Filthy. Horrid. Deviant. Region-spanning five-piece The Disease Concept should be ashamed of themselves for having made Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel – a debut EP not even a mother could love, so encrusted is it with its own nastiness. Of course, that’s the whole idea and the Ohio/Philly/New York fivesome revel in it, but man, this shit is abrasive, taking ethical basis from Ohio’s sludge and bringing it before two well-noted badasses on guitar: Dave “Depraved” Szulkin of Blood Farmers and Tommy Southard of Solace. The Disease Concept’s debut marks Southard’s first outing post-Solace (and, presumably, pre-Solace) and finds the Obelisk contributor’s signature heavy rock shred – see the end of closer “Soboxone Blues (Rock Bottom)” – coupled with the drugged-out psychosis of Ohio’s sludge scene, represented in the band by bassist Chris “Griff” Griffith, drummer Corey Bing and vocalist Jesse Kling, all of whom have been in and out of and around bands like Sollubi, Morbid Wizard and Pennsylvania Connection. The resulting stew doesn’t necessarily belong wholly to one side or the other, but is nonetheless unquestionably toxic. Though his vocals straddle a line between cleaner rhythmic shouts and screaming (skillfully veering to one side or another to add dynamics to the songs), Kling tops songs that masterfully blend abrasion and groove in a manner that stoner rock might have become had prescription narcotics been so readily available in the early ‘70s. Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel (released through Goat Skull Records in a DVD case with art by Scott Stearns) is 29 minutes/five tracks of viciousness that you have to stand back and be impressed by, because your only other option is to be bowled over as it steamrollers its way to the next victim.
The central blend at the heart of what The Disease Concept does on their first outing – put to tape and mixed by Big Metal Dave at Bad Back Studios in Cleveland over the course of three days at the start of this year – is crust and heavy doom grooves. On that level, it might not seem so different from a lot of sludge, but right away, opener “Black Cocaine” distinguishes Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel from a lot of what grows out of Ohio’s formidable and rotten underground. Based around a riff that’s more heavy rocking than dirge-minded (rest assured, that comes later), there’s a straightforward ethic at work underneath all the abrasiveness that’s almost – almost – regarding the listener as something other than an object to be pummeled into the ground. Make no mistake, there’s nothing about the EP that’s remotely accessible, but “Black Cocaine” might be catchy by some alternate universe definition of the word. In any case, Szulkin and Southard represent the Eastern Seaboard well riff-wise, and Bing – who’s proved time and again to be a master of sludge drumming – does no different here, riding out weighted rhythms alongside Griffith’s thick bass, which doesn’t so much undercut the riff that begins “Double Winner” as it does mark the song’s actual beginning when it kicks in with the drums around 45 seconds into the total 7:37 – an appropriate length for a song that’s about as dooming as a plane crash. The opening guitar progression seems initially to have something mournful in common with YOB’s “Catharsis,” but The Disease Concept would only be likely to approach a space influence to stab it in the belly, so the song quickly moves on to more violent territory, Kling recounting a narrative of a woman, “Two black eyes and a bottle of Jack,” in rehab apparently as a “double winner,” i.e. someone in Al-Anon and AA, an alcoholic also affected by someone else’s alcoholism, or as Kling puts it, “She took the pain train/Never coming back/Eighteen days on the detox ward/She tried to walk a straight line/Then she got bored.” So be it. The lyrics might be sympathetic if Kling wasn’t about to call the protagonist a dumb bitch for trying to kill herself.
In any case, the mid-paced doom groove gives way to a more grinding bridge that in turn shifts back into the slower tempo of the intro (though not the intro itself), so “Double Winner” encompasses a lot of what The Disease Concept have to offer stylistically in a not-at-all-neat seven-minute package. Szulkin and Southard manage to work some harmonies into a joint guitar lead at the end of the track and soon “Troublemaker Makes Trouble” and “Undignified Death” take hold to show even more of the malevolence at the heart of Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel. Both songs are a bit over four minutes long, and “Troublemaker Makes Trouble” does well to stand itself out by blending grinding punk with doom and riffy groove, Bing’s blasts dirtying up squibbly guitars and Kling’s accusations of “scumbag!” and “asshole!” The song winds up being one of the strongest on the EP, playing the rawer side of the production to its advantage while also seeming to take something from every side of its influences – punked aggression, stoned riffs, drugged nihilism, etc. – and creative something subversively cohesive from all of it. “Undignified Death” is a bit less accomplished, but also more extreme, with a riff that in another context would be straight-up death metal and Kling’s depravity talking about carving up the young (is he saying “into slaw” there? Either way, pretty fucked up) and so forth, while the guitars wait to unleash layers of righteous soloing. Bing’s snare seems to stand out more in the mix on “Undignified Death” than elsewhere on the EP, but its rawness only feeds the overarching fuckall in the atmosphere, which continues straight into “Suboxone Blues (Rock Bottom),” the nine-minute closer that starts with a sample of what sounds like the band engaging in some sort of chemical misbehavior and moves into the roughest vocal and slowest pace on the whole of Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel.
There’s a slow build, but you almost don’t realize it until the song is over and you search your hazy memory for how far you’ve come. Gradually, The Disease Concept increase the pace of “Suboxone Blues (Rock Bottom)” until by the end of the track, it’s genuinely rocking, but to its credit, the foreboding “wrongness” never disappears no matter what speed the band happens to be playing. I’ve never overdosed, but that seems to be what they’re shooting for here sonically. Southard shreds out as the finale begins its final movement after the halfway point, and it becomes clear one more time that underlying all the nastiness and amoral terrors Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel includes with its havoc, there’s a skillful sense of craft. They’re doing it to turn your stomach, but these dudes are writing songs in the sense of well-structured material all the same. The final lyrics provide the parenthetical title for the closer, “Rock bottom” swirling its way out to finish off the album quickly, and it seems the ride on the pain train has finally come to an end, but the potential for what The Disease Concept can do with its particular and, if I dare say it, unique brand of extremity remains. The fact that Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel was recorded over the course of three days keeps sticking in my head – not because I think they’d be able to expand on their sound so much by taking longer. Quite the opposite. I wouldn’t want to hear them take a month to do a full-length, or even really put out an album that’s more than one or two songs longer than this debut, because I think the time limitation – perhaps aided some by geographic distance – helps force a spontaneity in approach that’s as well met by the band’s aesthetic as the churning riffs are by Kling’s blown-out shouts. This should be as raw as it is, and whatever The Disease Concept does next, if they do anything at all, I hope it stays just as unfriendly. Recommended.
Tags: Goat Skull Records, New York, Ohio, Philadelphia, The Disease Concept