Review: The Siege Fire

The Siege Fire, Dead Refuge (1859 Records)

[I’m a bit distracted today, as I have been for the last few. I’ve been waiting on the new Black Breath disc, which drops today and my excitement level is making me kind of stupid (well, more than usual). I’ve been meaning to finish this review of The Siege Fire for the last few days, but I just haven’t been able to concentrate properly. But now, as I sit here checking my email inbox about every 90 seconds I feel like I’ve just got to do something to dissipate the pressure before I go mental. So here it is.]

ruins

I have mercifully few regrets in life. But one of them certainly is having left Portland, Oregon apparently a couple of days before it started along its path toward being the melodic crust capital of the world. The Rose City had always had a pretty thriving underground scene, from the Wipers, through Poison Idea, Sado-Nation, and Final Warning, and up into its more anarchist phase with bands like Resist, Unamused, the Deprived, and Defiance. People who follow this scene will know that this barely scratches the surface, but my point here is not to display the breadth of my knowledge of Portland bands (about which I could go on ad nauseam) but just to register my surprise at the effect that one signal event (the relocation of From Ashes Rise in 2001 from Nashville to Portland in the very early oughties) seems to have wrought.

tsfOk, I know the story is more complicated than that, both in terms of personnel and in those of the histories of style. Fragments of His Hero is Gone showed up first, and Tragedy arose out of those embers, but my view is that From Ashes Rise has always been among the purest exemplars of the melodic crust style, while Tragedy and His Hero is Gone were darker and more dissonant. Which is not to say that they were not awesome, quite the contrary. Still, for me From Ashes Rise is actually stylistically closer to a band like Sarabante, or even to a more d-beat styled group like Martyrdöd than they are to Tragedy.

All of this is splitting hairs. What is undeniably the case is that in the years since I left Portland has become a sort of rookery for dark, melodic crust and I think that the results have been, and continue to be, quite positive. A case in point: The Siege Fire. Their Dead Refuge 12”, released by 1859 Records earlier this year features some really ripping tracks, coupled with some effective atmospherics. It’s the kind of record that gives one the feel of walking through the remnants, like the jackals howling in the ruins of Ephesus. With civilizational collapse imminent, The Siege Fire has delivered the perfect soundtrack for our collective demise.

In one sense you could hear this disc and recognize it as clearly within the stylistic ambit of melodic crust. At times they sound like HHIG, at others like Burning Bright, at still others like Agnosy. But this is not to say that their sound is derivative or tired. There is an energy and freshness to The Siege Fire’s songs that carries the listener along. Their licks are simple and to the point, while the vocals have the sort of urgency that grabs the attention. You (or at least I) can actually make out the words, which is a good thing. One of my real pet peeves with extreme music the way that vocalists simply give themselves over to sounding like a wookie with its paw caught in a blender. Anyone can grunt incomprehensibly. Contributing to the extremity of a band’s sound while still allowing your audience to have some idea what you’re going on about takes a bit more in terms of imagination (and effort). Yeah, The Siege Fire ticks that box as well.

I think it’s fair to say that we are living in the golden age of this music. In a few years the hardcore scene will probably have moved on to some other fascination. But we will still have the artifacts of this era, and I suspect I’ll be spinning this one for a long time to come.

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