The Bled is the best goddamn rock band in Arizona.
On the band's 2001 EP His First Crush, the album cover bears the line, "Can you still feel the butcher knives?" It's a clever play on Jimmy Eat World's chorus to "For Me This Is Heaven," off the Clarity LP -- "Can you still feel the butterflies?" It's also an apt description of the Tucson band's music, a blend of hardcore, metal, screamo and melodica that inflicts itself on you like death by a thousand cuts.
The Bled has been on tour since May of last year, two months before the band's debut full-length, Pass the Flask, was released. Its most recent tour, with Beloved, Classic Case, and Tucson's Our Cure the Rocketship, brought The Bled to the Clubhouse in Tempe a couple Sundays ago, where I saw the band live for the first time. Onstage, the five-piece -- vocalist James Muñoz, bassist Mike Celi, guitarists Jeremy Talley and Ross Ott, and drummer Mike Pedicone -- is a tempest of aggression and angst.
I try to take notes, watching Celi's waiflike figure thrash around the stage, banging into Muñoz as he screams out the lyrics, while the mostly teenage crowd throbs against the stage, but soon I'm immersed in the spectacle of The Bled's intricate math rock and pummeling rhythm section, and as Muñoz screams, "Forget the fuck away from me," in "Get Up You Son of a Bitch, Cause Mickey Loves Ya," I simply write, "Fuck yeah." It's that good.
A few hours earlier, at the Horse & Hound next door to the Clubhouse, Talley and Pedicone are sitting patiently in front of a tape recorder, talking about the hurricane of a year they've had since Pass the Flask was released. They recently returned from a string of U.K. dates with Funeral for a Friend and My Chemical Romance, and will join the Warped Tour after their tour with Beloved comes to a close. At 25, Talley is the oldest in the band, the others are between 21 and 22, and already the band has consumed their lives. "None of us have jobs; none of us go to school. This is all we care about; we're focused," Talley says. "Now we don't know what to do with ourselves when we're in Tucson. We just sit around."
The members of The Bled have sacrificed a lot to get to this point, and I'm grateful they have, because Arizona hasn't had a heavy band this good since Sepultura was in its heyday.
"When you're on the road for nine months out of the year, all the friends that you had before are gone; you can't come home and get a job," Talley says. "It's hard to stay in touch with 20 people; it's so easy to grow apart. Now the five people that are in my band are my best friends; they're the only people that I can relate to. I'm not having enough outside experiences other than the band to be able to connect with all of my previous friends. It's weird. We've all ruined our relationships with our girlfriends. We've all dropped out of our school. It fucks you up, it changes you. But there's nothing else I'd rather be doing."
Not long before Pass the Flask was recorded, The Bled made a crucial lineup change that propelled the band into territory beyond what a typical hardcore/metal band is capable of. The members replaced original vocalist Adam Goss with longtime friend Muñoz, just a month before they entered the studio to record.
"The bad thing about Adam is that he couldn't really do much more than scream, so we had to hold back," Talley explains. "We couldn't write how we want. The songs were basically written, and James just kind of jumped in. The demos were recorded, so he knew how the vocal lines were going. We just kind of played it for him, he listened to it, memorized all the lyrics we had written, and took over and did his own thing with it. [James] really brought a drama that wasn't really there with Adam."
The drama plays out across Pass the Flask, a tortured album rife with medical and anatomical analogies -- on The Bled's most infamous song (for which you can see a video on the record label's Web site, www.fiddlerrecords.com), "You Know Who's Seatbelt," Muñoz screams, "We'll dance like a pile of teeth in a broken mouth . . . we'll scrape the guardrail from our teeth and start again." The song was originally titled "Dale Earnhardt's Seatbelt."
While the bulk of the record has Muñoz screaming, the melodic, pretty moments are what really set The Bled apart. On "Porcelain Hearts and Hammers for Teeth," Muñoz croons, "I'd burn alive to keep you warm when you're alone," over a delicate, moody intro. To simply call The Bled a hardcore band or a metal band would be an unfortunate marginalization.
"Some parts of our music stick out more than others to different people," Talley says. "If people ask me what kind of music we are, I just tell them that we're heavy."
The Bled is working -- slowly -- on writing the next album, carefully mapping out what the future of the band is while enjoying the ride. My prediction is that The Bled will eventually be synonymous with Arizona music the way that Jimmy Eat World is -- something to make us all proud.
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"The shit that we're being handed and the stuff that we're going through, there's too many people out there that would kill to be in our spot for us to go, 'I need to take a month off to be with my girlfriend,'" Talley says just before we part ways.
If we're lucky, The Bled won't be taking any vacations for a long-ass time.