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Cluster Grenades: The Militant Microbursts Of Backslider’s Bacterial Eye

I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

– William Faulkner

Backslider are poets. They are the authors of short stories. They are novelists. Over the course of their career of more than a decade, they have proven themselves, masters of short- and long-form songwriting, taking everything-but-the-kitchen-sink riffs and turning them into songs that equate to haikus, collages, and epic tomes.

The chief purveyors of Pennsylvania’s best pointillist powerviolence sound like they stole your favorite band’s “Ideas” notebook and composed songs using everything inside. Showing a rare and impressive mix of prowess and playfulness, the three monstrous talents that comprise Backslider manage to confront nearly every subgenre of metal and punk over the course of any one of their albums, be it on their under-five-minutes Maladapted E.P. or on their relatively marathonic Motherfucker. The pinball-esque style-hopping leaves the listener convinced that Backslider is what a Frank Zappa-fronted fastcore outfit would sound like, with songs that would quickly dissemble in the hands of lesser musicians. With these three at the helm, the songs on Backslider’s new 3″ Bacterial Eye are airtight.

Photo by Suren Karapetyan.

On “Ataxia/Cyclops,” the release’s longest and opening track, the combination of phase, distortion, reverb, and sampling initially gives one the impression that they are listening to a cassette that’s been pulled out of a bog roped off as a crime scene. Particularly notable from the very start is Jake Cregger’s drum tone. Foregoing the usual studio setup, he recorded the drums on a GoPro, which gives the release a lo-fi DIY artistry that fits the whimsical, do-as-we-will punk attitude that has served Backslider well for their entire brilliant career. With blown-out, frenzied guitars in a rolling boil over government conspiracy soundbites, “Ataxia/Cyclops” builds gradually before erupting into a bombastic extended crescendo of old-school Crossed Out and No Comment powerviolence, with a mammoth, bass-driven slow section that ranks among the best breakdowns of the year, even if it is only around seven seconds long total. It seems quaint to focus heavily on a tempo change in a powerviolence song, but this shift is perfect tension and release, like driving a sports car at full speed into a bank of quicksand. This section focusing on Jake Smith’s gargantuan tone is also a perfect example of one of the things that makes Backslider such a mind-bending, envy-inducing band for other musicians: a one minute song by Backslider might have thirteen riffs that last only seconds each but that are still better than anything most musicians are writing now. It’s a wonder these musicians manage to play without lead sheets in front of them, considering how precise and how frequent the changes are.

Track two, “Device,” is a hardcore, grinding fistfight that begins with a full tonal uppercut and proceeds to batter your face and ribs until you’re left on the mat, hallucinating the 80’s Miramax logo hovering overhead. In lock-step fury over Cregger’s automatic-nail-gun blast-beats, the Philly phenoms Logan and Smith explore the map of grindcore while exploring their guitar necks, with Logan even integrating some Sonny Sharrock-esque free jazz flourishes as the piece evaporates into a dreamscape. “Lapse” grabs the listener by the collar and throttles them for its duration. Like Sidetracked and Hummingbird of Death, Backslider knows how to pack a short song with the creative density of a neutron star. The drums on “Lapse,” the album’s centerpiece, are breathless and furious, driven by static and rusty pistons and paired with the ever-changing prog-influenced guitar phrasing of Logan and a heavy-as-gravity spaced-out chromatic bassline from Smith.

“Purgatory” alone is justification for the band’s describing the songs on this release as “Ultraviolent Prog-Thrash.” Beginning with one second of the galactic drone that ended “Lapse,” this song explodes into Backslider’s take on Hellnation‘s paint-peeling thrashcore, setting off aural cluster bombs until it devolves into deadly Eyehategod worship. Album-closer “Octopus” is liable to give the listener a headbanging-induced brain bleed as it transitions back and forth between boot-stomping USDM and Backslider’s patented “skullfracturing fastcore.”

With smooth transitions between tracks, and with some of the most dynamic in-song genre changes the heavy music world has to offer, Backslider has done with a 3″ lathe cut what few bands manage to do with full-length releases. Trite though it may be, the “all killer, no filler” adage absolutely applies to a band that has made a career of perfect pacing and stream-of-consciousness style-twisting. Bacterial Eye is a fantastic introduction to newcomers to the band, and it is a worthy addition to the collection of anyone who has been rightly gathering all of their bulletproof releases over the years.

