Reviews Botch Unifying Themes Redux / American Nervoso / We are the Romans (Reissues)


Unifying Themes Redux / American Nervoso / We are the Romans (Reissues)

How does one measure the influence and impact of a band on music? Sure, you could look at album sales, which in the case of The Beatles is a corollary that works, but then you could see how many albums a band like Godsmack or someone like Kenny Chesney has sold and just throw that idea out the window. Truly, the best way to gauge a band’s importance in music is to take a look at the world of music before and after their existence? There are artists like Black Sabbath, The Ramones, and Black Flag, among others, that completely flipped the music world upside-down when they unleashed their sound on the unsuspecting masses. Then again, the first guy to “create” electronica music did the same. Nevertheless, this is how we should find Botch’s place in music, something that would have been a hell of a lot harder to do so while the band was still alive and breathing. Though, I’m sure someone was listening to the first Ramones recording and screaming, “This is going to change everything,” Oh, and before someone flips out and thinks I’m comparing the impact of The Ramones and Botch, I’m not. I am, however, putting into perspective how Botch changed music, the micro-niche that they called home - hardcore. Botch wasn’t the first group to mess with song structures, but they were one of the first bands within hardcore to infuse these circus-like maneuvers on their instruments - fellow cohorts included Coalesce, Deadguy, and Converge. Over the years, as the band matured and it’s members became more experimental with their instruments, the band’s sound began to reach beyond reasonable logic and became something that was awe-inspiring.

Unifying Themes Redux is the first of the Botch releases that was given the reissue treatment; the irony of it all, it’s already a reissue. But given the surge in popularity and the availability of the release (or so I am told), its re-re-release makes sense. This release is a compilation of nearly all the early Botch material - what you have here is the band in its most primitive form leading up to their debut full-length, American Nervoso. This compilation contains fan favorites like “God vs. Science,” “Ebb,” and “Frequenting Mass Transit,” an early version of a song that appeared on We are the Romans. The majority of these songs are rooted in dissonant hardcore with a slight metal flair. There are the occasional implementations of odd time signatures in the songs, a style that became synonymous with the name Botch over the years. One of my favorite cuts is “Third Part in a Tragedy,” guitarist Dave Knudson’s hammer-pull groove of riffs in the song are great - you can hear their influenced in the likes of bands likes Every Time I Die these days.

The album also features two fantastic covers. The first, “The Opera Song” is a cover of “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. The second is “The Lobster Song,” a cover of The B-52’s classic, “Rock Lobster.” As brilliant as this song is recorded, live it was even zanier. As a whole, Unifying Themes Redux is a mostly hit but sometimes miss (the varying production levels) compilation of rarities. I wouldn’t suggest this album as starting point, but if you find the band’s other releases to be enjoyable, this can be nice addition to your collection.

After numerous releases in the form of 7”s and compilation appearances, Botch finally sat down and wrote a full-length. The result was American Nervoso and the end product showcased a huge progression in the band’s songwriting. Their sound still drew from the well of discordant metal-tinged hardcore, but the sound had been infused with more proficiency and technicality, as well as taking a little off - a sound we know as mathcore these days. “Hutton’s Great Heat Engine” kicks things off and is one of the best set-openers to date that I’ve ever heard. “John Woo” is absolutely crushing - the intensity of the music paired with vocalist Dave Verellen’s screams is music perfection. “Dead for a Minute” mixes in slower riffs and ambient passages, borrowing a page from Neurosis, and fuses that with their off-kilter sound. “Thank God for the Worker Bees” sees the band experimenting with electronic elements, foreshadowing the increased use one the band’s final full-length. “Hives” wraps up the album with typical Botch - fantastic guitar riffage, thundering basslines provided by Brian Cook, throaty vocals from Verellen, and pummeling drums of Tim Latona.

Tacked on, in addition to a re-mastering which is barely noticeable, is “Stupid Me,” a song that also appeared on Unifying Themes Redux. There is also an extended version of “Spitting Black” and then demo versions of three others songs. These bonuses are a nice treat for a Botch-nerd like myself, but to others, they maybe seem slightly repetitive. American Nervoso may be overshadowed by what followed, but it is a spectacular full-length.

Which brings us to the masterpiece: We are the Romans. From start to finish, this album is brilliance. “To Our Friends in the Great White North” opens with its frantic riffings and Verellen’s trademark screams. But the song twists and turns its way through softer and restrained sections, drawing influence from someplace far away from the world of hardcore/metal. “Mondrian was a Liar” echoes back to American Nervoso with its thick baselines and truly powerful drums. This song makes me wish I had one of those booming soundsystems so I could just crank it to eleven. “Transitions from Persona to Object” features some on Knudon’s best guitar work. The breakdown in the first half is unreal and the feedback-fed solo toward the end is something I never heard in this style of music prior.

Botch further their experimentation with the subdued sounds of “Swimming the Channel vs. Driving the Chunnel.” The song highlights the bass playing of Cook; simplistic drumming and a basic guitar-line is played while Verellen speaks softly. It’s a whole other world, and yet it works so well. “C. Thomas Howell as the ‘Soul Man’” rips from the get-go; another punishing assault of previously unimaginable riffing; the drumming in the outro to the song is just as phenomenal.

The album serves up one fantastic song after another; going into detail really is almost pointless. So let’s just skip to the final cut, “Man the Ramparts,” which I still think is a great song title. The song is comprised of repetitive sequences of slow and brooding Neurosis-esque segments interspersed with more-typical Botch choruses. The Gregorian-inspired chants that close the album out seal the deal on what is one the most musical diverse hardcore records. It’s doubtful I’ll ever hear an album as influential as this in my lifetime.

Included in this reissue is a second disc of goodies totaling eleven tracks. The first seven are demo versions of songs from We are the Romans. These songs showcase a less glossy version of the band, with the sound falling someplace between the end product and a really good live version. Some of the arrangements of the songs are also different in placement and length, and there is some in-between banter by the guys that makes for a good chuckle. The last four cuts are from a live recording; we get two songs from We are the Romans, one from the previous outing, and “Vietmam” from the band’s posthumous EP, An Anthology of Dead Ends.

So there you have it, a trip through the career of Botch. I did my best, but honestly, my words do this band and their recordings little justice. Botch is a band that needs to be listened to. So purchase a copy of each of these recordings, as well as their EP. And you can also purchase their live CD/DVD, 061502, which was a recording of their final show. No collection should be without Botch.

Unifying Themes Redux: 8.0
American Nervoso: 9.0
We are the Romans: 10.0

9.0 / 10Michael
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