Monday, 16 September 2013

Fumble - Scream

Compared to other cities across the USA and the rest of the world, the D.C Hardcore punk scene was remarkably diverse. As Hardcore evolved over the 1980's it became known for its strict do's and don'ts. Despite the early non-conformist attitude, by the mid 80's in order to gain acceptance from the audience, bands needed to look and act a certain way. Of course, telling this to musicians is like showing red to a bull. One of the most ferocious, and most influential DC hardcore bands, Bad Brains had begun to diversify their sound pretty early on. Incorporating their Rasterfarian beliefs as well as elements of heavy metal to their sound, they sounded like no-one else before or since. After Minor Threat, one of the bastions of Hardcore and a genre defining act, broke up, frontman Ian McKaye formed Fugazi. Gone was the punishing, rapid bombardment of his previous band, replaced with a far more considered, artful and just as effective attack. Even Black Flag in LA (featuring DC expat Henry Rollins) had stuck their fingers up at Hardcore's expectations, grown their hair long and slowed their music to a deadly, creepy, crawl.

Just as these other bands had, DC's Scream had taken on influences that were far more wide ranging than just punk. Signed to McKaye's Dischord Records in 1982, the Stahl brothers had formed the band along with Bassist Skeeter Thompson and drummer Kent Stax. By the time they recorded their second album in 1984, Scream had already become aware of the limitations of Hardcore. Adding Robert Lee Davidson, a local guitarist with a heavy metal background, gave them a thicker, heavier sound and allowed for solos, duel lead guitar lines and other elements that were, up to this point, impossible. 1986's Banging The Drum, the first full album with two guitars (and on one track a Keyboard) showcased the band's shift into what would be eventually known as Post-hardcore. Kent Stax left the band soon after the album was recorded and was replaced by a local drummer, who by all accounts was Scream's biggest fan.

Having released a split EP on Dischord with his band Mission Impossible and recorded a few demos and the I Scream Not Coming Down album with the wonderfully named Dain Bramage, the band's new drummer was not a totally unknown entity. However at the time of recording No More Censorship (released on Reggae label RAS) in 1988, the name Dave Grohl meant little to people, even within the DC scene. Grohl had impressed Scream with his drumming as well as his knowledge of their catalogue and had abandoned high school in order to tour with the band. By the time Scream had entered Inner Ear Studios in Arlington to record the demos that would become Fumble in 1989, they had toured the world and recorded a live album with their new drummer but Davidson had left.

Fumble is a natural progression for Scream. Taking the elements that had introduced themselves on Banging the Drum and No More Censorship the band had all but left hardcore behind. That said, “Caffeine Dream” does its best to dispel that theory immediately with its hacking cough at the start, fast, chugging guitar riff and cymbal and snare drum beat. But the even this echo of Scream's past has slithers of the new approach. The guitar solo at the end is an almost perfect set up to the guitar riff at the the very start of “Sunmaker”. Franz Stahl's last note hangs in the air as Grohl's drum line builds itself in the empty space. The thudding chords, dramatic vocal style and slide guitar solo on “Sunmaker” owe a far bigger debt to bands like Led Zeppelin than to The Ramones.

“Mardi Gras” is the low end's chance to shine. Franz Stahl's guitar riff is repetitive, trebely and mixed fairly far back, giving it an almost etherial feel, so Skeeter Thompson's rumbling bass line, punctuated by the occasional high note is where the ear is drawn to. Complemented solidly by Grohl's thumping floor tom and kick drum. Peter Stahl's vocals are a mix of his dramatic approach from “Sunmaker” and an almost snotty punk style of signing that work as a perfect metaphor for the albums overall tone.

“God's Look Down” is the only track on the album where Grohl takes lead vocal duties and from what I can tell, it's the earliest released recording of his singing. The track itself is led by its dark, brooding guitar riff. Downtuned and resonant, it lurches along giving a feeling of foreboding to the song. Grohl's now familiar vocals sound identical to his tone on the first Foo Fighters album, however “God's Look Down”, though melodic, is a far more sullen song than anything from his later catalogue.

Side A of the vinyl version ends with an instrumental called “Crackman”, one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. The atmospheric, almost spooky bass and drum intro, is littered with heavily reverberated guitar feedback and the occasional squeak of a hand brushing against guitar strings. The track builds over a minute or so and by the time its at full force, you realise that you've forgotten that there isn't any vocals. Franz Stahl's layers of guitar noise over the top of Thompson and Grohl's solid and dependable rhythm section are so expressive and enveloping that theres no need for a vocal melody. The guitar interacts with itself in such a way that you can hear new undercurrents to it with each listen. Inexplicably, Crackman was removed from the CD release of Fumble and doesn't appear on the reissue CD either.

Gas” could easily be a song recorded in the years immediately following the recording of Fumble. If it had been recorded in 1992 then it could've been argued that Scream were jumping on the grunge band wagon, instead of pre-dating it.

Though it was recorded in 1989, Fumble didn't see the light of day until 1993 when Dischord released it. The album was recorded essentially as demos at a time when Scream were between labels and just before things came to a crashing halt. Thompson had become increasingly unreliable, with the band having to replace him several times in 1988 when he didn't show up for various commitments. Eventually, during the band's 1990 tour of North America, he simply disappeared. The band were in disarray and to top it all off, stranded in Los Angeles with no money to get home. It was while the band were staying in LA that Grohl received a tip from Buzz Osborne of The Melvins that a Seattle band called Nirvana were looking for a drummer and had been very impressed by him when they saw Scream play. After a couple of phone calls Grohl left LA and Scream behind. With two members gone and just the Stahl brothers left, Scream was over.

The story of Dave Grohl after Scream is a well documented one that needs no explanation here. As for the other members of Scream, the Stahl brothers formed Wool and by 1997 both were involved with the Foo Fighters. Peter as road manager and Franz as a second guitarist. Thompson reappeared and has continued to play in bands around DC and in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1993 there was a brief reunion tour behind the release of Fumble, which Dischord records had put out, but Grohl's commitment to Nirvana prevented things going any further. The original line up of the band has reformed several times in the last few years to play a handful of shows around the DC area.

When one member of a band goes on to great acclaim, its impossible for his past bands to be mentioned without the source of his stardom being brought up. Unbeknownst to Scream in 1986, their new drummer would bring with him a lot of future weight. So much so that it would come to define their band in the course of history. It seems unfair though to brand a band like Scream as “Dave Grohl's old band”. They were a band before Grohl and one that should be defined by it's own merits and albums. I think if that were to happen, then history would look kindly on Scream.

Note: This is the repackaged version of Fumble that includes Banging The Drum, Screams previous album for Dischord. Tracks 1 to 9 are from Fumble.

No comments: