Reinventing the wheel so many times
I've become calloused to its genius
“Sound Out the Braille”
“Sound Out the Braille”
The Old Ball and ChangThe Inalienable Dreamless is the sound of three strong personalities — the uncompromising visionary, the quiet technician, the speed demon —pulling together for a common goal in ways Discordance Axis had not been able to achieve previously. In many ways, it’s the sound of a band truly becoming a united force for the first time.
Where previously “Sgt. Chang” had been the band’s taskmaster and arbiter, deciding how the songs should go, dictating the lyrical and artistic direction and handling their releases – often without any input from his bandmates – The Inalienable Dreamless represents the fullest expression of guitarist Rob Marton and drummer Dave Witte’s musical vision for the band. For the guitarist and drummer, it was no longer “Jon Chang’s Discordance Axis.”
“The earlier stuff, when we first started Discordance Axis, it was Jon Chang’s Discordance Axis," Marton said. "We never had a problem with that. It was his project. He kind of directed the whole thing. We were cool with that. We were there to have fun. But at some point it took over.”
Marton and Witte's new confidence meant Chang no longer dictated song structures or arrangement via spliced together bits of tapes from rehearsals. For much of Discordance Axis’ existence, Chang would direct the band’s sound by chopping up cassette recordings of rehearsals, piecing together riffs until he had songs that satisfied his criteria. As Witte and Marton grew as a musical unit, Chang was willing to relinquish some of the control, confident his bandmates had bought into the vision he had for what The Inalienable Dreamless would ultimately be.
“When we started the band it was my drive and my money and my contacts and everything was me pushing that thing forward,” Chang said. “When Rob said it was my project, he was right. It was literally me ordering things. It was me saying, ‘I demand this. We need to play this fast. We need to have this structure.’ And being really tyrannical about it, honestly. I did that because I had a vision of what we could be. We weren’t going to get there unless we went through a lot of things to be there. By the time Jouhou was done, I felt we were there. Whatever was going to come next, I trusted the guys to understand it and accept the vision. It was a common goal of everybody to make music like this. I pushed everybody in Discordance and it was one of the reasons it was a stressful band. That stuff hasn’t changed.”
The Inalienable Dreamless, Chang said, demonstrated a band pushing for and achieving that desperate need for perfection.
“After we wrote that record I felt like I was a different person,” he said. “It really was what I was trying to get with for a lot of years.”
The songs that would become The Inalienable Dreamless were hashed out by Marton, who had been writing throughout the band’s hiatus, and Witte during weekend rehearsals. The two musicians would refine the songs for two or three hours before Chang joined them for the final hour of practice to offer his thoughts.
“I think he let us create more and there wasn’t any splicing," Marton said. "There was ‘maybe we could lengthen this part and maybe put this part before this part’ instead of just him splicing a tape. The whole process was different. That sort of thing just really wasn’t necessary at that point. There was a bit of ‘I’m going to do what I think sounds good’ and it’s going make it or not. Before we were writing fast, we were having fun, but it was more of a ‘Jon will like this, so let’s do this.’ We wanted to write grind. We wanted to be fast. We wanted to be in your face. We were trying to find out how to do it.”
Wheels Within Wheels
Discordance Axis’ two year break had allowed Marton to spend more time writing in private, refining bits of riffs and songs on his own. He said that made them “more of a personal experience” than previous Discordance Axis material.
“I didn’t have - I don’t want to say the shackles of Jon Chang - but the sky was the limit,” he said.
Marton’s playing style was also evolving into the technical, demanding riffing that would further separate Discordance Axis from their punks-on-speed grindcore peers. However, he was careful to ground technique in strong songwriting, never succumbing to the impulse to pursue complicated riffs for their own sake.
“I never purposely tried to make it technical,” Marton said. “I guess we did want to bring something else to grind. All my choices are just what I want to hear. What would take me some place? It wasn’t, ‘We’re going to make it really technical on this part and contrast it with this slow part.’ It was just what felt good.”
Witte said outside influences like Voivod, with their unique chord phrasings, separated Discordance Axis from bands who were content to rehash what Napalm Death and Repulsion had already done. While speed was certainly a central priority, Witte said Discordance Axis also never lost sight of what made songs memorable.
“Most grind bands never had a riff,” he said. “Rob really stood out in that world because his riffs were super memorable. He knew how to write a catchy riff that worked in the context of what we were doing.”
One of the songwriting tricks that flourished during that time was Marton’s penchant for slashing a half time riff up against Witte’s blastbeasts, creating a unique, dynamic tension between guitar and drums on songs such as “Angel Present,” “The Necropolitan” and “Pattern Blue.”
“It’s just something I like to hear,” Marton said. “When I write, I love that contrast. That type of contrast pulls me into it. I have fun with that. It’s just like when I try to write something, I try to have it take me somewhere. Those types of riffs do it for me. I like a hook. I like to be hooked in a song.”
Witte said the slow riff/blasting drums dynamic was also a bit of a band inside joke, a subtle undermining of Chang’s insistence on playing all grind, all the time.
“You could blame that on Jon early on because he was like, ‘It’s got to be grind, it’s got to be fast,’ ” Witte said. “At one point whatever riff Rob brought in, I’d try to do a blast beat over it to see if it worked. Whatever it was, I’d try to put a blast beat under it. That’s how that push-pull was born."
Whatever its genesis, Witte said tension between the guitar and drums allowed Discordance Axis add dynamism to their songs, better harnessing the energy to generate an explosive climax.
“When you’re building up or coming to some climax - when you reach that and we combine forces - it’s like extra explosive,” he said. “We’re kind of restrained at some points. I don’t know how to explain it. That formula really worked well for us.”
