This article first appeared in The Alt on August 18, 2017.
Photos by Bryan Lasky
They hold cans of cheap generic American beer in their hands, arms by their sides as though the air here is so oppressive that lifting their limbs to their mouths would be a feat of tremendous strength. But occasionally it is a feat they manage, pressing the cans to their lips—their mustaches or beards peaking over the top of the folded tabs. The members of Albany’s Maggot Brain—purveyors of a sludgy mix of downbeat, hardcore and doom metal—are perched here under an orange-tinged full moon that looms ominously over Albany’s warehouse district because they are supposed to be practicing for their Aug. 18 show at Pauly’s Hotel with Dialysis and Grizzlor. But the heat that engulfs the city is proving to be a real challenge. The sticky breeze stinks of the nearby Hudson River—a steaming broth of of raw sewage and dead fish. And yet it’s too hot to go back inside to practice and their lead singer hasn’t arrived yet, so they stand out here on the sidewalk reminiscing about what brought them together in the first place.
All the band members came together while attending The College of Saint Rose, and the motivating factor for Ryan Slowey (guitar), and Jared Krak (drummer) to attend college in Albany was the city’s burgeoning hardcore and metal scene centered around the QE2, now known as The Fuze Box.
“When I was in high school the scene was amazing at places like QE2, Valentines, Bogies, Saratoga Winners,” said Slowey. “When I was 16 my friends would fill up my dad’s minivan on Friday and we’d leave early so we could stop at Music Shack and then go to Valentines for a show. Honestly one of the reasons I came to college in Albany was the music scene here.”
Krak, who grew up in Plattsburgh, said he was captivated by Capital Region bands that would play his city. “Down Foundation would come down there in the day and they had a distro. I remember buying the Capital Punishment compilation, Section 8 and all of that stuff. I realized there were so many of great bands up here like Skinless, Cutthroat and End of Line.”
Slowey says that while they still feel a bit like outsiders in the local scene, they have been extremely lucky. “Our first show was opening for Premonitions of War!” said Slowey.
The band landed a record deal with local label Fuzz; their vinyl release show in Valentines in 2013 is legendary as it featured post-hardcore standouts Kowloon Walled City and Boston hardcore experimentalists Zozobra.
The band plays shows featuring like-minded groups—DIY minded, hardcore, sludge, experimental groups from outside of town. But Slowey says the shows he’s enjoyed the most are ones where the band plays with bands that are outside their scene. “We played a few shows that were serious odd ball combinations and they were great. We played downstairs at Valentines with Henry’s Rifle and Slaughterhouse Chorus. There were like 100 people there and 75 percent of them were just there to see other bands but they dug us and we started seeing those people at other shows. I like to play with cool people who I like, who I know and respect as musicians.”
A good portion of Maggot Brain have become a solid part of the Albany community that they first came to in college. Slowey is a library assistant at Albany Public Library. Krak works for the post office and delivers in Albany from South Lark to Partridge Street.
Over the last decade, the Capital Region has lost a number of the venues that supported the hardcore and metal scene—the same venues that drew Slowey and company to Albany in the first place. Gone is Valentine’s—lost to the constant expansion of Albany Medical Center. Bogie’s was shut down due to structural issues and neglect; Saratoga Winners was lost in a suspicious blaze that led to charges of arson and insurance fraud. The QE2 still stands, reborn as The Fuze Box, but is showing its age.
“I think there’s a lot of good talent in the area now,” says Slowey. “The younger generation is playing basement shows and forming bands. We haven’t done a ton of those sort of shows but we have done a few like that with Scum Couch. These young kids are not all old and jaded like we are. They are really excited like we used to be to go to all the shows. Losing Valentines hurt a lot.”
Bassist Sean Fortune agrees. “It feels like the scene is homeless right now—none of the venues are big enough, or they don’t have right vibe.”
Krak says he’s been discovering fresh energy at venues like Putnam Den. “There are new spaces with good energy but I really feel like Albany needs something.”
The band begins reminiscing about the now world-renowned artists who played QE2—Life of Agony, Machine Head, Marilyn Manson, Crisis, Deftones.
“I remember I got so mad at my mother that she wouldn’t let me go to that because I was 14,” Slowey recalls of the Marilyn Manson performance.
While the past holds a certain grip on the band on this summer evening the future is what sits gnawing at the back of their minds. The group has been working methodically on their next release. They laid down tracks in a NYC recording studio quickly with the hope of capturing more of their live sound and Slowey, who is also a recording engineer, is working on the finishing touches. Slowey says he’d like to have the record out before “winter.”
Fortune laughs. “Winter?”
“Life gets in the way but we could have the album out by March 2018 and that statement would prove correct,” he smiles.
Slowey engineered and mixed Nihil Unbound by Hush—an album that has taken off in the international sludge-metal press. He says he plans to continue to work with the band and is always happy to record bands of all genres. He’s pleased to see Hush succeed.
A car pulls up and lead singer Mike Hait emerges from the car. He doesn’t say much, his face obscured by a massive beard. The group decides it’s time to brave the heat. They funnel into their practice space. Slowey picks up his Gibson SG, Krak gets behind the kit, Fortune throws the strap of his bass over his shoulder. “We don’t have names for any of the songs,” Fortune explains, “We use numbers.”
“13?” asks Slowey. The band agrees. They slam into a hardcore rhythm with Slowey bending screeches and grinding squawks from his axe. At times Slowey’s riffs give way to Fortune’s bass lines and then they collide again. You can hear their influences—Converge, Neurosis, Tragedy. They show them to you, let them play in your head and then drop them into a meat grinder, shredding expectations.
“Sometimes we’ll be writing a song and we’ll realize it sounds like something else and I just say, ‘No we can’t do this.’ And we scrap it. But we do have a real way of putting our stamp on any kind of style. We call it ‘Maggot Braining’ a riff,” Slowey explains smiling.