Music Education

What is Sasscore? A Genre Field Guide

It’s been a while since I’ve jumped into another genre that sounds made up.

A kaleidoscope of influences — hardcore, post-hardcore, metal, new wave, disco, etc. — consistently infused with cheeky irreverence and borderline-effeminate vocality, sasscore is a truly magnificent musical monstrosity that spits in the face of hypermasculinity. Hipsters before hipsters were uncool.

The Compendium of Sass

A “compendium of sass” posted to the now-defunct website “Stuff You Will Hate” described sasscore as “all about tight pants, pink, snotty attitudes, sweaty dance parties, keyboards, androgynous Asian band members and explicit homoeroticism.”

According to the compendium’s anonymous author, sasscore is, plainly put, “Hardcore for the angry skinny boys full of sexual tension and a great collection of skinny ties and thrift store slim-fit suit jackets before those were even a thing that cool people wore.”

Scathing commentary aside, sasscore seems to perfectly encapsulate a highly-specific and lamentably short-lived era of late 90’s and early 2000’s aesthesis.

Screamo band Ostraca performing live in 2015. Licensed CC BY-SA 4.0

Just as “twee” describes a brief-but-irrefutably punctuating period of Moldy Peaches-listening, Oxford-wearing, tote bag-carrying proto-hipsterism, sasscore highlights the intersection of “hipster-scenester” male sexuality, “femme arthouse stuff,” and alternative music long before “hipster” became a derogatory term.

And it was polarizing, for sure. People either loved sasscore or absolutely hated it (evidently enough to psychoanalyze its fans on troll websites).

Why Hate Sass?

The anonymous author speculated that one reason the genre was met with such fervent resistance was due to the “latent discomfort hardcore has always had with male sexuality, be it heterosexual or homosexual.”

While there are certainly some points in the author’s manifesto that strike me as conjecture rather than analysis, I do agree that sasscore seems to find its roots in its opposition to the hegemonic masculinity of the hardcore scene.

Cover for “Black Eyes” by “Black Eyes”

As we’ve seen with other genres like riot grrrl, queer/homocore and egg punk, the “boy’s club” atmosphere of the hardcore scene is, to put it plainly, highly divisive. While nonconformity is the alleged crux of punk ethos, the veneration of hypermasculinity overshadows the scene’s diversity.

In a way, sasscore is the antithesis of the hypermasculine. While still majorly male-dominated, sasscore artists never shy away from the “feminine,” dressing somewhere between punks, hipsters and scene kids and infusing their instrumentation and stylistics with audacious and experimental styles.

The Emergence of Sass

Sass rose as a movement in the early 2000s with the work of bands like The Crimson Curse, Orchid, The Blood Brothers, Black Eyes (one of my favorite sass bands) and The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower.

Cover for “Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!” by Orchid

At the same time, other bands such as Destroyer Destroyer, Tower of Rome and many others excluded sasscore’s post-hardcore influences, instead fusing sasscore with mathcore and grindcore. The resulting genre became known as white belt.

Some newer white belt bands that mix hardcore, slam, grind and metalcore revival include SeeYouSpaceCowboy, The Callous Daoboys, and .gif from god (who I saw live last year)

The Sound of Sass

According to Phillip Stounn of DIY Conspiracy, sasscore incorporates elements from genres within and outside of punk and is generally considered a post-hardcore style.

Key stylistic features include an “over-the-top, spastic edge, dissonant, chaotic guitars, occastional dance rhythms, synths and blast beats.”

In 2017, writer Ellie Kovach (influenced by “the compendium of sass”) described the genre’s “lisping vocals shouting incredibly erotic lyrics over chaotic guitar runs and keyboards” and “flamboyant, homoerotic clothing and behavior” as being primarily directed at hardcore’s “tough-guy” culture and “the PC crowd’s stifling lack of ability to have fun.”

Final Thoughts

I’m always a sucker for a genre that counters counterculture, and I always jump at the opportunity to elicit some early-2000’s nostalgia.

While sasscore certainly isn’t for everybody, I find that it’s my particular flavor of so-weird-it’s-almost-bad music. Would I play Black Eyes for my family? Probably not. But have I listened through their self-titled album more times than I can count? Absolutely.

If you’re someone interested in music with a “spastic edge,” then perhaps you should check out sasscore. If you like things a bit on the heavier side, check out white belt.

Concert Preview

Babe Haven’s New Album will Melt Minds at Motorco

Raucous riot grrrls Babe Haven are dropping their latest album “Nuisance” at Motorco June 28th, and it’s sure to be real rager.

