If The Inalienable Dreamless were a child, it would be old enough to start high school this year.
In the nearly decade and a half since Discordance Axis gifted the world a masterpiece and then summarily retired, the New Jersey trio has gone from that band that few had heard of and even fewer liked to a significant touchstone in grindcore. A whole generation of grind musicians has grown up with Dave Witte’s tendon-testing speed, Jon Chang’s upper register screech and pop cultural fixations and particularly Rob Marton’s uniquely phrased guitar parts as part of the musical heritage they have inherited. That influence is coming to fruition as a recent of wave of Discordance Axis clones.
“I think that we identified with Discordance Axis because they're different from other grindcore bands,” said Jonathan Thompson, whose band, Vertigo Index, cribbed both their name and style from one of Jouhou’s songs. “Despite the fact that they do adhere in some sense to the sort of the grindcore blast-heavy template, they really managed to do so in a way that was forward thinking. Rather than rehashing the bands that came before them, they took their ideas and morphed them into something that was wholly their own. That is, they were able to write short fast songs that still feel like songs rather than simply bursts of aggression. Their song writing skills, specifically on The Inalienable Dreamless, are unparalleled in grindcore. While the songs are still ferocious in their own right they contain more interesting tonal characteristics than the simpler fast power chords and blast beats of their contemporaries.”
But for Discordance Axis, after years of being marginalized, seeing other bands adapt their sonic template is a bizarre reversal.
“I have always found it surreal that DA has any kind of following today given how completely people were disinterested with us when we existed,” Chang said. “It seems like the music has influenced people in the form of bands, individuals or other artists who have nothing to do with music.”
Cloning is intrinsic to musical evolution. Nobody would be grinding now if it weren’t for shamelessly ripping off Siege, Napalm Death and Repulsion. Hell, Carcass has been cloned more times than a Mandalorian bounty hunter. Indeed, Discordance Axis’ first album, Ulterior, owed a significant and obvious debt to From Enslavement to Obliteration.
“In the case of clones or cover bands, I hope those people are getting their sea legs and working to eclipse what we did. I know when we started we were very influenced by the Scum, SOB-split era of Napalm Death, SOB, Assuck and Anal Cunt, but we found our own voice in time,” Chang said.
One of the first bands to embrace and internalize the Discordance Axis aesthetic was Sweden’s Asterisk* who mimicked the Jersey grinders in service of songs about literature, philosophy and linguistics. They even took the step of seeking out Chang to do the art for their 2003 compilation album Dogma. Chang, who had never heard the band, said he didn’t even realize that his band had influenced the Swedish trio until years later.
“I don't think I heard the CD till years later and was surprised how clearly into DA they were,” Chang said.
Moses Cuellar believes that Syntax has grown beyond simply aping Discordance Axis as his band has matured over the last couple of years. However, he’s not shy about admitted the debt he owes that band.
“DA influenced me because I find their music relative,” he said. “It is lyrically and musically unconventional, stimulating, challenging, thought-provoking, tragic yet fun, personal and real. Above all, their estrangement from their contemporaries is something I can relate to on a musical and personal level.”
Syntax’s first few demos leaned heavily on the Discordance Axis playbook, but Cuellar is still penning encomiums to the New Jersey trio, particularly Chang’s unique lyrical bent.
“I like to think that I have expanded much since those days because I have begun building an individualistic sense of writing, but they are definitely a part of the basis that is my songwriting process/mindset. But, sometimes I do have to go back and check to make sure they haven't done it already,” he said. “Our releases after 2009 stray from it more as time goes on, but their influence is very much present. I wrote a song about it too. In efforts to pay homage to them and Mortalized, the song ‘Radiation Pulse,’ on our Corridos Grind tape is solely dedicated to them.”
Vertigo Index do not make much of a secret their infatuation with Discordance Axis. It’s right there in the name. But guitarist Jonathan Thompson said Discordance Axis is only meant to be a launching point for something hopefully more unique and personal.
“I think the decision to use what they did as a means to forge our own style is in part an attempt to take a style of grindcore, under-represented by my estimations, and attempt to further it somewhat,” Thompson said. “I guess the Discordance Axis playbook is appealing because they managed to leave a lot of room for interesting song writing while still adhering to a sound that is distinctly grindcore. Basically we can wear that influence on our sleeve and still manage to not directly rip off what they were doing. I guess it's a lot like the composers during the various movements of classical music paying homage to one another.”
For Johnson, Discordance Axis’ posthumous fame is just a matter of a superior band finally getting its due. In a world where out of print and obscurity have largely lost their meaning, it was only a matter of time before Discordance Axis latched on to the audience they sought all along.
