Bushcraft, the doomy debut full-length from local hardcore quartet Baptists, is a monumentally oppressive affair. But while its unholy alliance of meaty bass and metallic guitar tones, seismic percussion, and terrorizing vocal cries make for an intense aural experience, the group’s initial stab at recording the songs yielded some unsatisfying results.
“We could never really get a mix that we were totally happy with. It’s nobody’s fault, really. It just didn’t work,” long-haired and bearded six-stringer Danny Marshall tells the Straight of the failed first attempt at the album. He’s cupping a mug of decidedly un-demonic hot chocolate alongside coffee-sipping vocalist Andrew Drury at a Main Street café.
Originally recorded in town last January, the songs went through an exhaustive, months-long back-and-forth between the band (Marshall, Drury, bassist Sean Hawryluk, and drummer Nick Yacyshyn) and their U.S. label Southern Lord. The record company’s Greg Anderson finally suggested nuking the session altogether. His solution was to have Baptists tackle the material anew with esteemed Converge guitarist and engineer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou at his GodCity studio in Salem, Massachusetts. It was a dream offer the band quickly jumped at.
“There’s nobody on earth that I would rather have record us, it was a no-brainer,” Marshall says enthusiastically of the opportunity to team up with the metalcore legend. “My favourite records that I’ve listened to in the last decade…he’s recorded all of them. I could probably only listen to things he’s recorded and be happy. For me, that was a big thing. I’m also a huge Converge fan.”
From the blunt-trauma attack of “Bullets” to Marshall’s herky-jerky licks on the gloomy groover “Still Melt”, Bushcraft seems like it was whipped up by guys who grew up listening to Jane Doe. Baptists put its own spin on a familiar genre, though, favouring more streamlined arrangements that bludgeon listeners all the same.
The raging “Think Tank Breed”, teeming with muscled-up power chords and Yacyshyn’s rapid-fire snare bursts, has Drury railing against the “moulded dream” set out before us by focus groups, big business, and the advertising world. The attack on office life plays into the band’s grander vision, which fully embraces the great outdoors.
Art-wise, the band has always stuck to an earthy aesthetic—their 2011 7-inch has a soil-strewn tombstone adorned with animal bones and feathers; Bushcraft features a ghostly woodsman sinking an axe into a mossy fir. The LP’s survival-skills-focused title track lets the machete-sharpening Drury spit venom at unaffordable housing markets as he preps to head for the hills.
“It’s about escaping the everyday life that I have to deal with by living in a city,” he says. The singer further explains that his current job as a specialized foster-care provider, satisfying as it may be, often has him tied up in town. “I never feel more comfortable than when I’m in nature and far from people. Before I got into what I’m doing now, I used to camp every weekend. I can’t really do that now, but I still go hiking about five times a week.”
The vocalist also manages to escape into the elements on the aforementioned “Still Melt”, where he describes a fever dream wherein he tapes feathers to his limbs, catches a gust of wind, and flies through a forest. On “Soiled Roots”, he sounds off on how another person’s negative attitude is sucking him dry, ultimately announcing atop the song’s sinister, scale-crawling apex: “Your roots soak up my fun.”
Apparently, not all of Baptists’ relationships are bad, though. The success of its 7-inch, also released on Southern Lord, landed it a two-album deal with the prestigious imprint, whose heavy-hitting roster also feature founder Greg Anderson’s Sunn O))), Seattle thrashers Black Breath, and Wolves in the Throne Room.
While the album officially arrives at retailers on February 19, ultra-positive reviews for the record are already streaming on the web. Work schedules may prevent Baptists from committing to larger tours, but the pre-release buzz around Bushcraft has the group gearing up for much more than their weekly practice. Apart from a potential spring trip down to Austin, Texas’s South by Southwest festival, there are also plans to play around Canada and possibly overseas this year.
“It’s a little bit nerve-racking that anyone gives a shit, for sure,” Marshall says of the hype. “We didn’t start this band to make a name for ourselves—we just wanted to play. This upcoming year we’re going to put more time into it than we have. Just Tuesdays ain’t going to cut it anymore.”
Baptists plays its record-release party for Bushcraft at the Biltmore Cabaret on February 28.