Performing with iconic garage punks BANGZZ and Destructo Disk, Babe Haven isn’t just debuting their newest album, but kicking off a raffle in support of Girls Rock NC.

The band will also offer limited edition posters designed by vocalist Lillie Della Penna and give out trophies for particularly interactive showgoers.

For fans of the Triangle punk scene, this is far from an opportunity to pass up.


“Nuisance” comes after Babe Haven’s 2023 LP “Uppercut.” Consistently high-energy, irreverent and infused with 90s-era grunge, “Uppercut” is a classic from beginning to end.

Babe Haven has offered us a taste of what to expect from “Nuisance” with the release of singles “Die (and Rot)” and “Blind Yourself.

As far as songs go, “Die (and Rot)” is classically Babe Haven: barbed wire and sugar candy and a couple dog barks à la Brian Garris.

Della Penna really pushes herself hard with this one, and I can only imagine the absolute (beautiful) chaos her performance would bring to a crowd. I, for one, cannot wait to throw elbows to this.

Cover for “Uppercut” by Babe Haven

Conversely, “Blind Yourself” takes a minute to warm up, starting with an almost post-punk slant before grunge-infused vocals shift the genre to edgy alternative rock. The song is a real hip-swayer for most of its duration before reaching a hardcore climax in the song’s final thirty seconds.

If these two singles are anything to go on, “Nuisance” will be an absolutely riotous release.

BANGZZ and Destructo Disk

Supporting Babe Haven are two other iconic punk bands, BANGZZ and Destructo Disk.

Durham-based duo BANGZZ consistently channel “feral grunge punk catharis” with their unflinchingly fast and loud tracks. You can catch a special WKNC interview with them here.

Cover for “You Took My Body Long Ago and Now I am Taking it Back” by BANGZZ

Destructo Disk, hailing from Winchester, Virginia, have garnered acclaim for their witty and irreverent lyricism with iconic songs like “The Power of Christ Expels You” and “Goth Queen (Reign Supreme).”

Cover for “Punk Rock Die” by Destructo Disk

The band’s insistence on failing to take themselves — or the punk scene — seriously makes them a self-aware (and simply better) version of the infamous Negative XP.

Final Thoughts

There’s no better way to finish off Pride Month than a good punk show. And there’s no better punk show than one where you have 1) An excuse to be as extra as possible and 2) A chance to catch some of the most iconic bands in the southeast in action.

I know where I’ll be on June 28. Do you?

Classic Album Review

Omerta’s New Single Takes a Sledgehammer to Genre

Pushing boundaries is nothing new to Omerta. With their latest single, “Charade,” the band blurs the line between music, cacophony, the avant-garde and the outright unhinged.

Let’s talk about it.

A New Era

Described by Culture Addicts as a “five-minute opus,” “Charade” is the first track of Omerta’s upcoming album “Suicycle.” The album is set to come out via Blowed Out Records, the label manned by Ross Robinson, Ghostemane and Bill Armstrong, later this year.

As I explained in my profile on Omerta, the band’s genre is hard to define. Despite the valiant efforts of Redditor music aficionados to uncover this sacred truth, the band’s classification ultimately depends on who you ask.

Cover for “i luv u 2” by Omerta

Are they nu metal? Trap metal? Metalcore? A flagrant affront to the music world in general? The Council has yet to offer an answer, and it seems Omerta is dead-set on only further tormenting musical purists.

Have you ever taken a college course that was considered a “make-or-break” type of class? If you’re a STEM major, you probably have. These classes are arduous and tough and often soul-crushing, designed to weed out the people who just can’t hack it.

In a way, “Charade” is a “make-or-break” kind of song. You either get it or you don’t.

Early Releases

I fell in love with Omerta after catching them live at Hangar 1819 back in 2022, during which they performed tracks from their debut album “Hyperviolence.”

Cover for “Hyperviolence” by Omerta

How to explain “Hyperviolence?” It’s vile and razor-edged and gritty, the kind of music you’d listen to as an angst-ridden teenager riding the school bus at 6 a.m.. Vocalist Gustavo Hernandez, despite being 5 feet and 2 inches tall, emanates palpable rage. The instrumentation is fierce, the lyrics capricious and the album’s central theme — violence — taking center stage.

In 2023, Omerta released the single “Antiamorous,” a downright caustic track with heavy experimental flair. You can read about it here.

After “Antiamorous,” the band teased “Suicycle” — referencing the term “sui generis” rather than suicice — calling the album the start of a new era. On May 1, 2024, they dropped “Charade.”


The first thing I asked myself after listening to “Charade” was: do I like this?”

