DISCOGRAPHY DEEP DIVE: Trap Them
Sixteen years and one of the wildest rides of the century
A vocalist from a hardcore punk band and a guitarist from a black metal band meet in a comic book store, eventually become roommates and form a band based on an Italian sexploitation cannibal film they both like (this one) and the fact they own a Boss HM-2 pedal. It wasn’t really hilarity that ensued, because this isn’t the setup for a weird sitcom premiering on Hulu next month, but we did get a solid fifteen years out of one of the best extreme bands of the 21st century, with five albums, a bunch of EPs and several explosive live shows that will live on the memory of us lucky to have attended a few as some of the most intense, out-of-control live music experiences we’ve ever had.
We are talking, of course, about Trap Them. The vocalist in question, also a brilliant lyricist whose cryptic poetic puzzles he shouted and screamed along in the songs will remain in our nerdy hearts forever, is Ryan John McKenney, formerly of the also wonderful Backstabbers Inc., while the guitarist is Brian Vincent Izzi, aka “Brian O’Blivion” in his old and brilliant band December Wolves, currently laying down massive riffage in All Pigs Must Die, and together they were the core of Trap Them for the duration of the band’s career.
Though I wouldn’t say there really was a “scene”, as such, for this kind of stuff, even in the vague way that concept is applied sometimes, the band appeared at the exact right time - sort of taking the torch of what often forgotten, and prematurely disbanded legends such as Cursed, Cobra Noir or even Breach were doing, and then helping pave the way for like-minded contemporaries such as Black Breath, The Secret, Alpinist, Nails and so many more. If only “metalcore” hadn’t been turned into a dirty word by nu-metal in such an ingrained way that not even people like Converge have been able to wipe it off, and we could safely call all of these bands that. Hey, even currently exciting and groundbreaking new bands such as Unyielding Love or Candy owe quite an artistic debt to the depth that Trap Them dug - it’s not that they did anything inherently new or totally unheard of, but the way they did it and the full on dedication they employed was an absolute landmark.
I was fortunate enough to discover Trap Them very early on in their career, as I was a massive fan of those two bands - they were still known as Trap Them & Kill Them, and they stylised it as 77+K7 (with the last 7 mirrored) which I found really smart. Also, the music was a mix of everything I need when it comes to aggression - it’s like they played that initial platform of meaty, crusty punk so hard and so intensely that it started to turn into grindcore and grow pustules of death metal on its horribly twisted musical body. Hitting upon such a perfect formula so early, they never changed dramatically over the course of their career, but like all best bands, they kept evolving and honing their sound, so all records sound totally like Trap Them, but never exactly like any of the others. A perfect band for one of our Deep Dives, then. Shall we?
Before we get all up in their discography, let me just stress one thing again, which is the singular savagery of their live shows. Unfortunately this can’t really be transmitted now that the band is no more, and anything I say will just sound like gloating for those who haven’t had the opportunity to catch them destroying a nearby venue when they were active, so I’ll just leave some photos I managed to snap during two of the occasions when I caught one of their shows. Three of them are from the famous Roadburn show in 2011 - forever part of the festival lore as the creator of its very first moshpit - and the other three from a show in Madrid, Spain, in November 2008, opening up for Grief at the time (the awesome Moho also played on what was a very good night with three bands that don’t exist anymore). After that Madrid show, as soon as the band got off stage and a very sweaty, very exhausted-looking Ryan made its way to the merch table (wearing a ratty old red Swans hoodie), a nerdy fan was already waiting to tell him “can I have one of everything, please?” I dropped like 100€ on that particular shopping spree, and it was worth every cent.
Dude, looking back at these, the only thing I can think of is that if any band needs to come back, it’s this one. It’s so uncool to wish for band reunions, but whatever, there, I’ve said it and I mean it. Now, onwards to the main event!
This is a little 3” CD EP released a full five years before their proper debut album, but I wanted to include it here to really drive home the point that this band was destined to be amazing right from the start. Everything is a little rawer and more grindy, some of the riffs still sound a lot like December Wolves, but the viciousness of the delivery, the relentless vocal attack (Ryan can’t even be quiet when the first song ends, he just keeps swearing), everything was in the red already. This sounds like it was spat out in one single take all the way through, it’s that unhinged. It’s also irresistible to put this here just for that lyric sheet alone. Future ones would look similar (I mean, look at that), and it really tells you how the man’s head ticks when it comes to this band and what he’s pouring out of him. “We’re all fucked!”, he screams at the end of ‘Sainthood As Told By…‘. Indeed we were.
(2007, Trash Art!)
