About halfway through my second year of college, one Wednesday night I found myself climbing out of an elevator that had gotten stuck between two floors of the residence hall I lived in. I was in there with four other dudes, and we had to eventually sort of slink out the bottom of it and drop to the floor below to make our escape. The elevator had become jammed in the shaft and wouldn’t move anymore as a direct result of an impromptu mosh pit that erupted inside because someone had brought a boombox that was blasting the song Bloodshed Rain from Disembodied’s landmark 1998 EP If God Only Knew the Rest Were Dead.
When the jams on a record are SO HARD that they can inspire the wreck of large scale industrial machinery, you know you’re encountering greatness. Needless to say, I continued to spend a good portion of my 20’s getting down to this record in all its simple, satisfying, downtuned glory and I still experience the periodic urge to desk/bedroom pit when it comes on. Disembodied for me has always been like metalcore’s version of pizza – their songs incorporate all the elements I love about the genre in a really gratifying way, and there are no complicated side ingredients to confuse the joys of its flavor.
For the uninitiated, I’ll attempt to explain the virtues of this bad boy. First of all, riffs. The riffs roll and pummel through each song and inevitably slide into a breakdown frequently punctuated with little screes and tweaks of dissonant panic. Everything becomes instantly punchable.
Second, let’s discuss tone. Disembodied arrived for me in an era where essentially the only bands who were tuned low enough to get that ugly, distorted, floppy string guitar/bass tone were nu metal bands that mainly verged on intolerable for me in both their aesthetic and songwriting. I’m thinking of bands like Korn and Coal Chamber, and I don’t care if you like them. When I first heard Disembodied, I caught that guitar tone for the first time being used by the forces of good, instead of abused by twizzlords. This feature of the band is most readily apparent on the song Gone from this EP, which sounds like what would have happened to bands like Korn if they had come up going to hardcore and metal shows instead of hanging out at the mall all day buying the juice you put in your hair to make white boy dreadlocks.
There are three songs on this EP that have always stood out as highlights of Disembodied’s discography to me. The aforementioned Bloodshed Rain and Gone, along with the opening track Heroine Fingers. The latter song kicks the album off with a creepy clean guitar intro dripping with chorus and reverb and a whispered vocal monologue with periodic burst of huge distorted chords that eventually leads into what amounts to a breakdown riff created out of pure tritone dissonance. The entire point of this song seems to be just to pound and slam away in the most brutal way possible, which is an approach that I have yet to find fault with. This song also sets up the burst of chunky guitar that begins Bloodshed Rain. The vocals through the first section of that track alternate between vocalist Aaron Weseman’s two signature styles of pained raspy shout and languid spoken sections. This is one of the key elements that creates a juxtaposition between the band’s downtuned guitar tone and somewhat percussive playing style that brings the more aggressive styles of nu metal to mind and the more legitimately urgent and intense metal and hardcore that informs the other stylistic aspects. I always thought it was interesting that Disembodied was able to keep one foot in both these sounds and come out with a fusion that still knocked me on my ass and didn’t come off as cheesy at all. As discussed previously, the third highlight track Gone is the ultimate manifestation of that idea.
If you know about Disembodied, then you know they broke up a year or so after the release of this EP, after having released a split with Brother’s Keeper and their pretty fantastic full length record Heretic. Bassist Tara Johnson and guitarist Joel Johnson went on to form Martyr AD, whose first record expanded on the sonic legacy of Disembodied. Since then, the band has reunited a couple of times, most recently for the 2017 This is Hardcore fest. They remain one of the more relevant progenitors of the early metalcore sound and an example of an era when hardcore and metal bands were combining many diverse sounds to create something unique. If God Only Knew the Rest Were Dead is for me, one of the most interesting records of the late 90’s and has been a guidepost for many subsequent bands trying to bring the heavy to new lows. If you don’t know about this EP, I recommend you get it now, get some friends, get in the nearest elevator and at about the 2:42 mark during Bloodshed Rain, break it. You won’t regret it.
The 2017 manifestation of the band at TIHC can be seen below via HateFiveSix