The Lazarus Pit: Drowningman’s ‘Busy Signal at the Suicide Hotline’

Welcome back to The Lazarus Pit, a look back at should-be classic records that don’t get nearly enough love. Today we’re looking at Drowningman’s 1999 full-length debut, Busy Signal at the Suicide Hotline.

It was a good time for metalcore, and it was a good time for Hydra Head Records; the more forward-thinking bands of this ilk were all converging around the label, putting out extremely quality releases that did everything right, from the artwork to the runtimes. And Busy Signal at the Suicide Hotline most certainly gets everything right, even though it’s not talked about as much as your We Are the Romans or your Jane Does. I mean, because it’s not as brilliant as those records, sure, but it’s good, real good, and as the years go on and as metalcore spun itself out of relevance, this record has actually got better.

Opener “Condoning the Use of Inhalants” immediately sets the tone with noise-rock-influenced metalcore, angular and sharp, like a more antisocial and punk Botch. The riffs cut, cut, cut, the energy massive, carrying right over into rager “High School Slow Dance,” which continues the forward momentum, the almost singular approach in destruction.

The title track has a bit of rawk swagger, and “Sadder than Saturday” adds in some hoary clean vocals, which work in their sincerity, although they may not exactly croon us to sleep. But I like that: there’s nothing wrong with a good cop who ain’t quite right, a bit of unease and grit scaled down beneath the melodies. That ages a lot better than most.

“Mail Order Kidney” kicks off the second half of the album with some atmosphere and mood, the band channeling early Neurosis through Deadguy. “Trouble Breathing” has some songwriting finesse and more of those ugly clean vocals, which I like. The song uses metalcore’s cut-and-paste approach to great success, the quiet part midway creating great atmosphere and tension.

“Supermarket Riot” is almost memorable, and “Clothesline” is a quick punk stormer to end things off, a nice change from most metalcore album closers. It’s a twist and a surprise, and it shows Drowningman’s more visceral and hardcore side very nicely. Great way to close off the record.

Drowningman are maybe remembered a bit more for what they weren’t: not as memorable as Botch, not as earnest as Converge, not as tech as DEP. But the band regardless carved out their own niche with this record. And let’s go back to that earnest comment: like a lot of bands of the era, there’s a sense of “hiding behind snarky song titles” even though it’s very honest music, and it is. You can’t fake this stuff.

This record, which was remastered and reissued in May by Iodine with two bonus tracks, was one of those perfect packages with presentation, production, eight short songs in and out, just a fantastic release all around, the kind of thing that gets you really excited for an upcoming split 7” with a fancy glossy cover and no insert (if you know, you know, and I think I do).

Nice work, Drowningman: All these years later, we’re still getting the busy signal, and we’d have it no other way.