The Primal Heart of Humanity: Metallic Hardcore Supergroup Tooth and Claw Tap Transcendent Heaviness on “Kiss of Night”

Photo: Reid Hathcock

When Tooth and Claw — the new metallic hardcore outfit featuring the ridiculously stacked lineup of Scott Crouse (Earth Crisis), Daniel Austin (Die Young), James Chang (Undying, Catharsis, Sect), and Cameron Joplin (Magnitude) — warned they’d be “exploring new realms of aggression,” it wasn’t the usual heavy metal hyperbole: The quartet naturally synthesizes the unique extreme music elements the band members separately conjured into existence with their past work and condenses it into an intense, vital, highly combustible new compound — think Gomorrah’s Season Ends meets circa Wolverine Blues Entombed meets the most grind n’ groove eras of Obituary meets Paradise Lost meets…well, suffice it to say Tooth and Claw packs a lot of different strains into its infectious and deadly sonic virulence.

There’s a real force multiplier vibe here. The stuff, simply put, slays.

And today we’ve not only got an exclusive stream of the song “Kiss of Night,” but also an interview with Crouse and Austin about the intent, actualization, and attack of Tooth and Claw — enjoy!

We should probably start with the origin story. The initial note about the band’s formation says it came together “during the shelter-in-place orders of Spring 2020,” but obviously you all are active in adjacent or overlapping areas of the greater extreme music ecosystem. I imagine there’s a preexisting mutual respect. Is this a collaboration that’s been germinating for awhile? Or was it a spontaneous creation of recent circumstance?

SCOTT CROUSE: The idea for this has been kicking around in my head for some time now. I had been working on some music that didn’t really have a home so I asked Daniel if he’d be interested in helping me create one. I’ve known him for a while, he was actually Sect’s booking agent and we had also played shows with his band Die Young. I was always really impressed with him live and on his bands recordings, so some time ago I mentioned that I’d like to do something with him if he was interested. Thankfully, he was. Cameron had filled in on drums for Sect a few times, and he’s a fantastic drummer and just all around fun person to be around. Since I met him I’ve wanted to officially play with him in something. What to say about James Chang? As far as I’m concerned he’ll be in any band I ever play in going forward. He’s a great friend and musician and we are on the same page when it comes to most things. Plus he brought me a donut last night, and really that’s all it takes for me to like you.

This pandemic situation really gave it the nudge we needed and, I suppose, if there’s one positive thing to say about this turbulent time we are living through, it’s that hopefully some really creative music and art will come from it?

Did the Tooth and Claw context allow you to liberate any artistic impulses you’ve previously not been able to get out? How do you see it fitting into your larger bodies of work? I mean, if you think like that at all…

CROUSE: I don’t like to think of Earth Crisis and Sect as being boxed in by their genres, but I suppose they are to an extent, and I certainly follow some “rules” when writing for them. This is basically stuff I write that is more geared toward a selfish expression than written with 4 other people’s opinions in mind. I think people familiar with Earth Crisis and Sect will hear things in here that certainly could have worked for those bands, but as a whole it has it’s own vibe I hope.

DANIEL AUSTIN: Scott and I discussed from the start how we wanted this band’s work to be interpreted, especially compared to the bands we are better known for playing in. Were we going to a mission/message-oriented band like our other bands? Or were we simply going to explore other kinds of terrain? We were both leaning naturally in the direction of wanting to make something more “primal” that went below, above, and beyond any kind of political or message-oriented themes. After all, we’ve done all that before — for decades — so we didn’t want to be redundant or try to make this band the new version of Earth Crisis or Die Young. We want those bands to remain what they are forever, because they are so important to us as they are. Tooth and Claw is something else, even if you can recognize familiar touches of those bands in the riffs or vocals of Tooth and Claw.

For me personally, I don’t think I’ve written lyrics in a band that wasn’t involved in some kind of “call to action” type approach. I mean, that’s usually what hardcore and punk are, but Scott and I agreed this band would be more metal, so in a sense Tooth and Claw is meant to be more illustrative than instructional. More portrayal, less call to action. More personal interpretation, less dictation in a “movement” sort of sense.