Photo by Jaime Heim

Backslider were kind enough to talk to CVLT Nation about this excellent 3″.

First, can you list your other projects? 

Logan: Currently Backslider is my only music project, but I have some ideas germinating that will hopefully take shape into another project or two. Time will tell I suppose. Jake Cregger (drums) also plays in Triac, The Ar-kaics, Reeking Cross, and until recently was in Multicult, all of which are killer.

Jake Smith: I also play in Eye Flys, Penetrode, Cain Corso, Oxide, and Titanoboa (All of which are finishing up releases at the moment, keep your eye out)

You released this while you are working on a new full-length. Were these songs repurposed from that or are they written specifically for the 3″? 

Logan: When we started writing these songs the material for the LP was already 95% finished. These were actually written specifically to be released on tape before we agreed to do the 3″. We wanted to self-release something that could help raise a bit of money for bail funds for protesters in Philly (via Jake’s new benefit label) while also keeping the creative juices flowing during the lockdowns.

Jake Smith: I recently started Silence is Death Tapes as a benefit label help to support Black lives and activists fighting for Black lives. The first release is the tape version of this 3″ from Blind Rage, which is now sold out. 

Your songwriting touches just about every style of metal and punk. Can you describe your approach to writing on such a micro-level? 

Logan: Our original demo and first few 7″s were actually mostly the ADD/”micro-song” style. We naturally grew out of that over the years but it’s relatively easy to get back into that songwriting mindset- I’ll just drink a few cups of coffee, smoke a joint, then pick up my guitar (not that dissimilar from my normal songwriting ritual). I generally take a small handful of riffs, mutate and chop ’em up, and try to make the songs sound as gnarly and exciting as possible while still also being fun to listen to. I think that hearing that super frantic and chaotic West Coast stuff when I was like 18 or 19  permanently warped how I perceive time.

Jake Smith: This was an exciting idea for me as well, I joined Backslider after the Consequences 10″ was released and that was what really marked the evolution past the micro-song format for the band. I love the direction we’ve gone in and the mutations have been collaborative and fulfilling….but when the idea came up to sort of revisit the very thing that made me fall in love with fastcore and powerviolence, I was very excited, and it felt like something that would be a lot of fun for us and hopefully anyone who listens. 

Also, I feel it necessary to mention that this project was my first stab at engineering/mixing a proper release. Since the current conditions are as they are…the drums were all recorded by Jake (Cregger) on his GoPro at his personal practice space, so all the drums were on one track and we layered the rest on top….it was a fun exercise in autonomy and problem solving haha.

Logan: Cregger is a maniac, each song is a single uninterupted/unedited take! 

What were your musical inspirations for this? What about your lyrical inspirations?

Logan: Infest, Hellnation, No Comment, Hail of Rage, Lack of Interest, Plutocracy. Maybe a bit of Gasp, G-Anx, and The Locust as well? The lyrics mostly focus on themes of control and state violence, paranoia, and retaliation. Blowing up ATMs…

Can you comment on Blind Rage‘s 3″ series and being a part of it?

Logan: I’ve known James for years, going back to when I still lived in Ohio. He randomly hit me up about participating in the 3″ series shortly after we started to work on these songs so it kind of just worked out perfectly. It’s a cool/fun project and we know all of the bands that have worked with him on the series so far. Glad to have been asked to participate.

Would you care to share anything about your upcoming, highly-anticipated full-length?

Logan: It’s a real bloodbath…we start recording in a few weeks with Kevin Bernstein at Developing Nations Studios in Baltimore.

What should people know about Backslider? What should people know about this EP?

Logan: Backslider is about unrestrained creativity, sharing radical and morbid ideas, and having fun with your friends. We don’t want to belong to any ‘scene’ but we’re thankful for the freaks from all over that support us and appreciate the music we make. Unless you’re a cop, bigot, fascist, or conservative, in which case you can fuck off…open your minds.

Jake: Also, we are very honored to have a split 7′ with the legendary and hugely influential LA freaks GASP coming out on From The Head of Zeus Records in 2021, keep an eye out for a release date soon. It has been recorded and sent to press!

Photo by Pay No More Than Photography.

Backslider’s Bacterial Eye is available through Blind Rage Records and Silence Is Death Records.

Drums were recorded by Jake Cregger in Washington D.C.

All other instruments were recorded in Philadelphia by Jake Smith.

Written By

Evan lives in Arizona and works as an English teacher. He loves to learn new things and meet new people.

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