The question was difficult to answer. So naturally, I listened to the song 20 more times. I’m still not sure if I actually like it, but it’s certainly interesting.

“Charade” features vocals from Vicente Void, former member of Darke Complex, and alternative rapper Hash Gordon. Both artists have worked with Omerta before, with Void producing most of the band’s songs and Gordon featuring on the “Hyperviolence” track “Cidephile.”

There’s a hard masculine edge to much of Omerta’s music, with the glorification of violence often taking on Clockwork Orange levels of absurdity. From the first few seconds of “Charade,” I knew I was witnessing something drastically removed from the band’s previously-established “brand.”

Photo by Breno Machado on Unsplash

I was shocked to learn that Gustavo provided most of the song’s vocals, especially those at the first half of the track. His hard, barbed edges are rendered smooth as breakcore-esque electronic beats crackle in the background. I was instantly reminded of the English covers of Vocaloid songs I used to listen to as a tween, and I thought to myself is this actually Omerta?

Just as soon as I asked myself this question, a distorted guitar entered the chat. The vibe instantly shifted, quickly ushering in what I would consider to be classic Gustavo: loud, throat-ripping and laden with expletives. Next, Hash Gordon sending the track into a full-on adrenaline rush with a rapid-fire slant. I was reminded of the insanity of Spider Gang (specifically, Methhead Freestyle).

At this point, I lost my grasp on the song entirely. Even now, having listened through it over a dozen times, I can’t really make sense of it. There’s simply too much going on for my mind to comprehend, hence my inability to truly state whether or not I actually like it.

Final Thoughts

“‘Charade’ is cringecore,” the band said in a public statement. “It’s avant-garde. It’s post-post-hardcore. It’s acid jazz. It’s K-Pop. It’s prog rock. It’s an anime opening. It’s neo metal. It’s an overture heralding the arrival of a sui generis cycle.

“The postmodern condition has relegated Sincerity, Love and Beauty to vestiges of a bygone era, and in their stead, Cynicism, Irony and Ugliness abound. In this profound, suffocating darkness and loneliness, this song is our proposal for a vibe shift – a bullet through the skull of Nihilism.”

Whether or not “Charade” is truly a “bullet through the skull of Nihilism” or the members of Omerta have simply read too much philosophical theory (or watched too many arthouse films) remains to be seen. With the upcoming release of “Suicycle,” perhaps “Charade” will fit into a bigger, more coherent context.

Or perhaps not. But that may be, as the band suggests, precisely the point.

Classic Album Review

Machine Girl Traverses a Synthetic Heaven with “SUPER FREQ”

Machine Girl’s latest EP is a perfect blend of frenetic beats and ultramodern digital rhythms. “SUPER FREQ” channels Machine Girl’s classic anime-infused breakcore stylstics with an uncanny twist.

Produced for FREQ Records, the EP stands as a pesudo-soundtrack for “FREQ,” a new manga project by Nicola Kazimir and Dai Sato. Written by Sato, acclaimed for his screenwriting work on “Ergo Proxy,” “Cowboy Bebop,” “Samurai Champloo” and numerous others, “FREQ” takes place in a universe governed by sound.

Finished Manga panel from FREQ Volume #0, illustrated by Good News For Bad Guys

According to the official “FREQ” Kickstarter, “The setting of Freq’s lore unfolds in a futuristic realm where the influence of sound frequencies governs all aspects of life. In this world, everything from traffic, AR visuals to warfare and of course music is orchestrated through the manipulation/extraction of sound frequencies [sic].”

Synthetic Heaven

Consisting of three tracks and with a total runtime of around 10 minutes, “SUPER FREQ” is fast-paced, energetic and futuristic. Though lacking in the stylistic complexity seen in earlier releases like “Wlfgrl” or “U-Void Synthesizer,” the EP is wholly solid.

While “SUPER FREQ” lacks the digital hardcore influence that underscores much of Machine Girl’s work, the EP’s “cleaner” vocal quality allows for Stephenson’s incisive lyricism to really shine through.

The EP’s first track, “Black Glass,” puts an esoteric spin on the digital age. The plight of the chronically online and technologically oversaturated becomes a “black mass,” with the human soul endlessly reflected as “shadows” across an endless expanse of “black glass.”

Crawl into the cave before it’s gone

Before the future turns to aches

Before your blood turns into plastic

“Black Glass,” Machine Girl

There certainly is no dearth of sci-fi futurist dystopias in media: decades-away worlds plated in chrome and illuminated in vivid technicolor. However, as Machine Girl suggests, the sci-fi dystopia is already upon us: our blood is inexorably laced with forever chemicals and our lives are consumed by synthetic stimulation.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Despite the song’s prescient message, it’s consistently upbeat. In fact, the whole EP maintains a sort of cavalier jubilation throughout. The next track, “Dance in the Fire,” is a techno-laced dance anthem. The third, “Big Time Freq,” a chipper instrumental.

