GUITAR: KEVIN CONWAY
BASS: ROLANDO ALVARADO
DRUMS: SETH RHEAM
RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 31ST (DIGITALLY)
Let’s go back to high school. Specifically, 2002, when I was a junior in high school and I was just getting into heavy music. I was introduced, via the one online blog I followed religiously (what a fool I was to think ThePRP would never betray my trust), to a New Jersey-based band called THE POSTMAN SYNDROME. Trying to describe the music of that band is still pretty much impossible; they were metal, prog, hardcore, rock, emo all stripped of the flaws of those genres and woven into a perfect tapestry. They put out one album, a concept album called ‘Terraforming’ and broke up due to the exit of a founding member, reforming under a different moniker (DAY WITHOUT DAWN) and releasing a volume of music before breaking up again for the same reason. Upon their second collapse, two core members of the band teamed up with a local New Jerseyite named Kevin Conway to form BICLOPS, a much heavier and less melodic manifestation than their prior forms. BICLOPS eventually became EAST OF THE WALL when an ex-bandmate rejoined and the group reestablished their former melodicism, resulting in the EAST OF THE WALL we know now and, ironically, doesn’t sound too radically different from THE POSTMAN SYNDROME.
But BICLOPS was too fierce and too much of a bastard to disappear entirely, thus EL DRUGSTORE, a side project of EAST OF THE WALL. The trio, containing two members of EAST OF THE WALL, is clearly influenced by THE POSTMAN SYNDROME’s longtime New Jersey associates DYSRHYTHMIA, as they forgo vocals in favor of instrumental dynamics, as well as balancing technical prowess with song dynamics. In fact, upon listening for the first time to EL DRUGSTORE, I wondered if DYSRHYTHMIA’s prolific guitarist and producer Kevin Hufnagel wasn’t overseeing the production of their album but, as near as I can tell, he and his band are just a big influence, though it turns out that their album’s mixer/masterer is also in a band that played with/was influenced by Kevin and DYSRHYTHMIA.
So how does this band stand apart from their influences? Well, the most notable difference is their aggressiveness. Where DYSRHYTHMIA (and their peers) tend to constantly shift between driving, heavier parts and lighter, more melodic elements, EL DRUGSTORE buries their hooks and cleverness in churning noise and relentless rhythm. There are so few slow/soft parts, I’m having a hard time just remembering if there even are any off the top of my head. I’m sure there are but I’m definitely second guessing that assumption, that’s how uncompromisingly intense this band is.
Fortunately, they’re also aware that this intensity comes with the burden of keeping the brutality from getting tedious and have compensated appropriately. Of note is the unusually prominent bass guitar; distinctive tone aside, it openly bombards the listener with acrobatic drills, head-spinning fret-dancing and often growling right into the middle of the mix with menacing loudness. Rarely do I hear a band this technical put this much effort into making the bass a prominent part of the overall sound. But then, it turns out EL DRUGSTORE is a three-piece so it makes sense that they utilizes all three of their instruments to their fullest. In fact, there a moments, especially during songs like ‘Enthusiastic Corruption of the Public Good’ where I hear the distinctive chug and raw ferocity of noise bands like UNSANE and KENMODE.
The band’s other surprising trait is their ability to assimilate techniques and styles from other genres seamlessly into their own compositions without tonal dissonance. There’s a bit of MESHUGGAH’s hypnotic, sinuous sweeps as well as their signature off-kilter timing and syncopation, but the feral noise they infuse into that style creates something fresh in instrumental metal. Sometimes they collectively lock onto a slick groove that echoes the squall of COALESCE but that always gets distorted into a face-melting riff evocative of BOTCH. There’s even some BUCKETHEAD guitar insanity in there, popping out at you with bold shredding. Nothing is off limits.
This is definitely a band that doesn’t have much patience, much to the benefit of anyone hungering for a genre-smashing metal band that isn’t too self-involved to forget about actually writing good music, because most of what EL DRUGSTORE brings to the table is brilliantly constructed. They do give their listeners a minute or so to breath throughout the album, which does seem a bit out of place on the whole but actually fits in nicely with those particular songs. The thing I love the most about this album is that you can put it on shuffle and it feels like a fresh album each time, simply because there is so much happening throughout that it’s going to be a long time before I know what’s coming at any given time.
So yeah, for a connoisseur of the cross-pollinated, this album is a thrill a minute. If you’re not prepared for the onslaught of twists and turns, you’ll be left in the dust by ‘Plague Ships’. But if your palate is bored and needs something spicy, you can’t go wrong with EL DRUGSTORE.