The fanboy in me wants to include every little thing the band has ever released, but we can safely skip the debut EP ‘Cunt Heir To The Throne’ released a couple of months before this, their debut full-length, as most of it (two out of three songs) was recaptured here anyway. But yeah, this is the period where Trap Them’s sound and image become fully fleshed out. With that amazing Justin Bartlett (R.I.P.) artwork and with Kurt Ballou in the producing/recording/mixing seats and even playing some guitar on two songs - let me just say that his partnership with Trap Them, for whom he recorded every album, arguably provided the best sonic match to his characteristics as a producer of any band ever… including his own -, and even with the fact that Ryan’s lyrics were now fully and explicitly inserted in a larger narrative (each song being one sequential “day” in the existence of a city spinning out of control with violence, despair, decadence and sorrow - a perfect soundtrack to the currently great post-apocalyptic fiction that’s being made on TV, I’d say), everything was in place. This is the Trap Them format that would subsequently slay us all for the next decade. Well, and, of course, those songs. Dynamic, violent, constantly producing the unexpected. Entombed, Discharge, Pig Destroyer, Nasum, Napalm Death and Autopsy all thrown into a fucking blender, and the gooey syrup that comes out becomes unstoppable filth anthems like ‘Day Two: They Followed the Scent of Jihad All the Way to Thieves Paradise’, ‘Day One: Insomniawesome’ or the colossal ‘Day Eight: Destructioneer Extraordinaire’, the first longer, slower and unbearably heavy Trap Them song, something that would become a staple in all of their future records. Oh, and just out of curiosity, check out the sticker Trash Art! slapped on the CD version:
They certainly knew who they were selling this stuff to!
(2007, Deathwish Inc.)
2007 was definitely a fertile year for the band, and it wouldn’t end without just one more release, this EP that signalled their arrival at Deathwish Inc., and served as a companion piece to the debut album released about six months before. Maybe it’s just me, because it’s the exact same recording/mixing/mastering team (though not from the same sessions, as this was recorded in June 2007), but this little fifteen minute long batch of five songs sounds clearer and more uncluttered. It’s not just the sound itself, either - these songs are less busy, crustier, simpler, and they make for a great variety addition to the album. Of course, they also continue the theme of the days - it’s days thirteen through seventeen here. Whenever I listen to it, it’s always Sleepwell-Seánce as if it was one big, erm, 37 minute album in total. It feels like 37 exhausting hours though, even if in a good way.
SEIZURES IN BARREN PRAISE
(2008, Deathwish Inc.)
‘Day Eighteen: Enders’ is on the split with Extreme Noise Terror, released a few months before this album, in case you’re following this stuff, but I figured it would break all my future Discography Deep Dives if I start picking 1:06 songs on 7” as a full release worth including. Anyway, Seizures In Barren Praise was “it” - now that Trap Them had definitely arrived, they struck while the iron was hot, and you can pratically taste the confidence - along with all the blood and bile, of course - the band had at this point. They knew they were at the very height of their powers, and it shows - even their live performances, which have always been unfuckwithable, had a sort of eerie dark magic about them at this point. And that’s what this is, a record from a band on top of everything. Songs are shot off fast and loose, rousing and blood-pumping like precious few before them in any genre or by any artist - I mean, just try to resist the beginning of the album opening ‘Day Nineteen: Fucking Viva’, where for almost half a minute Ryan just screams stuff over a big fat riff, and the other instruments slowly join in, in the background. It’s just so deeply moving in its visceral delivery, and so catchy at the same time - you will gleefuly welcome our own inevitable destruction and descent into catastrophic hell, screaming along words like “the vertigo / the death threats / the funerals / they'll never end”. And then, the inevitable climax that occurs as he howls “I want us all to die with our arms wrapped around the loves of our lives / and our hands wrapped around the throats / of the ones that never saw us coming” and more riffs and abused cymbals crash around everything. And see, the thing is, this all takes place within 1:40, the length of that first song. A similar emotional description could be made about every single song on the album, none of which ever reaches the three minute mark aside from one very particular exception, and still the record twists and turns with every possible ugliness and corruption (yes, that’s a bit of a quote from here, and bonus points if you think of this song when you hear it - incidentally, a supremely underrated band that was being very Trap Them-y a good ten years before the fact), but also with an ever present notion of the humanity that’s being lost in that “imaginary” city that is pretty much an analogy for every city we know at some point in our history, even if still in the future. As if to help with that dissolution of the linearity of time, they also started jumbling up the days, which are no longer sequential, some are merged in the same songs (‘Day Twenty Three: Invertopia / Day Thirty: Class Warmth’ or ‘Day Twenty One: Roam / Day Twenty Two: Absent Civilians‘) and some are even missing (we never got Day Twenty Seven, for instance). Oh, and that exception mentioned above is the trademark long song that always pops up on their records, and in this case it’s the colossal ‘Day Thirty One: Mission Convincers’, which might be more or less what would have happened if Neurosis had decided to remain more or less on the ‘Pain Of Mind’ direction and had gotten an HM-2 to go with it. “Make no mistakes when they read what you leave on the wall,” Ryan yells painfully at one point, almost a capella. Yikes.