Of the three tracks on “SUPER FREQ,” this one excited me the least. Compared to the mysterious “Black Glass” and the manic “Dance in the Fire,” “Big Time Freq” is…kind of bland.

There’s nothing particularly striking about this track, and it lacks the hypnotic frenzy of other Machine Girl instrumentals. My younger brother aptly described it as “video game idling music.”

Final Thoughts

While “SUPER FREQ” certainly doesn’t take away from Machine Girl’s artistic credibility, it admittedly falls short of its predecessors. The EP is fun and danceable, but it’s only “Black Glass” that really strikes me as iconically Machine Girlesque.

After nearly two years since Machine Girl’s last release, a soundtrack for the platform shooter “Neon White,” it’s fair to say that I hope the duo returns to producing the more involved and experimental LPs that have come to define the breakcore genre.


Chainsaw Charts 5/17/24

Chainsaw Charts

1CANDY“eXistenZ” [Single]Relapse
2MY DYING BRIDEA Mortal BindingNuclear Blast
3STRYCHNOSArmageddon PatronageDark Descent
4ABORTEDVault Of HorrorsNuclear Blast
5ILLUMISHADEAnother Side Of YouNapalm
6TORN IN HALFPrayers Returned With Pain [EP]Isolated Incidents
9ANAKAThe Oblivion CallSelf-Released
10GATECREEPERDark SuperstitionNuclear Blast

Chainsaw Adds

1FUMISTCoaltarRip Roaring Shit Storm
2PRIMITIVE WARFAREExtinction ProtocolStygian Black Hand/Godz ov War Productions
3NIMBIFERDer b​ö​se GeistVendetta
4GREYHAVENStereo Grief [EP]Solid State
5DISSIMULATORLower Form Resistance20 Buck Spin
7SPECTRAL VOICESparagmos [EP]Dark Decent
8ANTICHRIST SIEGE MACHINEVengeance Of Eternal FireProfound Lore

Why Does Physical Music Live On in Gen Z? WKNC DJs Weigh in

When I was 16, my parents bought me my first record player (at my request). They couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around it.

“Nobody listens to records anymore,” they said. “You won’t even be able to find any.”

Six years later after I inherited my cousin’s expansive CD collection, they were similarly befuddled to learn that I did not intend to throw them away, but rather seek out a secondhand CD player.

“Nobody listens to CDs anymore,” they said. “You won’t even be able to find any.”

My parents’ assumptions, while (flagrantly) wrong, were interesting to me. Born in 1965 and 1971, respectively, my father and mother witnessed both the age of vinyl and CDs come and go. They resigned themselves to an unequivocally digital future.

People still buy vinyl and CDs, but most of them don’t look like my parents. They look like me: twenty-somethings with tote bags, scuffed Doc Martens and obscure band tees. The infamous and much-reviled Gen Z.

The Resurgence

According to a study by the Record Industry Association of America, vinyl sales rose by 29% in 2020, overtaking CDs and cassettes for the first time in decades. Between the years 2020 and 2021, sales saw a whopping 61% increase.

According to MRC Data’s midyear report for 2021, vinyl sales are only expected to keep growing, and one of the driving factors behind this is Gen Z.

While the 55+ age demographic historically takes the lead in vinyl purchases, 2021 data shows the 25-34 age demographic tying with 55+, with each composing 21% of all new sales. Younger demographics, like those 18-24, purchase 14%.

Photo by Elza Kurbanova on Unsplash

Though Gen Z has failed to take the lead in vinyl sales so far, they compose a significant margin of the market with plenty of room for growth.

While I could find a slew of statistics on Gen Z’s impact on vinyl sales, I was hard-pressed to find solid numbers on CDs.

One of the reasons for this, according to RIAA Research Director Matthew Bass, is that the RIAA can only track first sales. A lot of CDs are secondhand, and their passage from person-to-person has no traceable footprint. Therefore, while data on new CD sales demonstrates a decline, data on used CDs isn’t part of the equation.

So, What’s the Deal?

As I perused a vast selection of articles and thinkpieces, I came to realize something. Most, if not all, of what I read was written by people outside of the Gen Z demographic.

