Written by John Angel
Hello to all the wonderful, underground theydies and djentlethems! Today I’m bringing you the fifth installment of The Z-List, a column dedicated to bringing some much deserved attention to the underground of underground music and celebrating the people that make up our small community. We’re after the smallest, most obscure bands and projects that lack institutional support. No label? That’s Z-List. One person band? Z-Lister band. Mainstream music journalists say liking this band is elitist?? Oh baby, that’s the most Z-List of all! Our fifth entry in the Z-List column is an all Canadian affair, featuring three bands from Vancouver and one from Montreal. We have a throwback metalcore quintet, a prog black/death quartet, a hard-charging metallic hardcore trio, and a queer grindcore duo. Let’s dive in!
Blood of the Phoenix – From What We Used to Know
Metalcore from Vancouver, BC
Releases July 2, 2021
Blood of the Phoenix hits so many nostalgia notes for me and I’m sure many others will feel the same. Hailing from Vancouver, BC, the group plays a throwback style of metalcore/metallic hardcore that has me feeling like I’m in high school cranking my car stereo all over again. From What We Used to Know, their debut EP, reminds me of early 2000s titans like Killswitch Engage and Thrice.
Let’s talk about Blood of the Phoenix’s vocalist Jess Escobar. Holy shit does this woman have some pipes and she’s the main reason I decided to cover this release. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the band is amazing, but Jess and her voice are the main draws for me. Her scream is powerful and distinctive, always flirting with a melody, even in her rawest, nastiest delivery. She has the perfect voice to spit out lyrics of loss and healing over the group’s many two-steps and breakdowns. Soaring cleans balance out the aggression for the melodic parts. Her melodies and vocal inflections feel natural and instinctive, like she never knew a life where she couldn’t sing.
As mentioned, the rest of the band is spectacular. Guitarists Bradley Hart and Manny Marwaha provide riffs that excite the listener and wonderfully decorate Escobar’s melodies. Bassist Jade Weekes drives the music forward with thunderous low end. Drummer Nolan Moore keeps everything in a nice rhythmic pocket and provides the perfect accents to the aforementioned riffs.
A self-produced and recorded effort, From What We Used to Know does sound a bit raw but my hat’s off to Blood of the Phoenix for doing everything in house and not compromising on their vision. They’re a band after my Z-List heart. I can’t wait to see what comes next from them!
INCISION – INCISION
Metallic hardcore from Vancouver, BC
Released April 10, 2021
INCISION is not a band to be fucked with. Their self-titled EP is all aggression, groove, and bringing-the-heavy-riff-back-but-slower. Packing a lot of music into less that 10 minutes, this EP leaves you wondering what the hell just happened and desperate for more.
Fans of Sanction, Serration, and Vein will find plenty to love about this record. Blistering riffs and filthy breakdowns are delivered courtesy of guitarist/bassist John Roodenrys (sick name broh). Drummer Jordan Nielson flies over the skins and keeps the rhythm nice and orderly, even as the chaotic arrangements threaten to spin out of control. Vocalist Connor Rasmussen has a scream toan full of vitriol and a stomach-churning low growl.
Displaying diy values we here at the Z-List so love, INCISION kept the entire production, recording, and mixing/mastering process in house with Roodenrys performing the engineering, mixing, and mastering. INCISION sounds fucking amazing btw. Every instrument has the space it needs to breathe but they all gel into a cohesive whole. Roodenrys is only 23 too. I could hardly tell you which was the business end of a mic at 23.
It seems Incision has teamed up with Wretched Records for cassette distribution. We’re not going to shame any bands here for any success they have or for working with a label for distribution. Self-producing a record and using a label to do some distribution is perfectly fine in the Z-List. Success shaming ain’t cool.
My favorite moments on this record are the gradual deceleration of tempo over the second half of opening track “CONTROL” and the panic chord breakdown at the end of closer “RELENT”. Incision is an exciting up-and-coming band and I can’t wait to see what they do on an LP.
