BOTCH: AMERICAN NERVOSO (1998)
1) Hutton's Great Heat Engine; 2) John Woo; 3) Dali's Praying Mantis; 4) Dead For A Minute; 5) Oma; 6) Thank God For Worker Bees; 7) Rejection Spoken Softly; 8) Spitting Black; 9) Hives.
As a rule, the Tacoma/Seattle area is not usually associated with technically prodigious metal bands — the grunge crowds is where it's at, unless you start digging a little deeper, and then, quite early on in the process, you discover oddities like Botch, a band whose commercial career only lasted a couple of years and who were allegedly shunned by the community at the time, yet came to be remembered with a certain amount of reverence over the years. Then again, serves them just right for calling themselves «Botch». I mean, who wants to pay attention to something called «Botch»? At least «Stupid Assholes» would have sounded enticing.
In any case, the band was a tight, crunchy four-piece — guitar, bass, drums (the drummer also played a bit of piano when the «unpredictability monitor» flashed red), and vocals. Vocalist Dave Verellen is actually the weakest link: consistent with the basic genre requirements of «metalcore», he does little other than scream his lungs off throughout, and, as usual, any possible excitement connected with this wears off after the second minute, so, honestly, I'd much rather listen to this with the vocals erased, as they mostly just detract from the complexity of the music. Or, at best, just keep them in a few crucial moments where a well-placed scream can emphasize the effect of some sudden powerful musical blast.
Fortunately, I have listened to so many of these screaming bands over the years that my ears have become largely desensitized to such vocals — a mistake, perhaps, since the vocals are supposed to be a significant part of the statement, but with a band like Botch, the stuff that the three instrumentalists are doing with their instruments is just so much more intriguing than Verellen's one single trick that I cannot imagine any serious listener wasting nerve channels on that instead of digging all the cool riffs, tricky time signatures, and crazyass solos. Unless you're heading straight for the mosh pit, but then why Botch in the first place? Anthrax will do the job nicely.
Encyclopaedias will tell you that Botch were one of the founding fathers of «mathcore», and, indeed, I am not familiar with a lot of metal bands before them who would so explicitly use «metal language» to put together song structures of such bewildering complexity and diversity. Because of that language, it all sounds the same, but it really isn't — each song goes through a whole pack of different melodies and rhythms, as the instrumental trio attempts to become a sort of «metal Cream», amazing the world with their freedom flight and faultless technique. On second thought, though, the allegory is not entirely right — Cream improvisations often, if not always, featured the players challenging each other, whereas here everything is tightly pre-coordinated, and all three players are always working towards one common goal.
The monotonousness of the music is a serious flaw: apart from maybe one or two special moments, such as the out-of-place funeral-march piano coda to ʽOmaʼ, it's all brutal metallic riffage, supported by massive percussion attacks. For this reason, unless you eat, drink, piss, and shit metal, American Nervoso is best taken in short, merciful dosages to appreciate its concept of «total creative freedom within a rigidly restricted genre formula». The songs themselves do not pretend to be shapeless avantgarde experimental pieces — they are, indeed, songs, often without choruses, but with introductions, verses, bridges, internal development, codas, the works. However, if your intro is in one time signature, your verse is in a different one, and your bridge dispenses with rhythm altogether, this certainly creates a disorienting effect. It is not necessarily good: the riffs are not always meaningful, and the rapid variation dissipates the Sabbath-created magic of heavy metal — you gotta give that promising groove some valuable time to sink in, otherwise it's going to be just a juggling lights show. But after a while, once your eyes and ears get adjusted to the razzle-dazzle, it begins to work.
The overall mood of the album is, of course, chaotic-apocalyptic: "These mirrors break / And now we've lost everything / Pieces collect about me / Despite my efforts", Verellen bellows out on ʽDead For A Minuteʼ, except you cannot discern these words without a lyrics sheet — but you can certainly discern the same crazy-panicky feel that does characterize quite a few of their distantly related brethren from the Seattle area, except that Botch exercise strict military discipline, and their chaotic panic is precisely orchestrated — not coincidentally, perhaps, the second song here bears the name of ʽJohn Wooʼ, as some of its rhythmic pulses would make an awesome soundtrack to a martial arts movie. Elsewhere, song titles like ʽDali's Praying Mantisʼ or ʽThank God For Worker Beesʼ show that, conceptually, these guys are much more influenced by avant-jazz people than the hardcore metal crowds (and, just for the record, it is said that they actually played Destiny's Child songs during warm-up before their shows — no wonder they weren't too loved back in ol' Washington State!).
On the whole, American Nervoso is not a great album. Dissecting each of its compositions from a purely musicological stance may be a fun way to kill time, and its total may also be worth more than the sum of its parts — because, after all, most of its songs do sound the same — yet much of the time you do get the feeling that it is, rudely speaking, too complex for its own good, and topping that complexity off with ridiculous screamfests is hardly a saving grace. But for a simple bunch of Tacoma kids this is a major achievement, one of those records that can be respected just by looking at what they managed to have done without necessarily «getting» it. Frankly speaking, there are very few heavy metal records that I «love» anyway, but quite a few that command my respect, and Botch's debut does belong in that category. Thumbs up.