Their reasoning behind Gen Z’s affinity for physical music was purely speculation (one even said it was “y2k,” an abbreviation that still sends shivers down my spine), and therefore meant next to nothing to me. If I wanted to hear old men give me their opinions on my generation, I would just go to Facebook.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

So, I reached an impasse. I certainly knew why I collected vinyl and CDs, but despite my conviction that I was one of The Music Listeners Ever, I needed a more comprehensive pool of data to draw from.

Luckily, I had a particularly large group of pathological music fanatics at my disposal, and they were more than happy to tell me their thoughts.

What’s so special about having physical copies of music?

In a world of subscription services and digital downloads, nobody truly “owns” anything. Rather, they pay monthly installments in order to prolong a temporary — and conditional — loan.

“Instead of monthly payments for as long as the site lasts,” said Chainsaw DJ Wizard of Gore, who collects both CDs and vinyl. “I can pay once for an album I love and listen to it over and over forever.”

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Other DJs shared a similar sentiment. DJ Bodhi, a vinyl collector, loves the “sheer mystique” of being able to hold music.

“There’s something unique about ownership in the digital world,” they said. “In many ways, it’s the last guard for so much music history.”

“In our modern era, everything feels too digitized,” said DJ Cosmonaut, a fan of vinyl and cassettes. “For me, the one thing that got me hooked on [vinyl] was being able to look at the music I was playing. I wasn’t just streaming it; I was holding the album itself in my hands.”

Photo by Enzo Tommasi on Unsplash

Others, such as DJ Hexane, find CDs to be a more convenient option as technological interfaces become increasingly streamlined and device-dependent.

“I have an older stereo system, so I don’t have an AUX imput or Bluetooth connection for streaming with my phone,” they said. “Plus, many phones these days are removing AUX inputs, and dongles break very easily. I enjoy being able to use my stereo system in my car with CDs.”

Apollo, who also collects CDs, had a similar perspective.

“I like CDs because it’s way easier to pick a CD out and have it play than mess around with my phone while driving,” they said, adding #safedriver.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Some vinyl, said DJ Cowball, former WKNC GM, can be an investment. “A Weezer record I don’t really play anymore goes for over $100 on Discogs,” she said. “I might sell it sometime.”

Many DJs purchase CDs and vinyl in order to express their support for their favorite artists.

“Spotify is notorious for underpaying artists,” said Wordgirl, who enjoys both CDs and vinyl. “I feel like it doesn’t help the the artists I love to simply stream their music.”

CDs remain a significant source of income for musicians. Though many people discount their earning potential, they’re immensely more profitable than downloads or streams. Vinyl are similarly vital, outselling CDs by 6 million units according to 2023 data.

Conversely, artists make between $0.003-$0.005 per stream on Spotify.

Final Thoughts

While purchasing and listening to music on vinyl and CDs is generally more expensive, time-consuming and complicated (As DJ Mithrax admits, it’s certainly not preferable) than using a streaming service, these qualities are precisely what make the practice so important.

“It’s a more intentional process,” said DJ gotosleep. “Which makes the listening experience more substantial.”

Photo by CARTIST on Unsplash

And I agree. There’s something intrinstically (perhaps even metaphysically) rewarding about seeking out, acquiring and spinning physical music. The process and the experience become divorced from the endless convenience and mindlessness of the digital sphere.

“There’s a ritual aspect to it,” said Johnny Ghost. “It’s a tactile experience.”

“I love CDs,” said DK Tullykinesis. “I love the colors, the boxes. I love when they have little pamphlets with them. I love seeing them keep spinning for a little while once I press ‘stop’ and take them out of the player.”

In a world aching for nostalgia, physical music stratches that proverbial itch. It signals to a time forever simpler and forever more romantic than the present. For Gen Z, that yearning for the past will likely never fade. We will forever be drawn to the tactile and physical as the world arround us becomes less man and more machine.

Band/Artist Profile Concert Preview

Queer Gothic Bluegrass Coming to The Pinhook This April

The goth-to-country pipeline is real, and the Laurel Hells Ramblers keep it well-fed with their signature “gothic bluegrass.”

This band’s distinct sound comes from the combined efforts of Clover-Lynn, a banjo player from Southwest Virginia, and Jade Louise, a fiddler who cut her teeth performing in the punk and metal scenes before returning to her Carolinian roots.

The Laurel Hell’s Ramblers are coming to Durham April 25th and performing at The Pinhook, one of the city’s most iconic venues.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Ramblers, here’s what you need to know:

Sounds from the Mountains

Laurel Hells Ramblers produces music imbued with a rich folk tradition and strong queer narrative, integrating classic bluegrass stylistics with stories of the experience of being a trans woman in Appalachia.

