Harshness Descends: Exclusive Brown Angel track premiere + Q&A

Pittsburgh’s Brown Angel have been (on-again, off-again) drowning audiences and listeners with their panic attack-inducing dirges and bedlamite grooves since the trio’s formation in 2005. The band has gone on record stating that your discomfort is precisely their object. Of course a band as challenging as Brown Angel must dwell in obscurity, so don’t sweat it if you haven’t heard of them yet. They don’t even have a Metal-Archives page, despite their being overwhelmingly metallic. But something tells me that all of that–even the lack of a Metal-Archives profile–is going to change with the advent of Shutout, Brown Angel’s third album.

After Brown Angel’s drummer John Roman (see also: Night Vapor, Microwaves) invited me to check out an advanced copy Shutout, I caught up with the band’s guitarist/vocalist Adam MacGregor in some attempt at reconciling what I was hearing. While I was able to remedy the fear that MacGregor, Roman, and bassist Mike Rensland are agents of psychological terror, nothing can abate that iciness in my spine brought on by Rensland’s ponderous bass foundations (as if his basslines are crawling to their death), MacGregor’s pestilence-conjuring riffs, Roman’s refractive percussion–the guy practically does to heavy drumming what Escher did to perspective.

Here’s how the conversation with MacGregor went down. Exclusive premiere of “See That I Am Scourged” to follow.

Shutout sounds like it’s shaping up to be your most aggressive record to date. Would you agree with that?

Yes, and thanks for noticing this – from my end there was definitely an attempt to make this release more of a stripped-back, brief and caustic statement than the slow burn of Agonal Harvest. Shutout is kind of a tough listen. As far as how we employ “aggression,” though, I’d say that Shutout (and our music in general) is a reflection of the kind of private, internal violence that I and many others struggle through – depression, anxiety, spiritual disconnectedness – not as any kind of an invitation to or soundtrack for outward anti-social behavior. What you hear is, for me, perhaps the most personally honest and therapeutic music I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with good friends on in 20+ years. It’s a very similar sentiment to what Justin Broadrick said of Godflesh in an interview years ago, something like “we’re the sound of being crushed, not of crushing others.”

What’s the direction here? What are you guys doing to my mind, I mean?

The ingredients – ’80s and ’90s death metal and grindcore, no-wave, early industrial, post-punk, free jazz, hardcore and noise – have always remained more or less the same, and having three music-obsessed nerds in the band guarantees a lot of exploration among those. Artists like GOD, Ice and 16-17 on Kevin Martin’s Pathological Records label were also hugely influential on our sound. Despite the structural simplicities of the tunes on this new record, we did venture out of our guitar/bass/drums/vocal comfort zone, bringing in some guest performers and using a few new instruments and extended techniques. I guess there really isn’t an overarching directive other than to express ourselves in the context of our sound as effectively and honestly as we can without coming off as trite!

Where’d you guys record?

We recorded at +/- Studio in Pittsburgh’s historic Southside, a neighborhood that remains near and dear to all of us both as former residents and current practice space leaseholders. Co-owner and longtime friend Jason Jouver, best known for his work with Don Caballero and the excellent Creta Bourzia, engineered the sessions. He’s fantastic to work with, puts you right at ease, and always knows exactly the sound that we are going for.

What caused the breakup and what initiated the reactivation?

In late 2007, I took a break from music altogether to study international nonprofit management. We all missed playing together, so toward the end of my grad program, we decided to reconvene. In 2012, my wife took a job abroad, and we threw what was meant as a “final show”. “Agonal Harvest” came out while I was living in Beijing, and the response was pretty good. Plus, just the act of releasing the record got us excited again about the whole process. So, we decided over a series of e-mail conversations that we really didn’t need to be a super-formal “band” in the traditional sense, and that I could work on material remotely, send demos to John and Mike, and just hammer it out together when we get the chance so that everyone’s personal signature winds up on the finished product. Plenty of other bands do the very same thing, and these days a basic recording rig and internet connection eliminates any excuse not to continue if the will is there!

Tell us about this opening track “See That I Am Scourged.”

“See that I am Scourged” developed over a number of years, actually. And it was somewhat of a remote collaboration, since I assembled it piecemeal from components offered by my bandmates. That lopsided 5/4 vamp came from an old practice recording of Mike and John that I made an arbitrary loop of some time ago; I liked the disorienting effect, so it became the bulk of the tune. Our best songs are usually the ones for which Mike comes up with these great, minimal, lumbering bass lines, so I tried to keep his part as dead-simple as possible and see what could develop rhythmically and texturally around it. Eventually, I kind of spun out on that idea and added a few more bass parts, all of his own composition, cribbed from more old practice tapes. Most of the guitar parts were cannibalized from a song that John and Mike put together before we split up in 2012 (and which they later used for a Night Vapor song). Lyrically, it’s an exposé on chronic victimhood: that crippling and self-flagellating pattern of knowing that you need help – yet refusing to pursue it – and instead opting to prolong the suffering. Oh, the free-jazz/violence reeds were piped in by our friends Stephen Roach and Ben Opie, and it pretty accurately depicts the riot scene in my head when I find myself in this state. And again – it’s meant to be an alarm bell, not a romanticization. If songs like these nudge those listeners who empathize toward the self-help shelf, then we’ve done our job.

Shutout comes out October 28th on vinyl from Sleeping Giant Glossolalia. In the meantime, if you’re in the in the area, check out Brown Angel on their impending tour, and jam their back catalog on their Bandcamp.

  • August 11th in Philadelphia, PA @ Connie’s Ric Rac w/ Heavy Medical
  • August 12th in Brooklyn, NY @ St.Vitus w/ Gnaw & Opening Bell
  • August 13th in Baltimore, MD @ Sidebar w/ The Wayward, Blood Rust & more
  • August 19th in Columbus, OH @ The Summit w/ Drose & Muscle Puzzle
  • August 20th in Pittsburgh, PA @ Brillobox for SKULLFEST w/Abysme, Eviscium & more