Okay, so I’ve needed to add Balaclavas to this here list for a long damn time now. Beyond the perennial culprits that are my general laziness and slowness, there’re a couple of outside factors to blame… For one, the band rarely plays live, so I’ve only managed to see ’em one time, long, long after I’d heard about them and owned some of their music, and for the other, well, said music could never really match up to the band’s real sound.
Which is to say that before I saw these guys play, I’d had 2007’s Inferno EP and liked it okay, but was never really-and-truly bowled over. It was decent, sharp-edged post-punk stuff, sure, that owed an equal debt to Dischord post-hardcore and NY noise, but it wasn’t anything mind-blowing. So when I finally did get to hear the band live and in-person, I was stunned speechless.
Live, Balaclavas are like a force of nature. The dark, murky, tribal roar they create sounds far, far louder and more powerful than anything the trio — guitarist/singer/keyboardist Tyler Morris, bassist Brian Harrison, and drummer Charlie Patranella (and sometime member Ralf Armin, apparently) — could possibly be creating. And yet, there they are, with Morris alternately howling and crooning into the mic while bludgeoning Barkmarket-esque scraps of noise out of his guitar, Patranella attacking the kit like he’s playing for some kind of cannibal festival where you, the listener, are destined to be part of the feast, and Harrison nods serenely as he coaxes out limber, rumbling basslines.
While Morris is definitely mesmerizing as a frontman, never over-the-top but always somehow menacing and threatening, the rhythm section is Balaclavas’ absolute, not-so-secret weapon; the thundering, stuttering-yet-solid drums (which sound tailormade to be ripped for some horrorcore hip-hop DJ somewhere) and the low, low, low, tectonic-plate-shifting, seriously dub-y bass quickly become hypnotic, forcing you to bob your head whether you want to or not. I could seriously watch/listen to Patranella and Harrison all day.
That aforementioned aura of menace pervades the whole thing, bringing to mind similarly dark, low-end people like Cop Shoot Cop, Foetus, Cows, and A Frames, all those bands that sound like they could be serving as soundtracks to serial murder and are all the more compelling for it. I also keep thinking that Balaclavas are what Atari Teenage Riot might’ve sounded like if Alec Empire had listened to more PiL and less techno.
Happily, the band’s 2010 release, Roman Holiday (it and Inferno are both out on Dull Knife Recs), stepped away from the cleaner, more “polished” sound of the band’s previous stuff, in the process sounding a whole lot more like what they sound like live. I’m told the band was pretty unhappy with the way the earlier music had ended up, too, so much so that they released a remastered vinyl-only version of Inferno that sounds closer to Holiday‘s sprawling, hypnotic roar.
The band’s also supposedly got Skrot Up and a self-titled debut EP on Phonographic Arts, but I’ve yet to see or hear either of those anywhere but online.out on
Keep an eye out for this band, and watch your back.
(Photo by Jon Van.)
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