According to the band’s Spotify testimony, they “seek to show the world and Appalachia that not only are there queer people from the region, but that they are an active part of the culture.”

Cover for “Cripple Creek” by Laurel Hells Ramblers

The resurgence of folk music’s popularity in queer and alternative spaces is far from news. Folk is a rich and bustling genre that has influenced alternative music since the beginning.

Folk punk, a fusion genre of folk and punk rock, started as far back as the 1980s. “Gothic bluegrass” is only another iteration of folk’s impact on the alternative scene and a growing awareness of the staunch gothic energy of Appalachia (see: Y’allternative).


The Laurel Hells Ramblers released their debut single, “Cripple Creek,” January 1, 2023. The track is a solid minute of rustic instrumental featuring Clover-Lynn’s banjo and Jade Louise’s ebullient fiddle.

The band put out two more singles later that year, with “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” coming out June 25 and “Raleigh and Spencer” August 10. Both tracks are covers of classic bluegrass songs, with sprawling rhythms and smoke-tinged lyrics.

Cover for “Raleigh and Spencer” by Laurel Hells Ramblers

March 15, 2024, the band released “County Traditions,” a live LP recorded with Local Exposure Magazine. A shockingly vivid and borderline orchestral album, “County Traditions” is an excellent display of the band’s musical expertise.

Louise’s fiddle is absolutely heartwrenching as it flutters throughout each track, emerging and disappearing into a honey-smooth instrumental tapestry.

Final Thoughts

The Ramblers’ Pinhook performance starts at 8 p.m., with an opening act by Three Top Serenaders.

If their live LP — and the small, intimate atmosphere of the Pinhook — is anything to go by, this show will be mindmelting.

Miscellaneous Short Stories

Transgenerational Inheritance (feat. Limp Bizkit): A Personal Essay

In the days after my cousin died, things were chaotic. We gutted her apartment, tossing the groceries that had been left to rot on her countertops — she’d had them delivered, but never made it home to put them away — and sorting through boxes and boxes of glittery soaps, salves, tinctures and ointments.

My extended family, worn out both from the flight down here from New York and the drive down to Myrtle Beach to claim my cousin’s body, had us trash most of it.

Over the course of two days, the dumpster filled with more and more of my cousin’s things: garbage bags packed almost to splitting with sunglasses, costume jewelry and random, unused items from television ads that had long gathered dust.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

My youngest brother uncovered a custom hookah shaped like a badazzled machine gun, and lamented as our mother (“hell no! absolutely not!”) refused to let him keep it. My other brother found a lockbox filled with “miscellaneous pills and powders,” which he quickly resealed. The key (with a fob reading “Italian Girls Have More Fun”) remained jammed inexorably into the keyhole.

We didn’t throw away everything. While my living cousins made off with designer bags, photographs and a glass-blown pineapple-shaped bong (“for sentimental value,” one cousin stressed), I found myself gravitating towards stranger things. Bric-a-brac, tchotchkes and glorified trash.

A box of rave kandi. A bottle of orange liquer shaped like a dachshund. An old ID from the community college she’d dropped out of in 2006.

Scanned kandi

After we emptied her apartment, everyone went back home. My grandparents and great aunt flew back to New York. One of my cousin’s long-time friends came and collected her bereaved yorkie. I went and took my board-op test to become a DJ. They had the memorial service up in New York and everyone got stoned (or so I heard.) So it goes.

Somewhere along all of this (it all feels nonlinear to me, like skipping through a movie in 10-second incremends), I ended up with a bag of CDs.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

“Here, do you want these?” My mother held them out like one does a dirty diaper, pinching the bag (it was one of those plastic sleeves people keep duvet covers in) by the corner so the CDs puddled in the bottom. They were loose and probably scratched to all hell; probably unusable, really; probably trash.

I took them anyways, stuffing the bag under my bed to rot.

Over two years later (specifically, March 30, 2024), I decided to finally work my way through them. Here’s what I learned:

Laying Out the Particulars of My Inheritance

Parsing through my cousin’s CD collection was like cracking open a time capsule from the early 2000s. As I sat on my bedroom floor and fed disc after disc into my cheap CD player, I felt like I was talking to her — and my adolescent self — again.

“God, you really liked Ludacris, didn’t you?” I said to someone who wasn’t there. Not physically, at least.

It was a 21st century seance, a transgenerational ceremony conducted via polycarbonate. I was channeling my cousin’s spirit, and rather than imploring her to answer my burning questions (“What is life like after death?” “Did you understand what was happening?” “Are you at peace?”), I silently judged her drippingly-2010’s music taste.

