About six months ago, the Oakland Metro opera house hosted the Subversion Vol. 1 festival. I was unable to attend any of the three-day festivities, but many of my friends were quick to tell me about a band that opened the second day, an East Bay quartet called the New Flesh. Using various synonyms for the word “dark” while describing them, most of my friends were adamant about this band being cut out for me. They were impressed and their descriptions painted a picture that reminded of Christian Death or Bauhaus.
So I checked out the New Flesh’s new album Reality. The anthemic death-rock title track opens the record and is made with all of the key ingredients of any Batcave classic, with a catchy, chorus pedal bass line and a low, reverb-heavy vocal melody. The eighth and final song on the record is a major-scale Lifetimesque punk song titled “Tainted Eyes.” The dichotomy of those two songs would be obvious if you listened to them back-to-back, but across the six songs in between, the transition through various sub-genre styles is rather seamless.
Deciding which song will end side A and which will begin side B can be a lengthy, meticulous conversation in the practice space. I don’t know how deep this conversation went but the New Flesh made the right decision. Track four, “Only to Fall,” is a great representation of the band: It’s somehow melodic and monotone at the same time, the riffs are slightly busier than the traditional death-rock/post-punk what-have-you, the drums sound huge, and a fadeout is always a graceful side A exit. Then side B opens with “Age of Reason,” whihc is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s more subdued and dancier than most of Reality — just slightly different from the previous four songs — and it serves to keep you interested for the second half of the record.
The sonic aspects of the bass and vocals on Reality absolutely rely on ’80s UK goth for a frame of reference, but the guitars and the drums are far louder and far more heavy than anything that ever came from that scene. I went into the New Flesh with a closed mind and, based on all the hype from my friends, thought I was going to be immersed in nothing but spooky glory. But as I was listening to this record and hearing the Dave Grohl influence on the drums, the big start/stop transitions and driving tempos, my girlfriend hollered out from the other room, “This kind of sounds like AFI.” With that, and as I listened more intensely, I came to the realization that this is as much a straight up rock record as much as it is a death-rock or post-punk record.
Bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division and the Cure created music based on their own set of influences and now artists like the New Flesh are looking to them for inspiration, and instead of looking to what inspired our heroes to make music, we have the music that was current for us when we were growing up. The point I’m making may seem simple and rudimentary, but it explains a lot of what is happening with underground music right now: Dark themes, dark aesthetics and dark sounds abound in artists like the New Flesh, the Soft Moon, Zola Jesus and Pharmakon, but they probably wouldn’t have been able to exist 30 years ago — it would have been out of context. They all needed to hear everything they heard, and see everything they saw, in order to be the artists they are today. On the opposite end of my overly analytical evaluation, artists that wear a few influences heavily on their sleeve and try to sound exactly like other bands are often moot and one may as well just listen to the artist they’re not-so-subtly telling you they’re copying.
So I like the fact that Reality didn’t entirely match up to my expectations. I like that there is a band playing right now that has this dark aura surrounding them, and they play hard and are a lot more abrasive than your average post-punk revival, while not at all being some sort of bluesy bar-rock catastrophe either. I don’t know if Reality will be remembered as an early goth effort by a now rock band or an early rock effort by a now goth band. It may not even be remembered at all. But at least the New Flesh kept me interested for eight songs.