By Sarah Kitteringham
CALGARY — One warm night in March of 2015, the National Music Centre was hosting a heavy bill of Calgary acts as the sun dipped below the horizon. The beer was flowing; the strategically placed driftwood placed outside the venue was artfully beckoning, and the crowd of revellers was burgeoning.
As I entered the doors and walked up the small stairway into the venue, a reverberating wave of chilly rock met my ears. On stage were three musicians; a small television projecting static; a dark blue light that cast in the stage in an eerie glow. This was Calgary act RAW, a minimalist blackened blues band who felt perfectly at home on a bill with Nok Novum, Numenorean, and Witchstone. The act wasn’t metal per se; the aesthetic and atmosphere suggested otherwise. The band had but one demo to their name; the paper fold-over package was earthen and dark, the cover adorned with a crudely drawn image of a man with the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth. As a finishing touch, it was tied together with rough twine, befitting a noose.
The band’s impending full-length perpetuates this grizzled aesthetic. Dubbed From the First Glass to the Grave, it’s scheduled for release in North America on August 12th via Aural Music. The label has also granted them distribution in Europe and Asia. It’s an impressive deal for a band that plays infrequently and boasts less than 400 fans on Facebook.
“Emi, who runs the label, had reached out to us about a year back when he heard our Cigar Box demo on Bandcamp,” begins guitarist and vocalist Roger LeBlanc, who doubles as one of the guitarists for post black metal act Numenorean.
“I recorded the whole thing live on a video camera so as you can imagine we were pretty surprised to hear that he really dug it and asked us if we wanted to sign to the label. We felt that it was the next logical step for us if we wanted to get our music out there beyond our friends.”
RAW’s music is stepped in something that could be pegged as nihilism. Anger, depression and fatalism… they all fit.
“Although the demo is presented in a haze of negativity and regret, I wouldn’t say it is completely nihilistic in nature but more so a slab of skepticism and dire restlessness,” clarifies guitarist Will Wylie.
“The inevitability of death is a constant source of inspiration for myself and ultimately drives me to create something that will guide me towards the unknown and whatever lies beyond the physical plane. I find thinking about death keeps the coals burning in a primitive and creative manner. I would say a huge part of the essence of RAW is keeping that primordial perspective and direction with the music.”
This restless essence permeates all of From the First Glass to the Grave. From the reverberating darkness of opener “Death Waltz,” to the honky-tonk blues stomp of “Chopped Em’ Up,” to the grunge-laden, whiskey-gargling sing-scream echoing throughout, the music seamlessly blends psychedelia with blues and country, occasionally even jumping into heavy metal territory in its raw aggression. Tracks are atmospheric and sometimes meandering, other times dense and disconcerting. It’s comfortably numb and well suited to a visual representation, as it is on the video for “I’m A Shell (But I’m Your Man).” The video for the track has footage culled from gritty post-Vietnam trauma film Combat Shock (1986), released by horror masters Troma Entertainment.
“I wanted to use something that physically represented a place where there is nothing, both in your mind and in your bank account. I wrote ‘I’m a Shell…’ during one of the most traumatic periods of my life and to add on to that I was broke and would literally work jobs with my dad for rich home owners, painting their million-dollar homes and not be paid. They would simply just not pay us. I had so much anger,” elaborates LeBlanc.
“It was around this time that I realized having a hard work ethic is more of a curse than a value in this day and age and having ‘dreams’ is bullshit. I don’t mean that in a defeatist, or nihilistic sort of way, it’s simply faithful realism. I felt I finally saw my existence for what it was. No more childishness, no more false pretense, I killed what I thought about myself and destroyed this juvenile world that I constructed around some ‘deep’ artistic fantasy. I began to simply survive, no matter what.”
As a therapeutic mechanism, the music that RAW has unleashed is deeply calming for its creators and listeners, an exercise in confronting the ugliness in reality.
“Every song is an emotional recall,” confirms LeBlanc.
He concludes, “I use this method to deal with really fucked up situations that I’m going through in my life and death is one of them. I can’t write a ‘happy’ song, but I can find happiness in my ugliness.”
RAW released From the First Glass to The Grave on June 10th in Europe, July 15th in Asia and on August 12th in North America. You can purchase the album online at the Aural Music webstore. The band will be performing an album release party in Calgary at Broken City on Friday, November 4th.AB, Alberta, Broken City, Raw