Like me, she’d constructed most of her young life around music. I could trace her progression of style, the alt rock and grunge of the 90s and early 2000s giving way to the hip-hop renaissance of the 2010s.

I laid out tall stacks of custom CDs with titles like “Summer 2006,” “Hot Sh–” and “My Mix” lettered in girlish sharpie. I imagined how old she had been when she wrote them, whether or not she’d had her nails done and if her wrists were heavy with gaudy beaded bracelets.

Scanned CDs

In a time before iPods and bluetooth and — heavens forbid — Spotify, burning CDs was a sacred practice. Music was corporeal, and one’s affinity for the stuff became something physical — piles of CDs, stacks of vinyl, etc — that demanded real estate. By comparison, my preferred method of music consumption (streaming) seemed compressed.

In my adolescence, I myself burned songs onto discs — pirating the tracks online, then meticulously ordering them by “vibe” — and eventually did the same on my first iPod. But those were all long gone, sublimated into a single app on a phone I often misplaced.

Sitting cross-legged with a plethora of discs fanned out before me, I picked out several names: System of a Down (one of my top artists of 2023), Nirvana (also one of my top artists), Kittie, Korn, Slipknot and an obscene amount of Limp Bizkit.

Cover for “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water” by Limp Bizkit

I’ll be honest: I’m not all that familiar with Limp Bizkit’s discography. I’m more familiar with Fred Durst, who I’ve mentally elevated to the status of a sort of mythical folklore hero (or antihero?). Anyways, I decided to put on “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water” and was utterly shocked by how awesomely stupid it was. It’s great.

I could imagine my cousin, a teenager or perhaps in her early twenties, speeding down the highway in her little blue SUV and cranking the radio up to full blast, singing along to Fred f–ing Durst and reveling in the invincibility of youth and the heat of a seemingly endless southern summer.

I’m a renegade riot gettin’ out of control
I’m a keepin’ it alive and continue to be
Flyin’ like an eagle to my destiny
So can you feel me? (hell yeah)
Can you feel me? (hell yeah)
Can you feel me? (hell yeah)

“Livin’ it Up” – Limp Bizkit

Transgenerational theory posits rules for the ways in which rrituals, practices, behaviors and philosophies move down generational lines.

Think transgenerational trauma: agony passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter over three lifetimes. Her mother was my mother’s aunt, second eldest of seven first-generation Italian immigrants. Evidently, not a fan of Fred Durst or Serj Tankian or any of the other yelling men my cousin liked to listen to.

And while the CD collection made its way into my hands (unceremoniously, I might add) intergenerationally (i.e., it was literally passed down), the physical discs themselves weren’t the only thing I was given. There was something else in transference, something intangible. A transgenerational impulse.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Energy, maybe. A parasocial connection to a teenager I’d never met who grew up to be an adult I loved and lost, a teenager who probably wasn’t much different (if anything, less emo) than my own teenage self. A teenager who meticulously curated mixes for each season, each new year, each new release.

I pop in a disc without a name — it’s hazy green on the front — and watch it spin, and instead of frenzied guitar and drums, I hear a delicate strumming and familiar, dreamlike voice.

I don’t miss you
I don’t wish you harm
And I forgive you
And I don’t wish you away

“Soothe” – Smashing Pumpkins

It’s “Soothe,” a demo tape by Smashing Pumpkins. I’ve never heard it before, but for a moment, I can imagine I’m my cousin: young, alive, lounging before a CD player. For a moment, two dimensions in time: mine here and hers there, run parallel.

Music Education

The Metal Minute: Death Metal

Do you hear it? Just over the horizon, clanging and rattling like a thousand empty soup cans?

It’s the Metal Minute. Last time, we discussed doom metal, a slow and more articulate version of metal. For this installment, things are getting grotesque and growly as we explore the world’s most brutal musical genre: death metal.

What is it?

Death metal can trace its roots to the 80’s, with major stylistic influences derived from early black metal bands like Venom and thrash bands like Slayer and Hellhammer.

Cover for “Realm of Chaos” by Bolt Thrower

Early death metal bands were inspired by these sounds, but wanted to create something harsher — more deathlike — and began to experiment with heavier instrumentation, more abrasive vocals and increasingly grotesque subject matter (see: “Frantic Disembowelment” by Cannibal Corpse).

What’s it Sound Like?

According to Chris Krovatin of Kerrang! magazine, “When a non-metal person describes metal by making a growling noise, they’re thinking of death metal.”

