The ’90s was a transitional period for punk rock and hardcore’s impact on music is now a distant memory. Many of the early bands had either disbanded or were in the process of shedding their abrasive skin in the hope of furthering their career. But many band’s unwillingness to conform meant America’s underground was once again pushing extremes even further.
More so than ever, colleges, universities and art schools became the breeding ground for hardcore bands. Once class had finished, school canteens and gym halls would transform into live music venues. All of a sudden these temples of mundanity were bursting with energy as bands traveled up and down the country to play blistering floorshows. These DIY events matched the ferocity of early hardcore concerts but the intensity and chaos on display set them apart from the more straightforward four-chord formula. The music mixed dissonant guitars and off-kilter drumming with highly emotive vocals. These young bands were influenced by everything from free-form jazz and Joy Division to philosophers and poetry, some even cited Dischord Records’ Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses as originators of this new sound. This offshoot of hardcore was notoriously hard to label but names like ‘screamo’ and ‘powerviolence’ were often used to describe the almighty noise produced. One of the most revered records, and indeed bands, to emerge from this era is Orchid and their aptly titled album, Chaos Is Me, released in 1999.
Like many of their peers, Orchid formed while the members were attending college. Singer Jayson Green, guitarist Will Killingsworth and bassist Brad Wallace were studying at Hampshire College, an institute that pioneered alternative eduction in the Massachusetts area. Drummer Jeff Salane was a student at the far more conventional UMass in Amherst. Inherent to their background in liberal education, the band experimented with all genres of music, at times even mixing classical pieces into their cacophony of brash guitars and crashing drums.
Album opener, Le Désordre, C’est Moi begins with an unsettling string crescendo combined with the percussive hits of a wood block. This eerie intro gives way to the signature Orchid sound – a crushing barrage of blast beats, varying time signatures and deathly screams. The next rest bite occurs at the beginning of track four, New Jersey vs Valhalla. Once again the calm is short-lived and Orchid hammer home their dynamic mangle of angular guitars and drums.
Chaos Is Me was produced by Kurt Ballou at his own Godcity Studios. Over the years Ballou, better known as the principle guitar player in noise giants Converge, has become one of the most prolific producers in hardcore and metal music. He can make records sound like they’ve been pushed through the fiery pits of hell but maintain a clarity that defies the destructive tones lashing from the speakers. Ballou captures Orchid’s brand of tearing hardcore and adds definition to the overwhelming mayhem.
Chaos Is Me is so ugly it’s beautiful. Amidst the disturbing sounds there’s a very real, very human, heart beating through the performance. It’s the sound of four musicians pushed to their limits, almost to the point of self-destruction. When guitars finally settle on a melody the underlying delicacy makes itself known and in turn reveals a certain fragility in Green’s impassioned vocal delivery. The band give it everything they have, and after twenty minutes they emerge bloody and scarred but at peace with the world. We also experience this turbulent journey with the band and find solace when we make it out alive. Chaos Is Me is a piece of art that leaves a lasting impression. Hang it on your wall and play loud when the world stops making sense.