By Nicki Escudero
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By Lauren Wise
Phoenix brought it hard in 2012.
The year saw a flurry of excellent records and downloads come from the Valley's hardcore, metal, and punk underbelly. Leading the charge was Sorrower, whose split 7-inch with Portland's Violence of Humanity ended up on New Times' music blog Up on the Sun's year-end list of Valley heavy music efforts.
With good reason, too. The slab of wax contained angry, tightly written metal- and punk-influenced grindcore songs that, while short, were satisfyingly fleshed out. Sorrower makes the kind of intense music that defies trends while freaking out normal people. It's a style that Arizona increasingly is becoming known for, with bands Sorrower, Gay Kiss, and Rituals attracting national attention.
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But Sorrower didn't come out of nowhere — and the long, steady climb is evident in the band's music.
"Me, Adam [Senter, original singer], and Josh [Bodnar, drummer] were in a grindcore band called Sunyata," bassist and vocalist Tim Callaway says. "We actually quit [that] band at a show. My guitar player was pissing me off, so we just decided to start a new band right there on the spot."
Leaving behind the disagreeable guitarist and picking up Billy Jacoby a few months later, the band quickly got to work, booking multiple tours and dropping a self-titled 7-inch in 2010. In 2012, Senter left the band, leaving Callaway to take up vocal duties as well as more control over the band's direction. Sorrower's sound began to transition from the grind-influenced early material into something less genre-specific, drawing on many facets of underground heavy music.
"I love grind, but I am really picky about it," Callaway says. "I love Nasum and stuff like that, but a lot of crust grind just bores the crap out of me. I listen to a lot of d-beat, stuff like Tragedy, Wolfbrigade. I'm playing stuff like that constantly, so it comes out, too. So it's kind of like a combination of punk stuff like that, grind like Nasum, and old-school Swedish death metal."
While this makes for more varied and dynamic songwriting, it also makes it harder for fans — often loyal to specific genres and subsets — to pigeonhole the band into one specific scene.
"We're kind of in a weird spot, where we're almost too metal to be punk and too punk to be metal," Callaway says, noting that the band might have more fiscal success if it had an "image" that could appeal to a specific scene.
"If we went on a tour and dressed in the crusty image — all black, patches everywhere — we'd probably sell a shitload more records," he says. "It's really stupid to think of things that way, but it's kind of how it is, unfortunately."
Even if the band shreds too much for some less-than-open-minded punks, they still maintain the kind of rugged and versatile DIY mentality found in punk culture and sometimes neglected by metal bands.
"Kind of one of the bigger reasons that we're farther out of the metal scene when we tour is that we play a lot more punk shows," Callaway says. "I've noticed that death metal bands kind of still have this weird '80s and '90s notion of how touring is. Like, having perfect sound systems and always playing normal venues, and I'm so far away from that. I'll play a house show; I don't care. Most of our shows on tour have been house shows with shitty PAs, but the crowds are insane, so that's all I care about."
The band's punk ethic also influences its relationship with the ever-increasing involvement of corporate entities in heavy music. Scion A/V, a record label and promotions group that is affiliated with a blocky car manufactured by Toyota, has been a particular subject of parody by the band in some of their merch designs.
"All of our early artwork was done by Sean McGrath from Ghoul and Impaled," Callaway says. "He had this design — that he actually didn't originally do specifically for us — of a bunch of metal guys worshiping this Scion that was in the sky, and it was really funny. He gave it to Adam and asked him if we wanted to use it, and we wound up making a T-shirt out of it on our first or second tour."
Though the shirt may have been funny by itself, its humor seems amplified by the chance intersection of the band and the brand.
"It's almost kind of become one of those things that's hard to avoid because, even on that very tour, we wound up doing a show in Nebraska with Voetsek, and we didn't even find out until we got there that it was a Scion-sponsored show," Callaway says.
While the band isn't completely against what the Scion A/V brand does in the heavy music scene, it still ponders the brand association's apparent hypocrisies — as any good anti-authoritarian punk or metalhead should.
"I have a weird opinion of it: It doesn't bother me too much when death metal bands do it, because they don't really have any affiliations against stuff like that," Callaway says. "When I see bands who are supposed to be anti-corporate do stuff like that, it kind of bums me out. It bummed me out when Brutal Truth did one because they were so anti-corporate on the Sounds of the Animal Kingdom LP or on Need to Control, where they did that 'Choice of a Generation' song. It's kind of weird seeing them play that song at a Scion show."
It's probably safe to say that Sorrower most likely won't be selling out to heavy music's new automotive overlords anytime soon. Despite not having corporate sponsorship, the band has plenty planned for 2013, including touring and writing a new LP. Also, discussions of splits and compilations are in the works, so don't be surprised if you see them appearing on a record with Arizona metal bands like TOAD, Godhunter, and Lago (all friends of the band). The bands don't exactly share Sorrower's sound, but diversity is part of what makes the Valley's heavy music scene tick.
"We kind of don't fit in anywhere, so we just work with whoever," Callaway says. "I'm thinking right now of the five bands we're considering doing splits with, and every one of them is different-sounding."