breakdowns that any good death metal band should deal out on the regular, and at many points during their set, I found myself compelled to headbang furiously. But they keep those parts in reserve enough of the time that they still have power when they come around. It’s easy to dismiss Cannabis Corpse as a joke band, but those who take the time to get to know their music will find a top-quality death metal band lurking beneath the weed jokes. –from RVA Magazine, March 1, 2011
Cashmere Jungle Lords, “Not The Hurtin’ Kind,” Oodjie-Boodjie-Night-Night
1987 Li’l Abner Records
This Saturday, after 20 years, both bands reconnect for another showdown. But the Jungle Lords come armed with “Oodjie-Boodjie Night-Night,” a CD reissue of their early vinyl. It captures the Jungle Lords in their original configuration — young, hungry, wild and weird.
“We were just driven,” says Carpin. “We were convinced that if we put our noses to the grindstone and gigged a lot that we could get signed and make it big in music. We had the passion to create coupled with the sheer enjoyment of the live performance. It was energizing, exciting.”
And not to be. The band scored college radio hits and scorched a path through the punk and party circuit. But its singular mashups of punk, exotica, surf and swamp befuddled the money men.
“My whole career, A&R guys said, ‘You don’t have a specific trip so we can’t market you.’ But I was never gonna go write 15 songs that all sound the same,” says Carpin. –from the Washington Post
Cassius, “Homeauxthug,” I Am Jim Jones
2007 Lifeforce Records
Cassius has been growing in the zines nowadays; Is this metalcore? Is this Deathcore? Is this grindprog-blastafukk? I don’t give a damn, I just know this album crushed my limbs and turned my eardrums into puree.
You already know the line of this band by reading the first paragraph, it’s something-core allright, and I don’t want to get into cataloguing this piece because it will take a long while. Their songwriting is quite interesting though; they blend technical edges with hardcore violence, a mix of Between The Buried And Me and Ion Dissonance with the addition of fruity melodies and frumpy patterns, it all sounds great when the vocalist enters with his versatile screams and ominous growls. –from Metal Storm
Caverns Of Pine, “The Body Keeps Score,” Disassociate
Brad Perry conceived of Caverns of Pine as a musical project dedicated to the various ways people survive the trauma of sexual violence.
He’d been motivated after watching people important to him deal with sexual violence, beginning when he learned at age 12 of the abuse his mother had suffered. Although he was young, that knowledge made him reassess the safety and security of his sheltered middle-class existence, challenging some of the more toxic pressures of masculinity.
Perry began to look for outlets for the confusion, sadness and rage he felt after learning that someone could choose to violate another person. That’s how he found punk and metal, realizing that listening to it and playing it was cathartic.
“It could even be comforting when not much else was,” he recalls. “So Caverns of Pine is really just an extension of that, but with the benefit of having some years of perspective.” –from Style Weekly
Caves Caverns, “Breathing Cave,” Caves Caverns
2009 Interstellar Outlaws
“The ratio of composition to improvisation in our songs is probably about 15% composition to 85% improvisation. When we get together to play, we typically set up, play through a few things we’ve been doing in our live set at the time, then we’ll try to move on to just total improvisation for a while, take a break, [and] do it over again. We write new material very, very slowly.
Typically someone will bring in a part, we’ll talk about it, play a few times, and go from there. When we’re approaching something from a more organized standpoint, we often pursue stuff like a jazz combo, with like an “A” part and a “B” part, trading solos and rhythm breaks. [This] plays a lot into [the times] when we try to do the opposite–we lash the entire piece to a single riff which acts as the head, then circle around it, relying on psychic cues and eye contact, often attempting to just play as insanely as possible to force each other to work harder for new results. There’s an enormous amount of trust between everybody, to maintain a certain level of energy, to make everything work. And if it doesn’t come together in that moment, we trust each other to create a way out, to bring everything back around again. We really, really don’t like to overstay our welcome.” –from RVA Magazine, August 10, 2011
Charmer, “Joining The 27 Club On My Own Terms,” Charmer/Amara Split EP
2016 Born Dead Records
…you can also expect a full-speed-ahead set from Charmer, who manage to both be hyperspeed power-violence and heavy-as-fuck hardcore, as they demonstrate on the recent preview of their soon-to-be-released split with Amara. These guys are gonna rip your face off at a thousand miles an hour and it’ll be the best road rash you’ve ever had in your life. –from RVA Magazine, August 16, 2017
City Of Caterpillar, “A Little Change Could Go A Long Ways,” City Of Caterpillar
2002 Level Plane Records
City of Caterpillar erased my psyche of anything else that had or would go on that night. With my only point of reference being pg. 99, I expected City of Caterpillar to do something similar—that is, jump right into screamy stuff. After all, two members of pg. 99, Jeff Kane and Brandon Evans, were also in City of Caterpillar.