“I think that now a band like Discordance Axis would be received a lot better due to the increased ability for people to communicate with other like-minded individuals whereas they were limited to true word of mouth and paper fanzines when they were a band,” Johnson said. “I also think that part of what has contributed to their increasing influence is the word of mouth for years after the broke up. They did something special; that really isn't up for debate. When you as a band manage to do something like that people will notice. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes years for people to come around to this fact.”
When he’s not marrying Gorguts to grindcore in Maruta, guitarist and bassist Mauro Cardoba worships at the altar of Rob Marton. Naming his side project DARO for Discordance Axis Rip Off is a bit on the nose, but he’s considering yet another Discordance Axis homage as a band name.
“At first I wasn't too sure what to call it so DARO seemed OK,” Cordoba said. “It’s almost Japanese sounding. I'd love to call it Jigsaw. It's my favorite song by them, but I have a feeling it’s probably taken already.”
Stepping aside from the Maruta template allowed Cardoba a chance to broaden his musical repertoire and work out a few issues in the process. Working with Hungarian drummer Balazs he’s recorded a few demo tracks.
“I went through a brief Jon Chang period in my life in 2011 and wanted to write some songs (not for Maruta) ’cause I had some feelings I needed to get out,” Cardoba said. “I figured doing DA type stuff would be fun and it wasn't a common thing then. I even went as far as asking friends if they knew any bands in that style because the only one I knew of at the time was Asterisk, thanks to your blog. In this type of music, whether you call it grind, punk or whatever, for the most part it’s totally cool to rip off bigger, better bands. Also, sometimes it’s cool to give yourself constraints, and sounding like DA is an especially weird constraint just because they were so different.”
While the writing and recording process has been slow, Cardoba envisions putting his side project’s songs to tape the next time Balazs hits the United States.
“The plan is to record the songs properly as soon as he comes back to the states and then put out a seven inch,” Cardoba said.
Priapus are more likely to be tagged as Maruta clones by reductive assholes on the internet (not naming names *cough*), but it’s Discordance Axis that provides the secret sauce in their songwriting guitarist Jeremy Shaffer said.
“DA is one of my favorite bands, and The Inalienable Dreamless is probably my favorite heavy record ever released,” he said. “It's this blend of technicality and raw aggression that is rarely done well, with most bands nailing one of those and completely missing the other. There's also this incredible sense of songwriting and dynamics that most grindcore lacks - for example, the way the end of ‘Jigsaw’ winds down, then builds back up and comes riiiiight to the edge of exploding before just abruptly stopping dead. Amazing!”
The song’s strong sense of dynamics and aggression became a key touchstone for Priapus as they set out to write their own music. Priapus doesn’t have a lot of musical overlap with Discordance Axis, there’s a commonality in musical philosophy. Discordance Axis also convinced Shaffer that adding a bass player to the band would just be a waste of a seat in the tour van.
The Inalienable Dreamless’ groundbreaking and unique sonic palette cemented Discordance Axis’ legendary status in Shaffer’s mind, even if it took much of the musical world more than a decade to catch on.
“They just hit all the right marks for being a legendary/highly influential band – conceptually consistent, a strong sense of identity, unique lyrical concepts, and powerful songs that are simple enough to grab the listener immediately, but rich enough in layers and texture to be rewarding on listen number 1,000,” Shaffer said. “Regardless of genre (or even medium), any work that can do those things will usually be recognized for what it is, even if it takes years to come to the surface.”
Noisear have always had a strong strain of Discordance Axis in their chaotic, technical whatsis-core sound. Their status as inheritors of Discordance Axis’ musical traditional was cemented when they were invited to contribute a cover of “Mimetic” for Our Last Day, Discordance Axis’ final album-cum-tribute record. “Mimetic” and another five Discordance Axis covers also appeared on Pyroclastic Annhiallation.
“Discordance Axis was the most influential band next to Napalm Death’s original lineup and one of the reasons I was able to develop a unique style and implement that into all the groups I have been a part of throughout the years,” guitarist Dorian Rainwater said. “I think the best way to put it would be the fact that over a decade ago when bands were doing pretty much the same formula and all jumping on the same bandwagon in terms of extreme metal, DA was breaking that barrier and using unorthodox methods of combining dissonant diminished guitar riffs over dizzying time signatures and single foot blast beats. Also Rob was never afraid to break the norm of traditional guitar playing. He made motifs out of feedback, harmonics, pick scratches and string noise while still applying complex syncopated technical phrases, melody and off kilter chord progressions. They took all the elements of grindcore from the earliest era and churned them with their own style of artsy nightmare soundscapes, some of which to this day give me the feeling of impending doom, panic, suspense and terror.”