Wallowing in hopelessness isn’t always healthy, but as long as there’s labor that’s not properly compensated, sometimes it’s all you can do. In the right light, it can even feel great. Boston’s Grief trafficked in overwhelming negative feelings with their particular strain of sludge metal in the ‘90s, especially downtrodden even amongst their contemporaries like Eyehategod, Buzzov*en, and the punkier but ultra-despondent Dystopia. There’s an attractive quality in going all-in on self-annihilation, and their monolithic riffing is the only thing that could match such despair. Though criminally ignored in their existence – the Northeast didn’t quite take to the sludge’s dirge like the South and Southeast did – it’s fitting that their most celebrated track is “I Hate the Human Race.” Says it all.
In 2014, two former Grief members – guitarist Terry Savastano and drummer Chuck Conlon – got together as Come to Grief, named for their past group’s debut album, and brought in Jonathan Hébert as their lead vocalist and second guitarist. While the group have released a series of EPs and singles since their inception, growing upon Grief’s more miserable than thou sound and aesthetic, When the World Ends, which was released last Friday through Translation Loss, is their proper full-length debut. A life mired in misery had only made them stronger, as tracks like the title track and “Life’ Curse” are some of their most pummeling. Their anger towards everything feels even more all-consuming – it says something that their sort of music not only still has an audience, but still resonates. Where have we gone in 30 years? Even Converge vocalist Jake Bannon, someone whose whole aesthetic is perseverance and obliterating obstacles, guests on two tracks – the aforementioned “Curse” and “Bludgeon the Soul.”
We spoke with the band – mainly Savastano, but Hébert and Conlon pop in as well – when they were traveling to Philadelphia on their recent tour with Eyehategod, Escula Grind, and Bat. You can read more below.
SPIN: After a series of EPs and singles, why now a full-length?
Terry Savastano: We had a lot of touring and gigs schedules happening every time we wanted to record a full-length – we ended up getting really good offers to play live so it would get pushed back. As a result, we ended up doing EPs and singles and stuff like that. With COVID, we actually had time to sit down and get our act together and do the whole album. We’ve had the album written for a long time, it was just a matter of getting together and rehearsing it properly and recording it.
Jake Bannon from Converge appears on “Life’s Curse” and “Bludgeon the Soul” – how did you get him to appear on the album.
Savastano: We recorded it at GodCity Studio [in Salem, Massachusetts] with [Converge guitarist] Kurt Ballou, and long story short, I’ve known Jake since he was very, very young. He comes from the same neighborhood that I do, almost. I’ve watched Converge become this gigantic, huge band and be very successful. I’ve always been really, really happy for ‘em. I figured if we were recording at GodCity I might as well ask him if he wanted to lay down some backing vocals and he was more than happy to do it. The end result is pretty awesome.
“Life’s Curse” is very Grief-y – what drove that song?
Savastano: Breaking my ass at work and being kind of a miserable person and being prevented from doing what I’m doing right now. I’m on the road with my brothers, I’m playing music every night and that’s what I wanna do, man. I gotta work a stupid job – actually it’s not a stupid job, I like my job, but I like playing music better. “Life’s Curse” is just me, man. I’ve always been pretty lonely and kind of isolated, I suffer from anxiety and depression – life kind of is a curse in a lot of ways, but playing music kinda quells that.
It says something that you’ve been playing this sort of music for a while and it still connects – don’t know what exactly that says about where we are as a people.
Savastano: I have to play this music, I have to do what I do, it’s very therapeutical to me, man. If I didn’t play this music and live this lifestyle, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. This is what keeps me going, man. I don’t like a lot of other things – I don’t like sports, I don’t have children, I don’t do a lot of stuff normal people do.
In “Scum Like You,” who is the scum?
Savastano: I’ll tell ya, it’s becoming a popular song. We’ve incorporated it into our live set and people really start moving to it. “Scum Like You” is just [about] people I’ve dealt with in the past. No naming any names or nothing, man, but I’ve been treated kinda shitty by certain individuals and I try to get it out through music, that’s all. It’s not a revenge song, this whole thing is not like revenge or anything like that. I’m doing it because I love it, I [couldn’t] care less what other people do, if people want to drink every day and shit their livers out and smoke crack, they can do it. I don’t do it no more, I just want to concentrate on my music and my art and my career and that’s that. It’s got some pointed words in there, ha. Let it out, I’ve finally let it out after a long time.
Grief’s “I Hate the Human Race” was something of an anthem for them. Could you see “Scum Like You” getting to a similar place?
Savastano: That would be great, man. I’m really astounded by the response that we get to certain songs. I put a lot work into that song, there’s a few different changes and a few different time signatures, whereas “I Hate the Human Race” in my opinion is quite simple, it’s only like a couple parts. If people like it a lot, a song like that, and it does become an anthem for us, I couldn’t be happier man, seriously.
What’s the shittiest job you’ve ever had?
