Junior Bruce thrives on thick riffs: Deep riffs, memorable melodies, and grooves that bang our heads and pump our fists as they roam in to our bones (see “Thirteen Zeros”). Just hold on and enjoy the ride. You may even discover that human ears can hear below a previously uncharted frequency range. I got hooked by Endless Descent (from A389 Records) and wanted to find more about this band and this pummelling groove.
“Florida death metal has always had an influence in all of our projects. It is pretty much ingrained in most heavy music from here. Way back in the '90s you couldn't throw a rock without hitting someone in a Cannibal Corpse or Deicide shirt,” says Scott Angelacos, vocalist for Junior Bruce, who hail from DeLand, which is about 30 miles north of Orlando. “At one point one of my old bands practiced at a spot in Orlando that everyone used to call The Porno Palace. It was a huge two-story building with individual practice spaces inside. There had to be like 20 bands there, most of them being metal in some form. Death practiced directly above us for years. To say we were influenced would be an understatement.”
The state of Florida has been home to a number of bands whose contributions to heavy music will forever be felt, and thanks to such work as Albert Mudrian’s Choosing Death, we have some record of those roots. In the digital age bands have the capability to record every live show, every riff at a rehearsal, and every experience on the road in an effort to strengthen preservation efforts. Many current bands have grown up listening to bands from which we barely have more studio recordings than rehearsal recordings, while at the same time seeing a shift to having many versions of the same song uploaded to a website. In talking to one of Florida's active heavy bands, I asked Junior Bruce to talk about being a present day heavy band in Florida, what changes they have seen over the years and to dive deeper into their inner workings, for future reference.
Angelacos says, “Music can be such a powerful force in so many ways. It can be a vehicle for our expressions of outrage and violence as well as a therapeutic ritual. People take from it what they need. It can move people to shake their ass or shake their fist.”
The one hurdle in any era can be touring. Many bands aim to take their music on the road and reach people in person. It’s a raw, analog act, and many bands describe their music as something that is meant to be experienced live. Touring can be a logistical nightmare so, unless you live close to a band, sometimes you only ever get to hear them on their records.
That brings us to Endless Descent, Junior Bruce’s 2016 full-length release on Baltimore’s A389 Recordings, the follow-up to Headless King.
“It's always good to keep moving forward, but I wouldn't say that we will never explore the past,” says bassist Tom Crowther. “Some of the ideas that we end up shelving will show up in future songs,” he explains. “A great example of this is the song 'Endless Descent,' which is the last song on our newest record of the same title. It was actually one of the first riffs I wrote in Junior Bruce, but we didn't get around to turning into a song until almost 10 years after listening to old rehearsal recordings. So I guess if it's meant to be, it will happen.”
Drummer Jeff McAlear echoes those details. “The main riff for the title track 'Endless Descent' was written by Tom years ago. It was dug up from a recorded jam session back in the day when Brett Tanner was the drummer. I think Nate found it on his phone while we were writing and we decided to make it into a song to pay homage to Brett. Everything else on the new record is fresh.”
"Trying not to shit your pants seems to spark a certain creativity."
Brett Tanner was Junior Bruce’s first drummer. With a pummeling style behind the kit, he helped carve a sound that provides the foundation Junior Bruce riffs on today. Tanner passed away in 2012, and is greatly missed by his friends and family, but will never be forgotten.
Angelacos talks about the time following Tanner’s passing. “It took a long time and no lack of effort to come back from that hell,” he says. “Endless Descent is a journey into Hell itself to save your true love, no matter the cost, to emerge victorious and whole again. We have come back strong with Jeff as our drummer. He has been our long-time friend and recording engineer. Bruce feels whole again now and everyone is really excited for what's next...Things don't exactly work out so well in the songs on the record though.”
McAlear goes further in discussing Endless Descent: “Besides the riff for the title track being written years ago, the first song we came up with had a working title of 'Lou Reed Died A Vegan,' which became 'Lapis Philosophorum.' Tom, Nate and myself were trying to hammer out a chorus and it wasn't happening, so we took a break and went to a local Mexican restaurant. Against my better judgement, I let Tom talk me into getting the shrimp diablo. Long story short, Tom and I had shellfish poisoning when we got back and wrote the chorus. Trying not to shit your pants seems to spark a certain creativity.”
McAlear adds, “The last song had a working title of 'Nutria Stew,' which then became '13 Zeros.' It was all ready to go and I had already recorded the drums for it but there was something missing...It wasn't quite 'Brucey' enough. So Tom sat and played over the verse on loop until we found a variation of the old riff with a more Junior Bruce feel. Nate was super pissed off when he came back and heard it, but he came around and ended up adding badass leads and melodies that actually make the song what it is. NATE JONES!!!”
Nate Jones, one of Junior Bruce’s guitarists, makes special note of Junior Bruce’s album art, created by Jeannie Saiz. “Jeannie does some rad stuff and we think it speaks for itself,” he says. “The cover of The Headless King will always be one of my favorite pieces of hers and reminds me of the good times we had with our late drummer Brett Tanner.”
The art of Jeannie Saiz, who is also a member of Miami's Shroud Eater, is a full-frame and dense expression of Junior Bruce’s story of Hell unleashed.
Angelacos speaks highly of Saiz and how important her work is to Junior Bruce’s albums. “We love Jeannie! She's our girl,” he proclaims. “I've fed Jeannie and Shroud Eater breakfast more times than I can remember. We've slept on each other's air mattresses and recorded in each other's garages. They are some of Bruce's oldest friends. Jeannie is awesome at doing just what you said, she creates the art that tells the story of our music. She really tries to dig into the concept of the record before she starts her designs.”
Saiz’s matches her style with the content of the record to create a unique, unified image for the record.
Angelacos goes into further detail on the process. “She has me send lyrics and asks questions about the story. I send her the raw tracks or demos as we record them. When I first saw her sketches it kinda reminded me of old Raymond Pettibon illustrations and flyers. It was nasty, raw, and unapologetic. There were these great expressions with simple strokes. She, like we hope we do, exceeds expectations each time. We love it. Until she fires us, we will be having her do all our album covers.”
This column was written during the summer of 2017 as Junior Bruce worked on new music. McAlear reflects on Endless Descent in the midst of writing for the follow-up. “I think we all dig the songs, but I'm sure everyone has their own little things on the record that annoys them,” he says. “You're never going to be 100% happy with everything on a record from top to bottom. I could sit here and rattle off hundreds of little things that I hate about the production and I think Scott could as well.”
Endless Descent was tracked and mixed by McAlear and Angelacos. A rewarding approach at the end of the process it can also be anything from tiring to distracting.
McAlear provides some insight into Junior Bruce’s plans for recording the new record.
“On the next one we will track everything and then hand our little baby off to someone that we like and trust to mix it,” he says. “Having a fresh ear on our music will be a good change of pace. The journey of making a record is probably the hardest, most enjoyable, miserable, elating experience a musician can have. It's addictive.”
Crowther captures the band’s approach with a timely sentiment. “We try not to set up too many limits, because sometimes stuff that doesn't work right now can turn out to be one of our favorite jams in the future.”