The year of our lord 1997 was the beginning of a creative dark age for rock music. Awful acts like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Coal Chamber were the vanguard of an Adidas tracksuit wearing armada of trend bands that would set rock music back nearly a decade. The trend was Nu-metal, a truly heinous crime against music, that saw god awful heavy metal combined with rap, turntables, cheeseball lyrics and stupid haircuts. It wasn’t coincidence that think pieces spread like wildfire during these years asking if rock music had finally died.
In amongst this trend was Sacramento’s Deftones. On the surface they had the look and feel of a nu-metal band. They wore the silly Adidas trackies and they rose to prominence playing a brand of metal that sounded a lot like Nu-metal. But they never really fit the Nu-metal mould. Their music was too layered and atmospheric while Chino Moreno’s lyrics were too poetic and cryptic for the average meathead who listened to Papa Roach and Disturbed.
Which brings us to Around the Fur. Released in 1997, Around the Fur would establish the Deftones as one of the biggest alternative bands. The first single off the album, “My Own Summer,” quickly grabbed fans’ attention with its brooding guitars and explosive choruses as Moreno’s pained screams unleash his rage at a scorching summer sun. A great track to be sure and one that continues ignite mosh pits over 15 years later but it doesn’t really distinguish the Deftones from the plague of Nu-metal bands circulating in the late nineties. Instead it’s “Be Quiet and Drive,” the second single off Around the Fur that sets the Deftones apart from their turgid, repetitive 90s brethren.
The subdued opening chords over Moreno’s heavy breathing give way to a melody that feels heavy and light footed at the same time. Moreno, who alternates perfectly between soothing vocals and distraught screaming, is the driving force behind this track as he attempts to renew himself by hitting the road. Depending on how you want to look at it, “Be Quiet and Drive” work can mean different things to different people. Such is the nature of Moreno’s ambiguous lyrics it can be seen as dealing with lost love, trying to shake off numbing apathy or finding yourself by travelling the open road for hours. There’s a sensuousness to the song that also makes it a perfect tune for creating a romantic mood. Few other metal vocalists have the same scope as Chino Moreno.
The Nu-metal phase would thankfully die out by 2002 and bands like Puddle of Mudd would become nothing more than an embarrassing footnote on rock’s continued evolution. It’s a testament to the Deftones’ musicianship that they remain a true giant of alternative music whose albums continue to garner critical acclaim. Although they may no longer wear backwards caps, Deftones have used tracks like “Be Quiet and Drive” and countless subsequent songs to illustrate what can be done when metal is combined with artistry and intelligence.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.