Savastano: Actually, the job I’m working now is fantastic. I work with a very, very good friend of mine printing t-shirts. It’s cool, but in previous jobs – I was in the offset printing industry for 30 years and it sucked really bad. It broke my ass, and I really developed a lot of hatred for fucking people and money in general through that. But what I do right now is cool, I listen to music all day and smoke weed and print t-shirts. Printing shirts for bands – how cool is that? It can be busy, it can be taxing – I’ve worked at Sears and Roebuck when I was a kid and that was a horror show, man.
Jonathan Hébert: I rode a four-wheeler on the side of the highway picking up litter before the mowing crew came along. That was fuckin’ shitty.
Jonathan, what got you into Grief?
Hébert: As a fan, it was something that I heard that was something so different from a lot of other stuff that was out there – that really resonated with me. Later, when I met Terry and we became friends, I heard there was a conceptual new version of Grief, it was like – “can I really do this?” And honestly, when I started doing it, it fit like a glove. This was tailor-made for me. I’ve had my own issues with fuckin’ anxiety and depression and shit like that – lyrically, it made a lot of sense, but even musically, stylistically, this was something I feel like makes sense to me. I was happy to be welcomed into the fold by Terry.
Going back to Converge – they were a band who were both in the hardcore and metal worlds and brought them together. Was their sort of cross-pollination important to y’all?
Savastano: It’s huge, it’s super important. Do you really want to see five slow bands in one show, or five hardcore bands in one show? Variation is important, cross-pollination is super important. We listen to it all, and it all comes from the same place whether it be fast, slow, technical, basic – it’s all aggressive, it’s all from the heart, it’s all passion.
Hébert: I spent a lot of time when I was younger at hardcore shows, so I speak for [all] of us that we had Jake on record because we’re Converge fans.
Chuck Conlon: Some of my friends live with Kurt back in the day and I was also from that same general area. I was, oh god, I would say 17 – I grew up in Salem, New Hampshire – and I put a show together, it was Convege, Cave In, Bane, Piebald. I was putting shows together with these dudes when they were young, and I looked up to them. You look at what they did and you see these guys put the work in. Personally, having someone like that on the record for me – what an accomplishment. If I die tomorrow, I could lay in my deathbed and think “damn man, that’s pretty cool.”
That leads me to ask about the last song on the record, “Death Can’t Come Soon Enough.” What’s going on with that one?
Savastano: That’s my death knell, just can’t take it anymore, end of everything. It’s a cry for help, I’m not gonna like to you man, I just express my feelings though music. I have a really hard time being a manic depressive sometimes it’s, uh – no one will listen, you can’t talk to anybody, even the people closest to you. I just wrote a song about it to try and let it out through the music and the words. In my opinion, I definitely accomplished it. The subject matter can be kind of a bummer, in a sick way I apologize to certain people but at the same time I don’t because, once again, it’s very necessary. I have to do this, I have to purge the shit out of my life, out of my soul, and playing this music and writing these words does that for me. It’s a total descent into hell not just for me but for the whole world.
When the world dies, we won’t have metal, so live it up while you can with these new releases…
Gospel – The Loser (Dog Knights)
New York quartet Gospel may be one of the ultimate “IYKYK” bands – you’ve either never heard of them or herald them as underground brilliance. 2005’s The Moon is a Dead World was a beautiful, rushing head-on collision of prog, hardcore, black metal, one of those sublime fusions where technical know-how and batshit energy work together. 17 years later, their second album The Loser shows a little wear due to the passage of time, but is just as exciting as its predecessor. Most notably, keyboards get a real shine here – hardcore does need more organ, it turns out. Gospel are a Northeastern Cynic, who released an iconic (if misunderstood, or in Gospel’s case, majorly slept-on) debut thought to be their lone statement, but are now enjoying a well-deserved second run.
Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses (Debemur Morti)
Blut Aus Nord’s latest album is the foil to their last one, Hallucinogen, taking its psychedelic euphoria and running it through the industrial nightmare of The Work Which Transforms God. It’s as pleasure-seeking as its predecessor, just more malevolent. With mastermind Vindsval looking backward (and still obliterating every black metal traditionalist) with his Forhist project, it’s welcoming to experience a still-vital Blut Aus Nord.
Skullshitter – Goat Claw (Self-released)
“I would NEVER listen to a band called Skullshitter,” says the fool. “I totally listen to a band called Skullshitter,” says me (and hopefully, you), the genius. New York’s most demented grind trio returns with their second full-length, as absurd and abrasive as their name suggests. Exit-13 would appreciate their “Smoke Break,” a hazy lounge detour from an album that’s a hellacious Suffering Bastard.
Tzompantli – Tlazcaltiliztli (20 Buck Spin)
Xibalba guitarist Brian “Bigg O)))” Ortiz unleashes colossal death-doom with Tzompantli’s debut album, inspired by indigenous Mesoamerican culture. “Eltequi” most prominently features indigenous instrumentation, the percussion especially ramping up Ortiz’s already formidable riffing. There’s absolutely no shortage of heaviness here, but closer “Yaotiacahuanetzli” is the record’s punishing track, a rawer take on diSEMBOWELMENT’s maudlin, creeping slowness.