But no. They started out slow. At first it was a hum. Not the usual opening salvo of feedback that post-hardcore bands love to inflict, but a thrumming, almost tidal pulse of echoes and textures that oozed out of the air rather than sliced through it. It went on and on. It was unsettling. I remember looking over at the rest of the audience, maybe 40 or so kids, to see if anyone had any kind of reaction to this. Everyone looked dumbfounded. It’s not that we weren’t used to experimental music, only that these guys—skinny, tight-shirted, and with guitars slung low—seemed ready to rock, not cogitate.
The band’s meditative stasis finally gave way. When it did, it was like a thundercloud opened up in the room. Dissonance, drum blasts, ghostly implications of chords that swam in some inchoate sea of distortion: This shit was nuts. The longer it went on, though, the more their bizarre internal logic began to unfold. There were recognizable bits of melodic, emotive post-hardcore here and there. This wasn’t Glenn Branca. But the songs were long, some approaching ten minutes each, and within those lifespans it seems as though the entire geological history of some lost continent was being sonically represented. Onslaughts of seismic upheaval gave way to lulling plateaus of noise. Bassist Kevin Longendyke puked up his lungs while guitarists Evans and Kane threw their bodies into the gale. Evans sang too, tangling his voice with Longendyke’s in a language of destruction, renewal, entropy, and oblivion.
When the last wave of blurred riffs and chiming discord faded away, I felt like I’d just survived a flood. Barely. –from Vice
Conditions, “When It Won’t Save You,” Fluorescent Youth
2010 Good Fight Records
“When It Won’t Save You” is a particular highlight on a uniformly good album, driven as it is by an unshakable earworm of a verse. The song begins with Roundtree singing over an otherwise-unaccompanied guitar riff: “The way that I feel and what’s supposed to be real strongly disagree. There is one thing I keep in front of me.” Now the drums come in, pushing the song towards a crescendo, as Roundtree continues to sing. “Because cash won’t save, and cars won’t transcend the grave. I call everyone I know the only things of value I could ever own.” It’s at this point that the main verse truly kicks in, and with the entire band playing through it at full power, it’s catchy enough to be the chorus of the song. Yet, when the chorus finally arrives, it’s even catchier, pushing the song up into a higher gear that you wouldn’t have even expected it to have. Roundtree is still continuing with his earlier theme of anti-materialism, which he’s previously made explicit on the song’s first verse (“I can’t chase the American Dream–trading life for money never made much sense to me”).
There’s something beautiful about hearing him declare, “If I’m wrong at all for living this way, I’m alright being wrong.” Alternative music has become big business in recent years, and Conditions are beneficiaries of more visibility and promotion than they ever could have expected if they were playing the same music ten years ago. That said, it’s still hard as hell to make it playing music of any kind, and “When It Won’t Save You” acknowledges the reality that, rather than shooting the moon and being able to look forward to life as rockstar millionaires, what the guys in Conditions are really doing, in all likelihood, by spending their early 20s being in a touring band, is sacrificing years of their life during which most of their peers will be getting college degrees and beginning their careers. Ten years from now, these dudes might all be significantly poorer than the kids they went to high school with, but the experience, the memories, and the sense of accomplishment will make all of it worth any material loss they suffered in return. At least, I think that’s what Brandon Roundtree is saying on this song, and I definitely agree. –from RVA Magazine, September 24, 2010
Contagen, “Deserving,” Dioroma
1994 Watermark Records
Askance was definitely a unique sounding band (largely due to the vocals), but musically the material does have that recognizably “90’s sound” where it’s not straightforward hardcore, but it’s definitely not metal, nor is it particularly emo, even though influences from all three genres can be picked out in the dissonance of the riffing. The drumming on this record is fuckin’ stellar as well, there are loads of slick fills and a lot of the playing is based solely on feel, so it’s flashy enough to really make a difference without going over the top. I also always loved this style of guitar work, and still do: I can’t wrap my head around the fact that almost no damn bands have carried this vibe over into the present. What gives?
