Formed as a result of guitarist/vocalist Nick Sakes’ “late-20’s crisis” of needing a musical outlet, Dazzling Killmen matured quickly, sloughing off the jazzy overtones of early material and refining the more aggressive elements of their sound over two Steve Albini-engineered studio albums. The St. Louis quartet — which also included drummer Blake Fleming, bassist Darin Gray and guitarist Tim Garrigan, all of them schooled in jazz at Southern Illinois University — pushed hardcore in unfathomably complex new directions. That they managed to intensify the music’s visceral impact while doing this is no small miracle.
On Dig Out the Switch, Sakes’ paranoiac barking is ably supported by serrated guitar riffs and unparalleled rhythmic tension. Except for a reprise of 1991’s subdued “Ghost Limb,” this is a collective personal hell set to tape. But if you’re only going to own one Killmen disc, make it 1994’s Face of Collapse, on which the band is at its zenith, with every bit of tension, anger and dissonance calibrated to achieve maximum impact. While the record’s contents don’t function easily as “songs,” they do link asymmetric time signatures, barbed guitar riffs, crystalline bass lines and acerbic screaming in brilliant and original ways.
Released after the group’s dissolution, Recuerda collects up singles, the Lounge Ax: Live cassette and unreleased tracks.
After the Dazzling Killmen, Sakes relocated to Minneapolis, where he used a newspaper ad to found a new group, Colossamite. Working without a bassist, the quartet combine Sakes’ love of textural guitar raking (à la Metal Box-era PiL) with the jazz/improv skills of guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez and drummer Chad Popple. Rodriguez and Popple, auxiliary members of the hardcore/jazz-fusion collective Iceburn, also brought conservatory training to the group.
All Lingo’s Clamor, Colossamite’s debut, is a difficult but rewarding listen. Sakes is still carrying the math-rock torch and proving that he knows how to wield it better than most. The absence of a bassist doesn’t create any added room: Colossamite’s trio of guitarists rain sheets of tone clusters, with Popple’s multiple time signatures adding a labyrinthine rhythmic dimension. It wasn’t until Economy of Motion that the group learned the benefits of space. Sakes’s vocals, normally difficult to discern, are up front throughout many of the tracks; the individual guitar figures, which range from fractured and Beefheart-esque to eerily peaceful, add varying degrees to the album’s overwhelming sense of tension.
As for the other former Killmen, Fleming sat in with Japan’s Zeni Geva for a tour before joining New York’s faintly This Heat-ish experimental unit Laddio Bolocko for an album. Gray appeared alongside Jim O’Rourke in both Yona-Kit and O’Rourke’s own Brise-Glace project.
Gray and Garrigan launched the confounding You Fantastic! with drummer Thymme Jones (Cheer-Accident, Illusion of Safety, Brise-Glace). Riddler, the group’s debut EP, is certainly that: 10 repetitive tracks of what sounds like tape collages, all built around the same descending melody. Any seriousness is contradicted by the album art, an absurd cartoon featuring Skin Graft Records’ Curious and Serious Brown characters. Pals is no less obvious in its construction — a different theme is introduced and chopped apart by the group and several guests. Imagine Slint as a dissonant Bartñk string ensemble that would rather perform Erik Satie’s mind-numbingly repetitive Vexations.