So last week in my installment of Alive or Just Blogging, I overexplained my love of Overcast. This week’s topic shares a connection to ex-Overcast band Killswitch Engage in that, as I am pretty sure everyone reading this knows that Howard Jones – vocalist of Blood Has been Shed eventually went on to front KsE for several albums, while drummer Justin Foley also joined that band a short time after Jones. By the time Jones eventually left/was ousted after a kind of convoluted scandal involving some internet porn star, I had already stopped paying attention to the arc of his career. That said, I never stopped paying attention to and revisiting Blood Has Been Shed’s first EP – I Dwell on Thoughts of You. It remains one of my favorite brutally heavy releases of the early metalcore period.
Like the other records I have written about for this feature, I was introduced to I Dwell on Thoughts of You in college, sometime in 1998 before it was officially released on Ferret Records and was just basically a demo. This was a formative time for my musical identity, and also happened to be the peak period where metalcore was beginning to really define itself as a subgenre. I remember this band being sold to me by my friend Scott as “so fucking heavy”, after he had seen them play a show in Connecticut with Groundzero. So when I finally latched on to a Blood Has Been Shed cd, I was ready to be punched in the dick with all manner of weighty riffs and pissed off screaming. I Dwell on Thoughts of You totally delivered on my every expectation.
For those who don’t know it, I Dwell on Thoughts of You is one of those heavy records that begins with one of those intros meant to offer a juxtaposition between “beautiful” music, and ugly, greasy hardcore. In this case, the opening track From the Outside begins with a single a cappella female voice singing a part from a famous opera that I can never remember the name of. I didn’t want to spoil it for myself by doing any research to find out the name now, so listen to it and figure it out for yourself I guess. Maybe we will never know. As this intro progresses, the opening riff of the song begins with the operatic vocals drifting on top. Then, Howard Jones steps in and stomps all over the lingering idea that there will be anything else beautiful or melodic about this track like an elephant crushing a butterfly underfoot. The song proceeds from one punishingly heavy riff to another from that point onward in a fashion that eschews technical guitar work and melody in favor of an approach focused on percussive impact and raw aggression.
The songs on the EP basically coalesce around the same formula as the opening track, cementing Blood Has Been Shed’s early songwriting style as a blend of slamming, chunky riffs bridged together with periodic atonal blasts and lightly dissonant guitar lines laid over a mid-tempo rhythm. While this might sound like it lacks some depth, and that insight might even be true, the record still leaves you feeling satisfied. Specifically, songs like Immortal and Purify contain some of the heavier moments on the record and really embody what metalcore was before the mid 2000’s when the genre’s orbit became so eccentric that songs were just massive mosh breakdowns punctuated by soaring melodic choruses and nothing else. The riffs and structures of the songs on this EP are heavier throughout, but not purely focused on just producing a knuckle dragging mosh moment or that singable refrain.
During this era of the band, I saw them live several times. In fact, my friend Sam played bass for a while between the release of I Dwell on Thoughts of You and their subsequent full length Novella of Uriel. Around this time, the dudes in the band were as heavy as the music. I remember seeing them play and just being blown away by how every dude on stage was just a fucking enormous BEAST, with huge bald-headed, pissed off Howard Jones front and center. This imposing and intensely physical live presence dialed the heavy in the songs up to 100, and was totally worth experiencing.
Despite all of the preceeding love I’m professing for this record, make no mistake, there some missteps here – call them indicators that the band had a little bit of room left to mature as songwriters. I find these aspects of the record to be kind of quirky and charming, because in the years after this, most traces of idiosyncrasy and quirkiness got wiped out of the metalcore landscape in favor of polish and the tantalizing possibility of mainstream appeal. Here, there is a little awkwardness that is also a hint of personality. There is, for example a definite overuse of the China cymbal as totally way more than an accent at times. There are also the brief appearances of the early clean vocals of Howard Jones, which somehow on this particular album always remind me of an angry Luther Vandross. But it’s cool, it’s growing pains. As time went on, Blood Has Been Shed evolved, pushing the boundaries of what they began with I Dwell on Thoughts of You and solidifying that sound on Novella of Uriel. Around that time, they recruited Justin Foley, formerly of legendary CT jazz-metal outfit Red Tide on drums. From there they released their last album Spirals, where Foley’s presence is felt in the form of the band taking a turn toward Meshuggah style rhythms and tones and an almost sterile, mechanical feel. Through it all, Howard Jones stays pissed and the band always stays heavy.
Similar to my feelings about Overcast, when I found out that Howard and Justin were joining Killswitch Engage, I was sure that Blood Has Been Shed was essentially over, and I was solidly bummed. Fortunately, I have continued to sadly cling to the past by spinning I Dwell on Thoughts of You on the regular and throwing chairs at the wall. I suggest you come join me ASAP.
In the meantime, check out the JNCO’s and sick mosh from this set they played in Albany, NY at the Axis Skatepark in 1998.