(2010, Southern Lord)
Another short EP, but bear with me, because its four songs in thirteen minutes, once again, almost feel like a full album. Man, I love this release so much that I actually have it in every format, CD, vinyl and tape. I shit you not, look:
Also, it would be worth of inclusion if with no music at all, just as a homage to just how fucking talented Justin Bartlett was as an artist. Anyway, yeah, even with a stopgap letting us know they hadn’t died after almost two years on the road after ‘Seizures…’ - which wasn’t a sure thing, with the reckless abandon the band always had on stage - they always manage to make a dent. The first two songs are, by this point, regular Trap Them ragers, but it’s the second half of the EP that really nails it: ‘Day Forty: Dead Fathers Wading In The Bodyground’ is a sort of in-between, at first seeming like one of those typical long/heavy/slower monsters, but not quite, and it develops a creepy mood quite unlike almost any other song in their catalog. Then, it ends with a return to Day Seven, with a re-recording of one of the highlights of ‘Sleepwell…’, ‘Day Seven: Digital Dogs With Analog Collars’, which unbelievably turns it into an even denser and more harrowing number. As an aside, speaking of density (man, you can cut the bass in slices on this song) it’s funny that, with the importance those fat and filthy basslines always took in their songs, Trap Them always had a sort of a revolving cast of bassists, as well as drummers. By the end, in the 2013-2017 period, they seemed to be settling on the Galen Baudhuin / Brad Fickeisen rhythm section, but up until then, it was rare for anyone to spend more then three years in the band. Fortunately all their choices fell on great musicians, brief as their stay might have been, and the Steve Lacour / Chris Maggio team that played on this particular release was killer as usual.
(2011, Prosthetic Records)
All in all, even if ‘Seizures…’ has that urgency and the street cred of still being an “early” release in the grand scheme of things, ‘Darker Handcraft’ might emerge, with hindsight, as the “best” Trap Them album. Obviously everything always boils down to personal preference, there are no absolutes in art, yada yada, but for songwriting excellence, amount of truly, timelessly memorable tunes, variety and dynamics of content, there really is no beating this album. Throw any classic, big-name influence you like at them, and it’ll be there, fully Trap Them-ised, no matter the genre. Bolt Thrower? Sure, look at those thick riffs on this album’s “big one”, closer ‘Day 36 - Scars Align’, arguably the best song they’ve ever written. Converge? Of course, and it’s not even Kurt’s knob-fiddling that does it, just check out that wild yet immediatly electrifying guitarwork of ‘Day 41 - Every Walk A Quarantine’, as just one example. Misfits? Naturally, even with the obvious homage of that ‘Day 33 - The Facts’s chorus, quite possibly their catchiest song ever. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, I’m afraid you’ll have to actually listen to the song - with the band entering full abstraction mode, the booklet consisted of black, blank pages with no lyrics printed whatsoever. On that note, this would also be the last album with the days specified in the song titles, so from here on out, make of them what you will, even if they still belong clearly to the same narrative. Hey, Ryan had warned us in that very first release that we were all fucked. Anyway, here’s that song, one of the best instant reasons for why this is a goddamn 10/10 perfect album if there ever was one this century in heavy music:
(2014, Prosthetic Records)
There’s always one, isn’t there? ‘Blissfucker’ is the one Trap Them album that did not connect with me instantly just like everything else in their career did. On those first shockingly disappointed listens, it felt grey, laborious, almost forced to me. Whereas in the past it was usual for just one song to go above the three minute mark, here, on the contrary, only one of them stayed beneath that line - it was like an album full of the long TT songs, but without the usual gravitas they all commanded to hold it together. Fortunately, with time, things settled, and I began to appreciate the pachyderm nature of cuts like ‘Savage Climbers’ or ‘Let Fall Each And Every Sedition Symptom’, which, despite their girth and positioning in the tracklist, really aren’t anything like ‘Scars Align’, ‘Mission Convincers’ or ‘Destructioneer Extraordinaire’ were. It’s also a sort of reverse context - whereas in the other albums those songs really stood out among the razor-sharp rapid-assault ones, here it was almost the opposite, and it was the savage grind of ‘Habitland’ or the hyperspeed d-beat of ‘Lungrunners’ that seemed like the odd men out. Time has been good to ‘Blissfuckers’ though: it does still feel like a weird anomaly in the global picture of their discography, but putting it on now gives these more cerebral songs a sense of clarity and a purpose that we - or I, at least - didn’t really notice at the time.
(2016, Prosthetic Records)
The only thing not cool about ‘Crown Feral’ is that it was the last Trap Them album. Otherwise, it feels like a culmination of everything the band had done before, and while I’m aware that’s a little journo cliché, it’s also very true. I don’t know if they felt they had lessons to learn from the direction they took with ‘Blissfucker’, but even if subconsciously, they were able to take the best things out of those songs, the more elaborate songwriting, the pacing of some of the songs, and throw it in the mix with recaptured elements of the earlier stuff. From the perfect opening one-two punch of ‘Kindred Dirt’ and ‘Helionaires’, classic Trap Them to the bone, to the brutal staccato of ‘Malengines Here, Where They Should Be’, the slow-burning hellscape of ‘Twitching In The Auras’, or the enormous, flames-engulfing-the-whole-world feel of closer ‘Phantom Air’ (if that’s to be the bowing out of their career, at least it was done right), it’s a modern yet old school-tinged, engaging, aggressive, diverse, intelligent album, a touch of immense class to wrap up the oeuvre of one of the best extreme bands of this century.
Now then, when is the reunion tour followed by a new album?
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