Seattle's Blood Brothers are screaming themselves hoarse in a bid to enter the pantheon of shredded rock-and-roll larynxes. Like all great shriekers before them, they understand melodrama and rage. They revel in shock and disgust. They thrive on nightmares and decay. They make an ugly world uglier. Best of all, they are good at what they do.
The British press agrees. In fact, such magazines as Kerrang! and NME have designated the Blood Brothers as part of a new musical genre called -- get this -- screamo. As yet undefined by Merriam-Webster, screamo allegedly combines the deafening feedback of emo with maximum-threshold screaming. Voilà!
But in the eyes of Blood Brother co-frontman Jordan Blilie, this new, honorary distinction elicits the kind of disgust normally reserved for catheters or John Ashcroft. "I absolutely hate it," he says of the label. "And it puts us into a category of bands that I'm not too fond of, either. When I think of extreme music, I don't think of testosterone-fueled macho bullshit. To me, the most extreme stuff challenges any sort of prototype of what a band can or can't do. It's a style of music and a way of thinking that's been going on for years now. And calling it CEscreamo' is just an attempt to commodify what we're doing."
Marketing matters aside, the band has been adjusting to a few other changes since hooking up with Artist Direct Records last year. In addition to extensive touring in America and Europe, this snotty quintet of tag-team vocalists Blilie and Johnny Whitney, guitarist Cody Votolato, bassist Morgan Henderson and drummer Mark Gajadhar is enjoying cleaner studio projects with bigger budgets.
For instance, nü-metal knob twiddler Ross Robinson (Limp Bizkit, Korn, Slipknot, At the Drive-In) helmed the spastic chemistry of the Brothers' big-label debut, Burn, Piano Island, Burn. A polished, concise and highly abrasive effort that eschews toilet rhymes in favor of merciless, red-level overload, Piano Island blends counterpointed screaming and guitar onslaught with an occasional mellotron, acoustic guitar or xylophone. But stylistically, the new release isn't too big a departure from the kind of art-punk massacre that earned the Brothers a rabid fanbase in the first place.
"On a surface level, we wanted to reference something that people who had followed and supported us from the beginning would feel a part of, going all the way back to our very first record, that had a song called CEMarooned on Piano Island,'" Blilie says. "When we wrote it, we were just out of high school, and I think that our worldview was a bit empty and superficial. So Burn, Piano Island, Burn is just a metaphor for severing the past for something with a little bit greater meaning. It's just the idea of completely decimating something that you're ashamed of and starting new."
Blilie first met Votolato amid an energetic late-'90s hardcore scene in the Pacific Northwest that included the Death Wish Kids and Behead the Prophet No Lord Shall Live. The pair formed the Blood Brothers and soon established a pimply local following with a loud brand of spaz rock that mated scowling vocals and thundering rhythms with hairpin turns at reckless speed. Lyrically, the band opted for cryptic poetry and unwieldy metaphors, painting startling pictures peppered with lisping roses, pregnant sirens, laughing guillotines, swollen vaginas in the sky or deviants having sex with shaved horses.
"It's hilarious that we finally got a parental advisory sticker," Blilie says, laughing at the warning that adorns Piano Island. "So many of the lyrics are hard to even make out. But I think anything on a major label has to clear some sort of standards-and-practices bullshit."
Before mollifying the Tipper Gores of the world, the Blood Brothers managed to put out a handful of impressive albums. March On Electric Children offered more than mere self-destruction to the punch-and-cookies set. Demonstrating sophisticated humor and artiness beyond its makers' tender ages, Children surpassed 1999's monochromatic, self-titled debut as well as the twisted eroticism of the 2000 speed-metal fest This Adultery Is Ripe (on the Kansas City-based label Second Nature).
Telling a conceptual narrative with themes, characters and plot lines, Children follows the adventures of Mr. Electric Ocean ("Birth Skin/Death Leather") through a close call with the phony world of fame and fortune ("Meet Me at the Water Front After the Social"). On the title cut, another protagonist screams his way into the ranks of an odd military faction as its chief recruitment officer cries, So join up, juggernaut child/Join up, ye hungry, barbed-wire holes/March on Skin Army soldiers/March on to hills of ripe mold/March on across the Xeroxed horizon/March on murderous little world!
Blending art and politics is nothing new for the Blood Brothers. Aside from adding some hometown cheer to WTO-protesting rowdies or playing the occasional benefit for a women's self-defense organization called Home Alive, the Seattle natives keep a busy sociopolitical calendar from season to season. But it might be time for a vacation, not least because of the daily wear and tear on the singers' tonsils.
So how does Blilie take care of his golden throat? "I try to pace my smoking and drinking as much as I can," he says. "It's an uphill battle."
With the entire band finally nearing legal drinking age, the Blood Brothers plan on riding this freak wagon until the wheels fall off. They're committed to each other like Tom and Huck, America's original blood brothers, who pricked their fingers and swore on their souls -- come hell or Injun Joe -- that dreams, goddamnit, are worth chasing.