I don’t know all that much about Contagen either, but their sole album, “Dioroma”, was recorded in mid-1994, so I assume Askance sort of morphed into this band with a couple of lineup changes at some point. Either way, at the time I bought this simply because the band was local and I knew basically what kind of music it was going to be. Anyway, Contagen sounded very similar to (though in my opinion better than) Askance, just a little more diverse musically (heavier and darker, I guess you could say), while the lyrics were a little more abstract and intricate. There are actually some great lyrics on this album, come to think of it. The vocals had also become even more distinct at this point in terms of the “Into Another factor” (that’s not a comparison, just a general reference to high-pitched singing that’s somewhat of an acquired taste), so I’m sure a few people checking out these tracks are gonna bitch about that.
But for me the only minor setback here is that I always wished the recording on this record was a little stronger. The mastering is pretty damn quiet for one thing, and the bass tone is overly dense. I really dig the presence of the basslines in the mix, but since they lack clarity it kind of messes with the overall balance. It’s about what you’d expect from this kind of thing with regard to its age, and it actually does sound fairly decent all things considered, but I’ve often wondered if this material would be better received were the production slightly different… because at its best this album nails the fucking songwriting. There are a couple of absolute gems on this thing that have really stuck with me over the years. –from Aversionline
[P.S. — Nope, no Askance entry! This is the only music by either band I could find anywhere online. It’ll have to do. –MDN]
Coral, “Figure 8,” Pillowtalk
1994 Fistpuppet Records
Coral formed in 1990 as the post-Honor Role band of vocalist Bob Schick and released an exceptionally strong but small body of work: three 7-inches on Merge and Cargo Records, plus two albums on Fistpuppet/Headhunter (this is the debut) before breaking up in 1996. Coral releases, including Pillowtalk, its first LP, give an excellent personal and heartfelt alternative to the rigid, less humanistic feel that the Dischord and Touch And Go camp of post hardcore could get carried away with at the time. The band is more melodic and to a degree more experimental than Honor Role, thanks in part to guitarist John Kovalcik’s forward looking and progressive post-hardcore style, which is much different from Pen Rollings’ metal-meets-post-punk work in Honor Role (and nothing like the full-on avant riffage in Rollings’ Breadwinner). –from Gimme Indie Rock by Andrew Earles
Cremains, “Turning The Swamp Into A Cesspool,” The Swamp Cult Split
Wading through the muddy black waters of the James River comes…. “The Swamp Cult”. 3:33 and Cremains come together on the first ever Tired and Pissed Records split. A limited number of tapes (courtesy of Gutterloon Records) will be available via both bands. Get Pissed! –from Bandcamp
The Dads, “I Heard The News,” The Dads
1984 CBS Records
Enthusiasm filled the room when local rockers the Dads were performing. It exploded from the speakers. Steamlike, it rose from the crowd. Between 1980 and 1985, onstage in a saloon, the Dads delivered like few others.
Richmond was an accommodating home to some noteworthy black leather-clad punk bands during this period. There was an art-rock scene as well. In live-music venues you could hear reggae and hybrid sounds that fused Caribbean tempos with pop. Other rock ’n’ roll subsets were represented. Among them was a crossover scene that mashed up ’60s British rock with ’50s Memphis rockabilly. With two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, the Dads operated somewhere in that groove.
The Dads’ sound wasn’t warmed over from the social causes and political crusades of the ’70s. They weren’t hurling nihilist anger at the establishment. Instead, they filled the air with harmonies and a beat that provoked young bodies to move. Theirs was a catchy sound easy to like, and as it turned out — difficult to forget.
But capturing their act and making it into a consumer product wasn’t so easy. The Dads’ one album, produced during their time as a touring band, was released by CBS/Estate Records in 1984. It was decidedly less than satisfying. –from Style Weekly
Damn Near Red, “Hey Fabulous,” Damn Near Red
Moving from Williamsburg VA to Richmond VA in the late summer of 1992 was a real culture shock. Homeless people! Gunshots! Left-wing politics! For me, the biggest difference was in the bands. In Williamsburg, you’d get a couple of your friends together and play in your parents’ garage. In Richmond, you had to actually be GOOD. Like, for example, Damn Near Red.
