Since their early demos, Cell Rot have curated a reputation as a vicious and volatile hardcore act. Whether live or on wax, the band dedicates its energy completely to a dynamic and destructive cacophony that is as thrilling as it is threatening. Following up 2018’s Violent Spirals and 2019’s split with World Peace, their eagerly awaited new EP, Slowly Falls Apart, is another masterclass in aggression and righteous power.
Their most violent release to date, Slowly Falls Apart captures the gut-levitating sensation of one’s brakes failing as one hurtles down switchbacks on a rail-less mountain freeway. These six songs are hazardous and immediate. Nominally powerviolence, the songs on this fantastic and relentless EP owe as much to Anti-Cimex, GISM, and The Impalers as they do to the old school powerviolence of their fellow Californians in Crossed Out, No Comment, and Neanderthal. In the capable hands of this cadre of experienced hardcore musicians, the mania of these songs is perfectly executed, a densely focused cannonade of musical ire.
On the members’ various projects, vocalist Kyle says, “Dustin is in a band called Power Alone that just had an LP come out on Indecision Records and it is sick as hell! Sven, Will, and I are in a band called Mass Arrest that has an LP out on Iron Lung. Will also plays bass in Shit Coffins, a very stacked super group.”
Athough it hasn’t been long since the releases of Violent Spirals and the World Peace split, enthusiasm for those projects and for the band in general has made the lead-up to Slowly Falls Apart one of great anticipation. For less confident musicians, the prospect of following up releases that received critical and fan acclaim can be an intimidating one, but Kyle says, “I don’t think it was daunting at all really. We just get together and write a bunch of songs until we feel like we have enough to do something with. Violent Spirals was mostly songs from our two demos that we wanted to record again and give a proper release to, and for the World Peace split, we knew we wanted to do a tour with them and figured a split would be a good excuse to do that. Plus, you don’t see that many splits nowadays. So Slowly Falls Apart was just the next progression. It wasn’t like the previous releases had an effect on this one, more just that we had new songs and wanted to do something with them.”
Drummer Dustin continues, “SFA came from a big batch of songs and riffs that we started writing from scratch after Violent Spirals was released. In that sense, everything on SFA comes from a place where we’d been able to tour and build confidence in our own sound.”
Cell Rot’s confidence is clear, as their swagger, venom, and unfuckwithable musicianship all combine to make Slowly Falls Apart a truly powerful piece of art. While their sound invites many comparisons, Cell Rot’s music is distinctly its own. Dustin says, “Musically, we tend to take influence from three wells: Ignorant Hardcore, Power Violence, and Peace Punk. It’s a weird blend, but maybe hearing that will explain a lot about our sound.”
This melange of disparate styles makes Cell Rot a singular, unmistakable force in the hardcore world, one that has carved out its own niche of spitting, chest-thumping rage but, just as important, meaningful and sincere global critique and personal reflection. Kyle says, “We are inspired by everything around us. I personally think that if you’re having writer’s block or problems with creative output, you should look at what you’re consuming and see how it affects you. In the past, we’ve taken ideas from tons of stuff including Simple Minds‘ ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ and musically this record isn’t different. But I’m not gonna tell you all those references, it’s more fun if you figure them out yourself. Lyrically, this record focuses on anxiety, depression, fear and anger, which are all emotions that come a little too naturally to me, so it was just about like finding the right vibe for the music. I went to school for writing and always have a little pocket notebook or the notes app in my phone filled with one liners or little turns of phrase that I think could make a good lyric, so I’ll listen to the voice memos of the songs they send on repeat, go through my notes and see what sticks. Sometimes, though, I hear the vocal melody attached to the riff, like for ‘1000 Ways to Ruin Your Day’ and ‘Sick Little Fucker,’ I heard those two phrases attached to those riffs, and it was like, ‘Yeah, okay, that’s what these songs are going to be.’”
Kyle’s vocals express those feelings of anxiety, depression, fear and anger in a true, sincere, vulnerable, and raw form, allowing the audience to experience them too, allowing them to feel the same deep emotional catharsis through the music and lyrics that he surely does. Cell Rot’s music, particularly on Slowly Falls Apart, is visceral and unapologetic but also therapeutic. In Kyle’s words, “It’s hardcore music that makes you feel so bad you feel good.” Slowly Falls Apart is a purging work of art that cleanses the listener through violence and angst, and following a year that has given everyone much to purge, it is an especially well-timed medicine.