Cover for “The Enduring Spirit” by Tomb Mold

The genre features fast-paced tempos, overdriven guitar, blast beats on double-bass drums and abrupt changes to tempo and time signature. The resulting sound is heavy, distorted and aggressive. Combined with guttural, often inhuman-sounding vocals, the genre presents an intense and expansive listening experience.

Subgenres Within Subgenres

Like many other subgenres, death metal has several sub-subgenres. They include:

  • Brutal death metal

Pretty self-explanatory, brutal death metal favors faster, heavier and more brutal playing styles. The death metal nesting doll continues, as a sub-sub-subgenre called slam death metal has emerged from brutal death metal, infusing hardcore punk and even hip-hop elements into its sound.

  • Deathcore

The “deathification” of metalcore. I.e., the collision of hardcore punk, metal, and death metal. Like metalcore, deathcore is a label often rejected by metal dudebros who see the subgenre as “inauthentic.”

  • Death doom

The marriage of doom metal with death metal. Slower tempos and a more broody atmosphere with the growls and blast beats of death metal.

  • Melodic death metal

Pioneered in Sweden, leaning closer towards mainstream metal with a more melodic style.

  • Technical death metal

Also known as tech-death or prog-death, presents progressive metal with a death metal slant. Time signatures, rhythms and instrumentation becomes more complex — or, some would say, progressive — within this sub-sub-genre.

Who Makes it?

The death metal scene is robust. Here are several genre heavy-hitters:

Concert Review

Kyoto Punk Quartet Otoboke Beaver Rocks Cat’s Cradle

Japanese garage punk band Otoboke Beaver melted faces and absolutely blew my mind at their March 26 performance at Cat’s Cradle.

If you’re unfamiliar with Otoboke Beaver, I cover them in this recent post. Here’s the rundown of their show:

The Openers

The first act of the night was NC-based riot grrrl band Babe Haven. Fueled by “rage ‘n’ Slim Jims,” this all-girl queer quartet threatened to blow the roof off the place with their vicious musical energy.

Cover for “Uppercut” by Babe Haven

Playing tracks from their most recent album, “Uppercut,” lead vocalist Lillie riveted the audience with her aggressively gritty screams and contagious vigor. Partway through the set, she passed the mic to guitarist Naomi for “Kung Pow,” a rallying cry against orientalism and fetishization that got everyone in the room thrashing.

For more info about Babe Haven’s “Uppercut,” check out “Babe Haven: NC Queer Punk” by Ben.

Following Babe Haven was the Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, a three-piece punk group hailing from Daegu, South Korea. The band’s name comes from its earliest members, who bonded over their shared love of drinking and singing.

Cover for “Linda Linda” by Drinking Boys and Girls Choir

Drinking Boys and Girls Choir presents an upbeat, summery take on punk, with airy beats and an absolutely sublime guitar. The band’s sound moves seamlessly along a spectrum from gritty skate punk to harmonic indie rock.

I’ve never heard anything like it. Myeong-jin Kim’s expert drumwork and Megan Nisbet’s entrancing guitar solos made my skin erupt in gooseflesh.

Otoboke Beaver

Otoboke Beaver’s performance was everything I’d hoped for. With an aces setlist, commanding stage presence and dazzling visual effects, Otoboke Beaver delivered one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had.

Drawing both from their 2022 album “Super Champon” and the iconic 2019 “Itekoma Hits,” the group had everyone in the room at their command.

Cover for “Super Champon” by Otoboke Beaver

When lead vocalist Accorinrin — clad in a 60’s-style pink dress and matching eyeliner — raised a silencing hand, everyone clammed up immediately (except for one man whose incessant “whooping” earned him a scolding “shut the f–k up, man!” from a peeved concertgoer). Later, the audience erupted with delight as she brandished us a manicured middle finger.

Conversely, guitarist Yoyoyoshie’s ebullient orange pallette and cartoonishly cheery demeanor whipped the audience into a frenzy, her high-pitched screams and seemingly elastic facial expressions paired with an aggressive rapid-fire guitar.

Otoboke Beaver at The Crocodile in Seattle – Posted by David Lee, licensed CC BY 2.0 DEED.

Her penchant for audience engagement — compelling us to clap in time with the beat for “Don’t Call Me Mojo” — blurred the hard-set line between stage and audience. This effect reached its ultimate climax when she dove into the audience at the end of the set, crowdsurfing on a giant beaver-themed pool floatie.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes shows with multiple openers can drag, especially when they differ stylistically. However, Babe Haven and Drinking Boys and Girls Choir presented such powerful energy that watching their performances felt like shows in and of themselves rather than a preface to the “main event.”

Ultimately, the night was a showcase of several different faces of female-fronted punk music, and it was absolutely riotous in all the best ways.