That dynamic approach would find its fullest expression on songs like “Jigsaw,” a largely instrumental, eternally cresting grindcore tsunami that combines precision drumming with Marton’s spiraling riffing to explosive effect.
Marton's riffs also prodded Witte to push his drumming further. It was that time when Witte was focused a humble goal: “to be the fastest guy in the world.”
“I was pushing myself pretty hard. I was focused on being the fast guy,” Witte said. “In my mind, blastbeasts, I have to be inspired and feel the riff to do a blastbeat. I just can’t sit there with any guitar player and bust out blast beats. I have to feel the riff. Rob’s riffs totally gave me that platform to jump off of. Then you threw Chang in there and it was like throwing gas on a flame.”
Some of the songs on The Inalienable Dreamless, including “A Leaden Stride to Nowhere” and “Drowned,” were leftovers from an album Discordance Axis had planned to record after Jouhou. Though the two year breakup scuttled those plans, the band dusted off the songs when it came time to write The Inalienable Dreamless.
Though he remained active musically during the band's hiatus, Marton said he’s not the type of songwriter who sits at his guitar all day working over a song. Instead, he writes best when he follows a spark of inspiration. In fact, during the two year break after Jouhou, he would often go for days without picking up an instrument.
“Sometimes I just get this sense like I feel inspired or I know I’m going to write something so I sit down and do it. Other times it’s an accident,” Marton said. “It’s not for all day. Generally, the best songs I write in a few minutes. Something will happen and I’ll write a riff, and then literally in a span of 10 or 15 minutes I’ll write a couple of riffs and, boom, there’s a song.”
Both “The Necropolitan” and “The End of Rebirth” were songs that flowed quickly, Marton said.
The songwriting process was propelled by Marton and Witte’s growing connection as performers. Both musicians said they seemed to instinctively comprehend what the other was doing, even when they were hashing out the basics of a new song.
“Most of them are kind of written that way,” Marton said. “Some of the songs me and Dave would just be noodling around on some riff and Dave would put drums on it. Me and Dave would have this thing where I would play something and he would know what I was playing.”
“Rob Marton and I had this amazing chemistry together where we would just jam in a room and just stop together without even synching it,” Witte said. “We worked really, really well together. It was just like a glove, the guitar and drums really fit.”
With that growing confidence, Witte and Marton also felt more comfortable standing up to Chang when he would try to interfere with their songwriting.
“Sometimes Jon would come and say, ‘Do this,’ and we’d say, ‘You don’t play an instrument, dude.’ It was really easy with just the two us,” Witte said.
Why So Serious?What may not be readily apparent from the relentless aggression of the music and Chang’s excoriating lyrics about failed love and isolation is that two-thirds of Discordance Axis were there to have a good time. Witte and Marton's rehearsals turned into “a comedy volleyball match between Rob and I with instruments,” the drummer said.
“There was a lot humor based around the songwriting. We made ourselves laugh,” Witte said. “… Jon was a very serious person the way he conducted himself and his lyrics. It’s really deep. He was very angry. Rob and I just wanted to play tunes, and we weren’t really angry about everything. It was not a complete joke, [but] we liked to fool around a lot.”
“A Leaden Stride to Nowhere,” with its monotonous pounding, the “Mexican Hat Dance” ending to “Angel Present” or the pick slide opening to “Radiant Arkham” were intended to be jokes. To the instrumental members of the band, those elements were deliberately absurd, sly parodies of musical pretension.
“At the same time we were like, ‘We’re going to do what we want this time,’” Witte said. “The big joke was a lot of the stuff is funny. We thought it sounded funny. At some points like ‘A Leaden Stride to Nowhere,’ we were like, ‘Jon’s going to hate this,’ but he wound up liking it.”
Though “A Leaden Stride to Nowhere” may have started out as a joke, the song’s ominous, relentlessly building menace is also integral to The Inalienable Dreamless’ overall impact. It was the slow rolling thundercloud that presaged the final lightning strike that was “Drowned."
“Doing 20 accents, that was a joke too. We were fooling around with the accents,” Witte said. “I remember us being in this little room in New Brunswick and we said, 'Let’s do it 20 times.' We were laughing our asses off. It’s a huge part of the record. It’s a huge windup for the end. It seems pretty simple, but it’s technical in some ways. We were proud of the song, but the 20 accents, we thought it was funny. When we played it live it was a whole different animal. You really had to lay into your instrument.”
A Leaden Stride to SomewhereThough Witte and Marton may have exerted their independence when writing The Inalienable Dreamless, they deferred to Chang when it came to sequencing the songs for the album. Chang used the songs the band had written to create a narrative flow that propels the album.
“Whenever I do the track order for any record or live event, I try to create a flow that matches the songs,” he said. “Does the ending of one part complement the beginning of another? What's the lead-in song, what's the last song and what is the end of the second act (generally the last track on the A-side of the record)? Records are just like stories. They need structure with multiple layers of introduction and conclusion that are stretched across the record.”
Chang said he conceived The Inalienable Dreamless as three suites – “Castration Rite” through “Vacuum Sleeve,” “Angel Present” through “Pattern Blue” and “The End of Rebirth” through “The Third Children.” “A Leaden Stride to Nowhere” and “Drowned” were intended to serve as a “surprise second ending” like the film Alien.
“It’s like the experience of giving blood,” Marton said. “That whole album, the tempo of every song and how it pulls you through it, it feels like you’ve been through something when you’re through with it. We were all on board to just be relentless. Reign in Blood was relentless. That was my feeling. That was in my head.”