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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

Herds’ Violent Nature

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   It's been a while since anything in the world of hardcore punk surprised me, but I was genuinely taken aback by the lyrics on Herds' recently released 7-inch EP. With an almost haiku-like simplicity, vocalist Mike Priehs lays out the story of an erupting volcano in "Katmai": "Katmai made the sky turn to ash/ Isolated eruption/ The Valley of 10,000 Smokes." The juxtaposition of such a strange subject for a hardcore song with the sonic wallop that the band delivers works wonderfully here, as Priehs literally spews out his story of widespread death and destruction.

  It seems as if the band has tapped into an almost primal energy. As recent events have shown, the world of nature can be an incredibly intense and violent place. Hardcore punk, Herds seem to suggest, may be the best soundtrack for such a cruel and unforgiving climate.

   "Most of my lyrics are based on nature-related topics," Priehs explains. "It's usually just a topic that I'm interested in. I work in a library, so if there is something that interests me, I'll go get a book on it." And the animalistic fury that Priehs harnesses in his vocals is present in all aspects of the band's sound. Songs like "Spring" blaze by with an intensity that brings to mind such seminal hardcore acts as Negative Approach. Yet Herds is no one-trick pony. The aforementioned "Katmai" slows things down to a bludgeoning pace and, at times, actually grooves.

  Such lyrical content and ability to experiment with tempo sets Herds apart from your run-of-the-mill hardcore act. There is a maturity present in Herds' sound that is hard to miss, a maturity that may come from the fact that a number of the band's members are over 30. For the band, hardcore punk remains a viable artistic outlet.

   "I know a lot of people getting into their 30s that are still going to shows and still playing in bands," notes guitarist Jon Arends. "I'm married, I own property and I'm a father, so I have all the hardcore strikes against me. But this wasn't a phase for me. I'm still pissed off." In fact, getting older may actually make one angrier. "I think you get more pissed off as you get older," explains drummer Justin Wettstein, "as more real-world things come at you full force."

  Yet equally present in the band's aesthetic is a desire to reach out to like-minded individuals. In an age of instant, disposable music downloads, the band chooses to put out vinyl records with hand-screened covers. To the band, there is almost something communal in the act of holding a record. When you hold the literal physical representation of a band and their songs, concludes bassist Dave Rudnik, "you get to soak in everything that the artist intended for you-it makes the music. The liner notes from some of my old records, I know them inside and out."
Someday, someone may say the same thing about a Herds record.

  Herds play a 7-inch release show on Friday, Oct. 10. For venue details, visit the band's MySpace page, www.myspace.com/herdsmilwaukee.