Keywords: Dark Hardcore
I will never forget the first time I saw she perform live. They were the second local opener for IWRESTLEDABEARONCE at Chilkoot Charlie’s on the South Stage, a wide yet shallow platform raised from the floor by only two steps. If someone falls forward in front of the stage, they are taking out a member of the band. Metal act Kallahan had just finished a solid set, but it was still early, and the audience did not start to get rowdy until the last few songs. A good metric to measure heavy music’s intensity is to look at the mosh pit, and that night it was still warming up. After the required inter-performance break for libations and loo appointments, she took the stage and it was as if someone flipped a switch: the crowd was electric, convulsing and ready to maim.
There was one guy there that night that fancied himself tough. He was the stereotypical chicken-legged body builder: a dense mass of arm and torso set atop two skinny sticks, like an orange with two straws stuck in the bottom that called everyone “bro.” In fact, he was one of the few moshers towards the end of Kallahan’s set, throwing his top-heavy body around with abandon. By she’s second song, someone broke the muscle man’s nose. A trail of blood led from the pit to the ice bar in the back of the venue, where his head was buried in a trashcan until one of the bar staff could fetch something to catch the biohazard until he was outside, where he could bleed wherever he wanted. They waited for his friend to pull their car up to take him to the hospital, but you could tell the servers just wanted the mess somewhere else—less to bleach. It was that kind of show.
she cranks out an off-kilter take on dark hardcore that turns crowds, and often the band members themselves, savage. Their music hits listeners in some deep emotional recess that unlocks a well of pent up aggression. In a word, it destroys. Recalling an early show in what he describes as “a basement,” vocalist Andrew Sims noted that, during the performance, “parts of the ceiling were torn down [and] I punched holes in the walls.” The carnage became a common feature, or more likely a side effect, of the band’s act. They hold the unique distinction in some venues of having been told to never come back, until sometime later, when they were asked by the management to play again. A brief glance at Sims’ microphone is telling evidence of the music’s brutal power: the top dome has been almost completely smashed flat and the rest is gruesomely misshapen. “One show, I was bashing [the mic] against my head and blood was running down my face,” he explains, then detailing how he later tried to beat it back into shape. “It still works,” he says, smiling.
The next time I saw she after the Koots show was in the Avenue Bar, whose stage is even smaller. As the crowd wildly thrashed about, the band looked like ragged survivors on a tiny lifeboat, screaming at the raging sea around them. There was one drunken patron trying to mosh, but somehow always ended up losing his balance and crashing into the venue’s monitor right between Sims’ and bassist Justin Costiniano’s feet. After three or four times, the bouncer and sound engineer finally gave up and ditched the speaker in the middle of the show, saving it from annihilation. When I mention this and the musclebound victim to Andrew, he has no recollection. “When we play,” he elaborates, “it’s like we’re somewhere else.” However, this is not meant in the sense that she just glazes over when they perform: the four achieve some sort of dark transcendence, as if possessed by a sinister spirit or fully embracing the nebulous void.
I am not enough of a connoisseur of dark hardcore to make accurate comparisons between she and other groups, but they remind me of Dead In The Dirt’s unbridled energy, but are much more progressive musically. Eschewing the “all killer, no filler” mantra of punk and its offspring, the four-piece instead finds a way to make filler kill all the same. Opener “Homouroboros,” for example, is comprised entirely of guitar noise and screamed vocals, which bark out lines like “Mortality knocks, and Heaven fails to shimmer.” Abrasive, yet calm compared to what follows, the track brings to mind a miserable machine that was just turned on and whose engine is warming up, or, keeping with the death metaphor, the piece could be the slow decent into hell. Everything then rips open on the following “I, Conversationalist.” Savage and technical, the band is all over the place, but in perfect unison through multiple tempo changes and riffs that might initially strike one as random noise rock scree until they repeat back perfectly a couple of measures later. In that sense, the band is more akin to the genre’s crazy uncle the rest of the family are afraid to talk about. I want to call it a beautiful hot mess, but the band is just too tight – she is gorgeously fucked up. Song after song, breakneck patterns stop on a dime and pick up again in new (yet completely related and understandable) directions that would have never seemed possible. Sudden lulls emerge in tracks like “Sabbatical” and “Be All My Sins Remembered” that still caught me off guard after a couple listens, and provided a thankful breather at shows between the bouts of bloodshed. I remember how the crowd would sway like fields of wheat to what I think was “Chambermaids (Nadir),” a parallel to the sheep on the front cover, and soon the reaping would continue. Everything was equally bloodthirsty and communal.
