Last Tuesday, on August 22, Boston metallic hardcore outfit Trap Them announced a trio of farewell gigs, closing out fifteen years of recording, touring and in-general blowing people’s heads off with sheer sonic force. I’ll be sad to see them go.
The band, masterminded by vocalist Ryan McKenney and guitarist Brian Izzi, released their first studio album, Sleepwell Deconstructor, in 2007. Like all of the band’s releases since, the record was produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou. The ongoing collaboration between Trap Them and Ballou presaged a resurgence of interest in the Boss HM-2 guitar pedal, and its classic Swedish Death Metal chainsaw guitar tone, among hardcore bands.
Trap Them weren’t the first US hardcore band to crank the HM-2, but at the time, few other bands were making the Sunlight Sound a central part of their presentation. They had more than great gear, too. Too often grind and death metal bands perform tones in search of songs. Trap Them could cut a memorable track with less than a minute of music.
I first saw Trap Them in 2011, shortly after the release of their standout record Darker Handcraft. They opened for Converge at Frankie’s in Toledo, Ohio. In that small bar, Trap Them’s set felt like a fusillade of hand grenades, their blasts reverberating off the walls over and over. Hardcore shows in that town at that time could be wet squibs; Nails played the year before to a crowd of three people. Trap Them, though, had the crowd frothing. It was harrowing and fun to see McKenney lean over the packed audience, sneering, screaming, backed by a barrage of tube amps at high volume.
I skipped on seeing Trap Them earlier this year. I had seen a show the evening before and it was a work night, so I figured the band would be back sooner or later. After all, McKenney was gutsy enough to tour Europe while nursing two broken feet. This was an error on my part. Now that one excellent half hour of Trap Them live will be my last with them.
Take it from me: if you ever wonder ‘should I go to this show or stay home?’ the answer is always ‘go.’
This is the ideal time to remember Trap Them’s legacy or, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to explore their recorded output before, enjoy them for the first time. In memoriam, here are their ten most essential songs in order of release.
“Insomniawesome” from Sleepwell Deconstructor.
Trap Them opened their first record, Sleepwell Deconstructor, with a statement of purpose. A rigid midtempo drum rhythm back up one of McKenney’s most furious vocal takes. Few bands sound so completely nasty in sixty seconds.
“They Followed The Scent Of Jihad All The Way To The Thieves Paradise (We Will Bring Our Riot To The Courtyard Of The Cunt Heir To The Throne)” from Sleepwell Deconstructor.
It seems lame to begin this list with the first and then second tracks of the band’s debut LP, but “They Followed the Scent of Jihad…” features an infectious and angular guitar lick that cannot be ignored. It doesn’t sound like anything the band would explore on later records. In fact, it sounds a little like something Kurt Ballou would write. Ballou gets behind the mic on this song and contributed a few guitar parts throughout Sleepwell Deconstructor. For all we know, it really is a Converge riff.
“Wafers and Wine of Sandblasted Time” from Seance Prime.
This cut from Trap Them’s early Seance Prime EP might be their most incessantly violent song. The band went longer and slower after this, for the most part.
“Enders” from their split with Extreme Noise Terror.
Originally taken from the group’s split with hardcore progenitors Extreme Noise Terror, “Enders” compresses all of the blasting intensity of “Wafer and Wine…” into the first twenty seconds of a minute-long track. The breakdown rhythm that drops in at the thirty second mark points to where the band would go later.
“Gutterbomb Heaven on the Grid” from Seizures in Barren Praise.
Izzi and McKenney were the core of Trap Them but they always knew how to play with a great drummer. Mike Justian, formerly of Unearth and The Red Chord, completely sticks the landing on the intro to “Gutterbomb…” He only played on one record but still had the best percussion moment on any Trap Them release.
While the imaginary Greatest Hits album flips, let it be said that Trap Them were genius at song titles. Portmanteaus. Puns. Poison. The band squeezed all of these things into their track lists. In alphabetical order, here are their ten best song titles not belonging to songs in this recap:
“Digital Dogs WIth Analog Collars”
“Every Walk a Quarantine”
“Malengines Here, Where They Should Be”
“Slumcult & Gather”
“Mission Convincers” from Seizures in Barren Praise.
Trap Them made a habit of saving their longest and most melodic songs for the ends of their records. “Mission Convincers” is the best of these. Sludgy and soaked in feedback, it always made me think of a body sinking into tar, both lost and preserved in perpetuity.
“Evictionaries” from Darker Handcraft.
Drummer Chris Maggio brought out the best in Trap Them on their 2011 opus Darker Handcraft. In “Evictionaries” he takes one of Izzi’s most serpentine riffs and enslaves it to an uptempo rock beat. Every piece of this song is a hook. Small wonder that Maggio now plays with metal-adjacent power pop outfit Sleigh Bells.
“The Facts” from Darker Handcraft.
Maybe Trap Them’s finest three minutes is also their most memorable chorus. McKenney claps back at “Where Eagles Dare” by The Misfits while the rest of the band remake Death and Roll in their own image. “I am that goddamn son of a bitch,” he screams, while channeling something much more evil than anything in Danzig’s illustrated imagination.
“Lungrunners” from Blissfuker.
Trap Them’s penultimate LP, Blissfuker tends to run longer and slower than the rest of the band’s work. On “Lungrunners” though, the band picks up the pace with a straight-up D-beat tune. The guitars sound like they’re drums and the drums sound like jackhammers. The brief bass fill at 3:20 is just icing on the cake.
“Revival Spines” from Crown Feral.
Even on their last record, Trap Them never messed with their winning formula. Swedish death metal tones color power chord riffs set to muscular drumming and McKenney barks like a rabid dog on “Revival Spines.” Extra points are awarded for the cleated shoe-to-the-face breakdown around the two minute mark and the equally ignorant skank beat that propels the main riff.