I recall an old interview I read with Neurosis decades ago in which they talked about wanting to get to the primal heart of humanity, and how that meant transcending politics through communion of universal human experience. Granted, I am paraphrasing what I recall from that interview, but it’s something Neurosis has definitely done via singing about archetypes and spiritual experience filtered through human consciousness — much in the way Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung talked about those subjects — only set to ambient metal music. That kind of conceptual material, by nature, to me, is fucking heavy even without heavy music behind it, and when I laid it out in that kind of way to Scott, he said he thought that sounded like a good fit for this band. So that’s what I went for lyrically, and so far I am really enjoying this kind of approach. I like this new experience of being able to leave what I am writing about more open to interpretation for the listener at this point in my life.

Is there any overarching theme to the lyrical end of the band? If so, does that relate to the band’s moniker?

AUSTIN: I worry about giving too many puzzle pieces away here, but Tooth and Claw — the name itself — is a reference to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam A.H.H,” which was written as a requiem to a friend and reflected a lot on mortality and the innate cruelty of nature, among other things. I wanted to explore the paradoxical nature of humanity–our simultaneous abilities to love and hate, to wear masks of civility yet quickly unravel into throes of violence, or our ability to technologically create a world of unforeseen comfort yet be more anxious and riddled by the fear of death than perhaps ever before. With all of this comes never-ending struggles for power in all kinds of relationships–between tribes and societies, all the way down to our families and most personal relationships. We fashion ourselves as moral creatures so we can try to sleep at night, but even these days, with what the world is going through socially right now based on themes of race, class, and economics, the tension never ends. In some ways it feels as bad as it has ever been to be conscious and alive. Every group and every person is more or less forced by the game of evolution to try to get one-up on someone else, as if we’ve all been thrown in a thresher trying to reorganize the hierarchies we live in.

And yet, as awful and exhausting as all of that sounds, my intention is to portray something life-affirmative out of all that. This is evolution we’re involved in. It is a collective dream aspiring toward a vision of something greater than what we currently know. It might be blind and amoral evolution, but we’re trying to ascend as a species and hopefully as individuals, in part because it is our only existential option. If we’re not trying to evolve or ascend, personally or collectively, we’re as good as dead. In a lot of ways, what I am writing about in this band is meditation after meditation on aggression, restlessness, upheaval, and the aspiration of establishing new order, and the ways in which this is a story that will never end.

Let’s talk about this track, “Kiss of Night.”

AUSTIN: Lyrically, “Kiss of Night” is about rites of initiation, particularly for young men, but not necessarily just for young men. I just know the audience for aggressive music is overwhelmingly male, and I’m a male, so I figure I don’t have the knowledge or reach to speak of the female experience regarding these things. The masculine or feminine dynamic isn’t as important as the process of individuation that I’m singing about in this one–going through the dark, painful, and difficult experiences that bring you into adulthood, as a self-sufficient, self-sustaining individual. It’s a lot like Batman being forced to go into the cave and face his greatest fears, or very much like how in many indigenous tribes, adolescent boys would be taken from their beds at night and cast out into the wilderness by the village elders. The boy would have to learn to fend for himself in the wild, and if he survived to make it back to the village, he was no longer allowed to live among the children and women as before. From then on he had to assume roles of defense and food gathering for the tribe. There was no going back to the comfort known as a child.

From a modern perspective, this sounds cruel and unjust to do to a child, but given how many people we all know who waste their lives playing video games, riddled by social, economic, and sexual anxiety (and the way everyone’s anxieties seem to be mounting and compounding), I figured romanticizing a return to a more brutish, self-sufficient nature, especially for young men, might be a welcomed discussion these days. The older I get, the more I think there was at least some wisdom in the perceived cruelty and harshness of older men. Personally, I have had these kinds of epiphanies with my own father, and drawing from his experience has helped me get through some recent dark patches in my own life. “Kiss of Night” is about going through the darkness to emerge as a better, more complete self.

We’re all in lockdown still, alas, but how active will Tooth and Claw be when we’re able to leave our houses again?

CROUSE: With music of this genre I think you always envision it in a live setting. With my other bands, the members are all over the country, which makes shows possible, but it can be difficult. This was designed to make life a little easier when it comes to that. The band is all based out of North Carolina, aside from Daniel who is in Texas, so we look forward to playing shows if/when the virus allows it.