Louisville is best known for producing a third of the world’s bourbon. As if that isn’t enough, Kentucky’s largest city also boasts one of the most progressive hardcore scenes in America. This lineage began in the early ’80s, when a young punk rock band called Squirrel Bait stumbled upon that DC sound before anyone in Washington even had a clue. Members Britt Walford and Brian McMahan went on to form Slint, a band that pioneered post-rock and introduced elements of complexity and sensitivity to the punk formula.
Echoes of the past can be heard in Louisville’s latest underground successes – Coliseum mix Motörhead-style rock ’n’ roll with ’80s gothic rock, whilst Young Widows combine thunderous post-hardcore with indie noise. Both bands share more than just a few similar influences, they share blood. Ryan Patterson sings for Coliseum while his brother Evan Patterson handles vocal duties for Young Widows.
Coliseum’s Ryan Patterson (right) and Young Widows’ Evan Patterson (centre) Coliseum photo: Nick Thieneman
Prior to both bands, the brothers shared the stage together in Black Cross and before that they played guitars in math monsters The National Acrobat. In the summer of 2001, they formed Black Widows with singer Rob Pennington, formerly of Endpoint, another legendary Louisville hardcore band. They had to abandon the moniker Black Widows when it was soon discovered another band already held the rights to that particular name. They settled for Black Cross and in 2003, Art Offensive came out on Equal Vision Records.
The album opens with the blistering title track – one minute and 23 seconds of buzzsaw guitars and sharp drumming. Taken at face value, this is a hardcore record through and through; of the12 tracks, there’s not one creeps past the three-minute mark. Black Cross fire out their aggressive punk in the same way early hardcore bands like Black Flag and Swiz once did, but the overall musicianship means their rage is more focused than those early bands. Vocally, the Patterson brothers back up Pennington’s bursts of rhetoric with a guttural depth more in tune with the crust punk scene, allowing the music to sometimes cross into metal territories.
At the same time, the evolving time signatures and discordant jangles means this record also aligns itself with the art rock of 90s San Diego. On Commercial Break, the guitar lines are straight out of the John ‘Speedo’ Reis’ book of cool, mixing Drive Like Jehu’s angular rhythms with Rocket From The Crypt’s up-tempo swagger. The musical mathematics of Icebox in the Alley is made all the more intense by that relentless hardcore energy.
Browsing through the liner notes, names of punk greats stand out. Former Squirrel Bait singer Peter Searcy not only lends his voice to Screaming From The Top Of The Stairs, but also surprisingly plays cello on the Fugazi-esque Gift To The Sea. Even the album’s producer J. Robbins is a celebrated DC musician, having played in legendary punk act Government Issue, as well as forming indie rock bands Jawbox and Burning Airlines.
While the Patterson brothers may have gone their separate ways following Black Cross’ dissolution, Art Offensive is testimony to the progressive and unique Louisville hardcore scene, a collection of bands that still shape the underground beyond Kentucky’s state lines.