One of the first big shows at the Metro that fall was (I think) Shudder to Think, First 5 Thru, and Damn Near Red. For some reason I feel like Askance was going to play, but they refused to play a show that cost more than $5. Maybe it was First 5 Thru that refused. This completely boggled my young mind. Why would a band refuse to play a show because it was over $5? Phrases like “veganism” and “privilege” and “feminism” were completely alien to me then. Anyway, this guy Brian Moeller (sp) was a blonde art student that wore trenchcoats and went on about the band Damn Near Red. They typified something called “the Richmond sound” – whatever that was. I made sure to catch them the next time they played, and was blown away.
I was unaware that bands could have dynamics and contrast and… melodies. The singer looked like she was born on stage and was singing Latin opera over shoegazery feedback swirls. They had a ridiculously tight yet jarring rhythm section that was just as important as the rest of the band – again, a new concept for me. I saw them whenever I could and was amazed when I eventually became friends with the bassist and the singer, as I always figured they would be way too cool to consort with the likes of me. One of my favorite live music experiences was watching them cover Pat Benetar’s “Heartbreaker” in someone’s basement in front of maybe 30 other people. Great band. –from Tones From Underground
Dazeases, “Laurel,” Local Slut
2917 Egghunt Records
The first time I saw Dazeases she kind of scared the shit out of me.
The whole crowd barely moved for the three bands that came on before her, and as soon as her music started everyone broke into dance as if the sound demanded it. The mass of people at the show hung on to her every word; they were listening and verbally reacting to her lyrics. I was too, I caught myself at one point thinking, “fuck this dude how dare he” in response to the opening lines of her song “Shadow Bastard”.
She is a person that is so in tune with her emotions that she has the ability to make an entire room see her insides. That’s power. Dazeases is like an actual disease pronounced like the actual word ‘diseases’), you didn’t see it coming and now she is in control of you-until the performance is over.
I’m not sure if I had ever previously witnessed a performer who embodied their sound so seamlessly that you couldn’t tell them apart. I felt like I knew way too much about this person for not having ever spoken a word to her. And that freaked me out, but I also totally admired it.
Dazeases is the lofi-sad pop brainchild of Richmonder and recent VCU graduate London Perry. –from RVA Magazine, February 9, 2016
Degenerate Blind Boys, “My Degeneration,” Degenerate Blind Boys
It was a crude, obscenity-filled Q&A with a local punk rocker and street hustler named Dickie Disgusting that raised the ire of Virginia Commonwealth University’s president.
The year was 1980, and then-president Edmund Ackell wasn’t a fan of Bill Pahnelas’ interview with the Degenerate Blind Boys singer that ran in The Commonwealth Times, the school’s newspaper. In a conversation that ranged from pimping himself to middle-aged ladies to printing handbills for his band with swastikas that read “I love Jews,” Dickie Disgusting made every effort to run afoul of most people’s notions of good taste.
Ackell wasn’t pleased.
“This kind of article does a great disservice to our institution, and raises a serious question in my mind about the appropriateness of the Times as it is presently identified with this university,” Ackell wrote to the paper’s editors.
The Dickie Disgusting interview nearly led the college to defund The Commonwealth Times. Luckily, VCU’s funding committee ultimately decided to continue supporting the paper, and The Commonwealth Times – or “the CT,” as many refer to it – publishes to this day. –from Style Weekly
Direct Control, “Bone To Pick,” Direct Control
2008 Grave Mistake Records
Their EP contains six killer tracks that touch on social and political issues along with substance abuse. While many bands before them have assumed this platform, Direct Control brings a new perspective to these topics making them sound both unique and freshly appealing.
Songs like “Religious Rampage” and “Bone to Pick” are full of energy and help to define the band’s creativity and wit.
In “Bone to Pick,” frontman Brandon Ferrell addresses the problems gripping his hometown, yelling: “I just wanna move away. Take a shit on the RVA. Drop an A bomb on the town. Watch it burn right to the ground.” These words seem to capture the anger that he feels towards his own dismal environment, which is a sentiment that I’m sure others can relate to as well.
Overall, the members of Direct Control seem to have their fingers on the pulse of what’s taboo in today’s society. In short three-to-four-minute songs they bring these issues to the foreground and shift them into focus with their relentless brand of brutal honesty and truthfulness. –from PunkNews
Top Photo by Sara Wheeler