This afternoon, we continue making our own lives that much more difficult with the ongoing practice of ranking the songs that comprise some of the greatest albums of all time; albums previously inducted into our untouchable Hall of Fame. This week, Botch’s metallic hardcore classic, We are the Romans (originally inducted way back in issue #13, which you can buy here).
When We are the Romans originally surfaced in 1999, the terms metallic hardcore and metalcore meant something completely different as Slaughter of the Soul had just started to be discovered and absorbed, but not yet chewed into cud and spit back out, by legions of spacer-and-star tat sporting kids. In fact, I recall a movement to have bands like Botch, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Cave-In, Drowningman, Deadguy, Coalesce, Converge, the National Acrobat and so on, be designated as “noisecore” as a way to separate their new breed of technique, smarts and, yes, noisiness from metalcore’s original rudimentary approach. Botch became further dissected into their own category: ‘evil math rock’ which was actually a pretty accurate descriptor for their circular discordance, clipped staccato riffing, rhythmic pulse and off-center drumming. All of which came to a barrelling head on the band’s second full-length.
We are the Romans is a multi-faceted, dynamic masterpiece; equal parts sophistication, experimentation, infectious hooks, unfettered aggression and, yes, evil math rock. Actually, what’s truly evil is attempting to rank any of the album’s songs above one another. I was totally tempted to throw in the towel on this exercise by declaring ‘all songs tied for first place and second place is that throwaway, dance-y electronic noise bit hidden at the end of the album,’ as any of them could be the album’s best song. But then, you’d have nothing to argue about.
9. “Swimming the Channel vs. Driving the Chunnel”
That this is a mostly instrumental track is probably the only real reason it populates the basement of this list. It may be the proverbial mellow song in the middle, or where you flip the vinyl, but the riff is still one that I can hum off the top of my head to this day. So there.
8. “I Wanna be a Sex Symbol on My Own Terms”
You can’t ignore that repetitive, mechanized guitar part in the middle and how locked in guitarist Dave Knudson and drummer Tim Latona are on the moving palm-muted riffs.
7. “Frequency Ass Bandits”
Probably the biggest and most monstrous sounding riff of the Botch canon. It’s like you’re being crushed by boulder at the same time you’re falling backwards down into the deepest part of the Grand Canyon.
6. “Transitions from Persona to Object”
I’ve always loved how this one bounces back and forth between that unassuming tapping riff and the tremendous athleticism of the meaty main part with slashes of high-pitched guitar and Brian Cook’s steady bass stream offering some friendly violent fun you could actually wrap your ears around.
5. “C. Thomas Howell as the “Soul Man”
Fuck, the way they all come in together like a battering ram at the beginning with Knudson’s sublime sliding riff, the punishing punch of the riff that follows, and the churning feel of the half time breakdown makes this a crowning achievement in Botch history.
4. “Man the Ramparts”
Any song that employs delay samples, an ABY box and Gregorian chants has to rule. Doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure it’s written in the rule books.
3. “Mondrian was a Liar”
Probably the albums’ most aggressive and intense start-to-finish moment. Even that little bass and dyad chord break near the end sounds darker and smells filthier than the crap growing just out of sight in your shower drain.
2. “To Our Friends in the Great White North”
This one hits from the off with some of the fattest and slinkiest guitar work Knudson ever delivered, with the second half laying massive guitars, vocals, effects, double-bass/snare interplay in a ginormous cauldron of doomy goodness for those of you who just can’t hang with doom proper.
1. “Saint Matthew Returns to the Womb”
Colossal riff that balances angularity, crushing tone, ridiculously raspy vocals and a sneaky little rock and roll shuffle. That middle eight breakdown/tempo bump up part is fucking stellar. And if you never got the chance to see this song done live while ducking guitars, flying bodies and accompanied with their homemade light show, you have no idea how much visceral impact this song had and can have, but you can experience it through the magic of the internet below.