Love led me to a thicket of IVs
Where bristling needles thirsted for each vein.
--Charles Baudelaire, "A Fountain of Blood"
Slowly we peel away the layers
And the light seeps through the cracks.
You whispered softly in my ear,
'The birth of morning's upon us, dear.'
The bandages fell upon the floor
And there was no one in that room.
It's quiet down the hallway
Where doctors wash their hands.
Behind my eyes I feel the hollow jabs
Of your morphine kiss. Your anesthetic
Voice is autographed upon my bones.
--The Bled, "I Never Met a Gemini"
The Bled isn't the first post-hardcore outfit to use the hospital experience as a metaphor for failed intimacy. However, this slouching gaggle of 20-something Tucsonans does it well enough to make other aggressive bands look downright inarticulate by comparison.
Indeed, there's violent poetry in the lyrics, as well as in The Bled's samurai-sword guitar attack. Forget about Uma Thurman's decapitating blade in the ultra-violent Tarantino flick, Kill Bill. If you really want to get scalped, pop in The Bled's new full-length debut, Pass the Flask, pump up the volume and start scrambling for a tourniquet.
Make that two tourniquets: one for each eardrum.
But The Bled specializes in more than power, speed and loudness. The band also possesses a strong melodic sensibility, as evident in songs like "Porcelain Hearts and Hammers for Teeth," a four-minute showcase for James Muñoz's singing voice and the chiming interplay of guitarists Jeremy Talley and Ross Ott. Just don't get too comfortable, because bassist Mike Celi and drummer Mike Pedicone are always lurking behind the corner of every note, ready to provide a walloping reminder of The Bled's chosen genre: metalcore.
The influences are first-rate: The Blood Brothers, Converge, The Refused. Yet The Bled, formed in 2001, puts its own spin on things, broadening the limited hardcore palette by injecting lethal doses of Slayer-like breakdowns and delicate bits of pop-style vocals. Clearly, Pass the Flask is an intelligent, well-considered work of art. It's a shock, then, to discover that Muñoz has only been with the band since February, entering the studio only a few weeks later to begin recording an album.
"I was somewhat nervous," admits Muñoz, during a recent phone interview, "but it added to the excitement. I'd never done or recorded vocals for a band. Yet at the same time, I grew up with these guys, so that took a little of the pressure off."
The excitement carried over into production, as Flask contains bits of studio trickery that treat the listener to something a lot grander than your typical, low-budget, indie-label fare. Take, for example, the slowing-down-the-tape-reel collapse in "Ruth Buzzi Better Watch Her Back," a moment that opens up space for the deadly return of guitars and drums. And then there's "We Are the Industry," a savage rant against corporate music that ends with what sounds like a full minute of a TV's white-noised hiss.
"That's actually Ross fidgeting with some weird guitar sounds," explains Muñoz. "We looped that and threw it all together. Yeah, it sounds sick."
As far as offering a strict interpretation of these and other musical flourishes, though, Muñoz remains mum.
"It's funny," he says. "This band means a lot of different things to people. And it's weird, 'cause I'm sort of like an actor. I have to interpret these feelings or moods that (lyricist) Jeremy writes down. What you hear live or on record? That's all I can give you."
Another classy touch, made possible by signing with the California-based boutique label Fiddler Records, is the album cover: an eerily gorgeous photo sequence in which a young man and woman grapple desperately on a bed. Whether they're quarreling or in the throes of lust, it's impossible to tell.
The band had other, more sensational cover artwork ideas.
"We basically wanted to set a king-sized mattress on fire," Muñoz says. "But it's illegal to burn things, even out in the middle of the desert. So while we were recording, we told (Fiddler) what we wanted. We got it, except no female breasts."
Now that members of The Bled have become hardcore heroes, Muñoz sees small yet significant changes in Tucson's underground scene.
"Since we've been gone so long recording and touring, things are different," Muñoz says. "There are more kids at shows, but nothing too drastic. There are a lot of younger musicians who seem inspired now that we've done something. They've got some confidence."
The Bled is always confident when the band plays Skrappy's, an all-ages venue in downtown Tucson.
"It's probably the best thing we've got," Muñoz says. "Every young Tucson band owes a lot to Skrappy's. The people who run it take a financial loss, but they do it for the kids. The place has done so much that we won't play anywhere else (in Tucson). We don't want to help someone else make money."
Admittedly, there's little money in the all-ages hardcore scene. But The Bled hopes, at the very least, to make an impact on contemporary music.
"It's hard to stand out in this genre and make an impression," says Muñoz. "But by being progressive, we can reach out past the limitations. Currently, we're working on this new song, and it's whole lot different guitar-wise from what we've done in the past. It's definitely got a progressive feel."