Just as the titles suggests, 2003’s ‘Nightmares’ is a terrifying dissection of modern society, condemning religious suffering and political oppression with every bone in its body. Such anti-constitutional themes are typical of your average anarcho-punk record, but this album is delivered with an unbridled ferocity that previously didn’t exist in the scene.
As the 90s came to an end, Wilmington’s Jade Tree Records was firmly at the forefront of the emo scene. Releases by Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring and New End Original cemented the label’s sensitive rock reputation, so when From Ashes Rise signed to the expanding label, many punks turned their patch-covered backs to the band.
How a band renowned for their brutal bursts of destructive noise could ever release music via such a label baffled the punk underground. Fears of the group going soft spread through basements and zines across North America, but little did the doubters know the resulting album would set the standard for the crust scene and future records to come.
Signing to a bigger label would not only provide a greater platform for From Ashes Rise’s social message, but it was also an opportunity to spend some money on producing their music. They entered Seattle’s Studio Litho in May 2003, with Matt Bayles assuming the role of both producer and engineer. Previously Bayles had produced records for The Blood Brothers, Murder City Devils, Botch, Isis, and Mastodon’s first full-length Remission. He brought experience and contemporary studio techniques to the recording process as well as playing keys on some of the album’s more atmospheric sections.
From the very beginning of Nightmares, we’re struck with From Ashes Rise’s trademark apocalyptic sound – but there’s an added bite and crispness. Dave Atchison’s remorseless D-beat drumming style and Billy Davis’ ruthless bass combine to form a thunderous low-end, whilst John Wilkerson and Brad Boatright’s stampeding guitar interplay carry the listener through the storm. There’s also a sea-change in their approach to song structure and melody; the riffs are memorable and, dare we say it, even catchy. Boatright’s snarling vocal attack, however, is a constant barrage of spit and dissent.
The album not only made waves among the punk scene, but also found favour within metal and hardcore circles alike. Nightmares saw From Ashes Rise take their stark, extreme sound to a wider audience without diluting their politics or compromising their savage tendencies.
Five years after its release, the band found themselves part of an intense forum discussion. A keen fan noticed that Spit In The Face, a song on Anti-Flag’s 2008 full-length The Bright Lights of America had a few similarities to Nightmares’ album opener Reaction. The punks that once abandoned the band now found themselves rallying to their defence against the more commercial sounding Anti-Flag. Coincidental or not, the parallels reveal the permeating effect From Ashes Rise has had on their peers.
Nightmares cracked the crust and introduced a level of sophistication to the intense bleakness of underground punk. Classic in feel, yet modern in sound, years will not dilute this album’s intensity.