JISEI – BAD REPRESENTATION
Grind/math from Vancouver, BC
Released on June 4, 2021
Two-person group JISEI is self-described as “victoria-vancouver math adjacent false grinding queer as in fuck you.” It’s a perfect description of their sound. Consisting of vocalist Leda Paige and instrumentalist/producer/engineer Alexis Page, JISEI lays down a thick wall of unrelenting grindcore on their EP BAD REPRESENTATION.
Vocalist Leda Paige is a staple of the underground music scene in Vancouver. It fronts numerous bands including The Hallowed Catharsis and Explain. It explores intensely personal themes in it’s lyrics for JISEI, including anti-Asian hate, suicidal ideation, gender dysphoria, and how it doesn’t care for fucking horny married men. Paige writes in a raw, straightforward style for this project. There’s no layers of metaphor or ambiguous phrases found here. The vocal delivery moves between frantic yells that convey the dark emotions expressed in the lyrics and deep gutturals that add unnerving accents to the words and music. Paige lays down a brilliant and haunting performance that leaves the listener quite uncomfortable.”
Alexis Page delivers some crushing riffs here and constructs a powerful mix. Of course I’m gonna nerd out on the math elements of the music for a minute. Opening track “HE WAS ASKING FOR IT” is built from one motivic cell consisting of three 8th notes that appears in all the guitar riffs. One way to see the structure of the song is to note when the drums and guitar play a hemiola* against one another and when they both have parts organized into groups of three 8th notes, accenting the rhythmic feel inherent in that meter. Sections featuring the hemiola usually feature the ride cymbal playing 8th notes with the snare on the backbeats. The guitar plays a fill at the end of each riff to make the 3-note cell work within the 4/4 time signature. Sections where the drums and guitar both accent groups of 3 notes tend to have a heavier feel, especially the part with the lyric “I CANNOT RESIST A MAN LIKE YOU”. It’s a really subtle thing to do but one can get a lot of musical mileage out of one simple idea with techniques like this.
Give this record a spin and throw them some money for their efforts. I will be looking into all the groups that Leda and Alexis are a part of. They’re very clearly badasses and more than deserving of the metal world’s attention.
*this is a fancy music theory jargon term that means juxtaposing groups of 2 notes and 3 notes.
Présages – Pleurs
Prog black/death from Montreal, QC
Released on February 28, 2021
Hailing from Montreal, Présages consists of members K (drums), T (vox), C (bass), and J (guitar). They have put out an expansive, atmospheric brand of blackened death metal with their debut Pleurs. You could maybe even add doom into the genre tags here (and they do on their Bandcamp page). Pleurs (which translates to “crying”) is the longest record on today’s Z-List by a long shot, matching this group’s expansive songwriting, and is quite a satisfying listen.
I’m not normally a fan of doom metal that plods along but Présages hits my sweet spot. Epic and grandiose riffs that feel like they stretch out to the horizon are everywhere. And I never get bored of them. Each riff is long enough for me to jam out to but gives way to new material at just the right moment to maintain my interest. It certainly helps that there’s a fair amount of tremolo picking paired with busy drums and some intense, deathy moments.
I want to commend Présages for writing their lyrics in French. Or Quebecois maybe? I’m coasting on my monolingual privilege over here and all the linguistic concepts I’m about to use were hastily googled as I wrote this article. Anyway, as I mentioned in my review for Millstone, I love it when bands sing in their native tongues. For whatever reason, growling with a Quebecois affect produces a super distinct sound, especially when T uses alveolar trills. Alveolar trill is the pretentious term referring to rolling one’s R’s. It’s my understanding that rolling an R in Quebecois happens in the back of the throat, as opposed to many Spanish dialects where it happens at the front of the mouth. However they do it, T’s rolling interacts with their growls in a really cool way – often it sounds like they spit the word from their mouth in disgust. Again, amateur linguist here, but I’m ready to crown Quebecois as the most brutal dialect I’ve ever heard.
Pleurs is quite the ambitious and expansive record. It will prove a great listen to anyone who likes epic riffs mixed with dark atmosphere.