“We recorded this record in February of 2020,” Kyle says, “With the hopes of getting it out in time for a summer tour. At the time, we were worried because that record plant had just burnt down, and everyone was saying getting records pressed was going to be impossible, especially for smaller bands. We were going to play Mutiny On The Bay Fest and debut most of these songs, but that fest was scheduled for like the day lock down began. So we were just kinda like, ‘Okay, we’ll wait this out and see what happens.’ We put some unmastered tracks up on bandcamp for the first no fee day or whatever and Adam at Convulse reached out to us about wanting to put the record out. We were all like ‘Are you sure you wanna do this right now?’ not knowing when we can tour again, but he seemed sure about it, and has been so good to work with.”
Dustin continues, “Another facet of how [the year] affected us is that some people that live with members of Cell Rot either work in a hospital or are immunocompromised. Early on, we realized that it’d be irresponsible to practice, so we’ve basically taken this year ‘off’ from jamming (something that feels really weird if you’ve been in bands since the 90’s, like I have). Luckily, we’ve drawn lots of inspiration from the world around us in the past year and are going to bang out a fuck load of music as soon as we’re all vaccinated.”
In the meantime, like many other artists, Cell Rot managed to find within the limitations of quarantine a creative upwelling, and as if their sonic and poetic contributions to the artistic world weren’t enough, they have teamed up with directors and visual artists to create a series of videos for the album, in a sense, to create powerviolence’s answer to Dirty Computer and Lemonade. “Since we’ve been in lockdown for so long,” Kyle says, “Our brains have just been running wild with ideas. Sven was like, ‘What if we just had homies make videos for the whole album, but we don’t give them any direction, just let them do whatever they want?’ I also kinda hate creative back-and-forths, tweak this a little, try this color etc. so the idea of ‘you get what you get’ was super appealing to me. Also, I wrote all these lyrics before we knew we were going to be locked down for over a year, but the lyrical themes I mentioned above apply to everyone, to varying degrees, so it’s been really cool to see how other people interpret the songs, and what they create from those interpretations. The process has been super chill since we’re not giving any direction, we just had to think of a bunch of friends who could do it and ask, and when we got their final product it kinda feels like Christmas or something.”
Slowly Fades Away is Cell Rot’s first release through Denver’s Convulse Records, a label run by Adam Croft (of Euth, Product Lust) that, in no time at all, has become a tastemaker in the hardcore world. Kyle says, “Adam has just been killing it so far. Super supportive and tons of great ideas. It’s been really great to work with him, and the label is putting out killer shit right now!”
Convulse Records and Cell Rot share a philosophy that focuses on amplifying newer and more diverse voices in hardcore, an attitude that is gradually taking hold in the larger punk world. Kyle says, “Something that needs to change, which I think it has been more recently, but we still have a long way to go, is the accessibility of hardcore to all kinds of people and communities. I’m tired of gatekeeper bullshit. Some of the sickest and most memorable bands we’ve played with on tour have been like 13-year-old kids or whatever. I want everyone to feel like they can start a band and sing about what pisses them off or makes them angry, and I don’t want it to be just straight white dudes.”
Dustin continues, “I love the different voices being heard in the scene right now, some for the first time or not for a long time. Trans kids, Black Liberation HC, and indigenous folks screaming to make a change. It’s very moving. The only thing that should change is that all fests, big and small, should feel obligated to promote these newer voices, no matter the cost.”
With respect to new voices, anyone with their ear to the ground of the hardcore world will have noticed the deluge of outstanding music coming from the Bay Area over the last year or so. Cell Rot is a mighty musical force and, though relatively young as a band, their reputation is firmly established, and more than ever now that Slowly Falls Apart is in headphones around the world. They are now in a position to champion those younger bands who deserve a wider audience. “I think that the Bay scene right now is super diverse,” Kyle says, “Both sonically and community-wise. There isn’t one sound like ‘Oh yeah, that’s NYHC’ or whatever, and that’s super interesting to me. There are so many bands in the Bay who rule like Techie Blood, Torso, Provoke, Urban Sprawl, Flexure, Screaming Fist, Spy, and our dudes in World Peace. So many good bands, so many points of view.”
Cell Rot’s music speaks for itself, and Slowly Falls Apart is a genre-redefining record that, in a just world, will establish this band as one of the most important powerviolence bands of the decade. For those who have been on tenterhooks for this next artistic statement by a band whose craft is undeniable, this is a rich reward. These six songs are a document of everything that is right in hardcore right now.
Asked for any final statements, Kyle says, “Keep wearing masks so we can mosh again.”
Slowly Falls Apart is out through Convulse Records.