The group’s musical prowess is even more remarkable considering how it began. When she was booked to open for visiting band Trash Talk, they were not even a band yet, just an idea, and had only three weeks to find members, write songs, cobble together a set list, and rehearse. When asked how they managed to pull it off, Sims credits all the members with being great musicians who seemed to hit it off immediately, specifically calling current bassist Constiniano “an incredible bassist,” guitarist/backing vocalist Mercy Cofield Jr. a “genius,” and giving lots of love to original bassist Matt Terry (who appears on the track “Be All My Sins Remembered”) and their various drummers. Yes, that is correct, they somehow managed to also find multiple, equally-talented drummers, who rotated when another could no longer be in the band, finally settling on Justin Rodda before they started recording the full-length. This pure coincidence of talent and luck is one of those rock-n-roll stories that might make one question the randomness of the universe, but then that would imply creation conspired to bring about such an awesome tool for destruction. Perhaps it just speaks to an untapped well of Alaskan talent. Either way, these purveyors of sonic fury have not only a knack for brutality, but a keen sense of emotion that makes their songs all the more powerful.
I am not ashamed to say that I cannot understand most screamed vocals, which usually sends me digging for the liner notes when listening to heavy music. Unfortunately, the prose contained within can, at times, be rather clichéd, or even downright juvenile, and subsequently detrimental to the whole experience. Suddenly, it is revealed that this earnest individual screaming their heart out does not have much to say. she can be thankful, however, that they do not fall into this category, because their music becomes even more rich with the message laid bare in text. Andrew Sims not only has a desperate, savage vocal delivery and lust for damage, but an earnest, deep, poetic lyrical style full of meaning one could mull over for days. There are many great lines on this collection, but my favorite is from the track “Drainclogger”: “Took a shower, stared into the head, and from it poured a million drops like souls. Of them I asked, ‘From where and why do you come?’ They replied, ‘we just flow.’” The album abounds with such thoughtful, ambiguous passages, of which Sims is very proud. He enjoys it best when lyrics can be read multiple ways, and is disappointed with a small number of macho fans who see she as an exercise in violent misogyny, shouting along with lines from the song “Caverns” like “Acquisition fate – bind and gag her in the caverns of my mind (…) She is naked and ruined: I am paramount,” but completely missing the deeper meaning. When asked about specific influences, he expresses the importance of being a literature major in college, but specifically cites W. B. Yeats’ poetry and Arthur Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell), as well as multiple low points in his personal life. “Homouroboros,” for example, relates to a death in his family, which also inspired a tattoo on his chest of a man bent around backwards, eating his own feet. An avid free-writer, Sims’ songs are often fleshed out from days’ worth of material, weaned down to their concise, emotional core. In an age full of apathetic cool kids calling everything ironic, she is devastatingly sincere, creating a sound best described by a line in the song “Spill Your Guts”: “horrifying and cathartic.”
Recorded over a couple days in September of 2011 at drummer Justin Rodda’s cabin in Rocky Lake, and assembled and hand screen-printed in a mad rush before the IWRESTLEDABEARONCE show, she’s self-titled full-length captures the band perfectly in the moment. Sims remembers everyone was miserable and fatigued from their day jobs and school, then driving out to this remote cabin and unleashing all that rage each night. It certainly shows: the album is full of chaotic energy and profound depth. Given dark hardcore is currently enjoying some time in the spotlight, with labels like Los Angeles metal heavyweight Southern Lord releasing so much material in the genre, if there ever was a band that deserved to break out, it was she. To my knowledge, there was another show or two after that last time I saw them at the Avenue Bar and the band went on hiatus when some members moved down to Washington. Thankfully, the Alaska-based bandmates are planning an extended visit to the lower 48 in hopes of getting everyone together for a tour, so perhaps you too can soon experience the joy and pain that she conjures.
I was going to make a gif showing all the cool artwork and bonus stuff that comes with the physical CD, but I believe they are all sold out, so showing off my copy would be just rude. Good news for you readers, though—the album is available for download from she’s bandcamp page here: