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With only two studio albums proper to their name, that Tacoma’s Botch remain so very revered today is testament to the impact their dramatically taut and technically astute hardcore made at the time; and, more pertinently, how that blast has echoed ever since their 2002 disbanding.
A reunion isn’t out of the question, as members remain active in (not so) new projects: bassist Brian Cook is in These Arms Are Snakes (and contributed to the second Russian Circles LP), vocalist Dave Verellen is currently fronting Narrows alongside members of Some Girls and Tropics, and guitarist Dave Knudson is a key player in Minus The Bear. Only drummer Tim Latona seems to have dropped off the radar. But despite occasional rumours of a one-off revival, nothing’s ever been confirmed, with members reportedly proud of their achievements but not interested in dipping back into Botch’s catalogue for a final hurrah.
But what achievements: 1997’s compilation The Unifying Themes of Sex, Death and Religion made little impact internationally (it was reissued in ‘redux’ form in 2002, and again in 2007), but critics began to take notice of the four-piece’s intelligent interpretation of hardcore come their second, 1998’s American Nervoso (later reissued in 2007 with five bonus tracks). Here was an album that took the brutality common in so much American hardcore and matched it with technical prowess – an ability to wrestle the most abstract noises from the most conventional means – way ahead of the band’s peers. Its influence was immediate, fellow Washington State band The Blood Brothers acknowledging Botch’s immense input on their debut, This Adultery Is Ripe. Others, too, couldn’t shake the feeling that Botch were pushing the hardcore genre down wholly new avenues of adventurous arrangement.
Botch’s follow-up to American Nervoso would prove to be their final album, and undoubtedly their best. We Are The Romans is the classic of their canon, an album inducted into Decibel magazine’s Hall Of Fame in 2005 and rated as the second best album ever by Rock Sound a couple of years later, behind Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come. As with all Botch long-players, it is also available in an expanded form, its deluxe edition of 2007 running to two discs and featuring a wealth of demos and live recordings. But the original album is brilliant enough to stand up for itself, even almost a decade after its release.
‘Saint Matthew Returns To The Womb’ builds upon motifs of high-end guitar trickery, blood-curdling roars and crunching riffs that made plenty of appearances on American Nervoso, and ‘Mondrian Was A Liar’ runs a similar course, but these two instantly engaging offerings are but surface-level distractions: explore the album deeper and We Are The Romans reveals its wonderful idiosyncrasies. ‘Swimming The Channel vs Driving The Chunnel’ is a slow-shifting, almost post-rock piece with mumbled, deadpan vocals which somehow still convey a great sense of emotion. It fizzes and buzzes, like helicopters circling overhead, while the whole time drums appear to be building to a peak, only to fall short a few feet from their goal, intentionally. It’s a brilliant sidestep, indicative of a desire to not be shackled by genre conventions. Not that Botch ever really played to the rule book, but this was the four-piece at their most playful, at their most fearless.
Math-core, metal-core… terms used in relation to Botch, but no sub-genre really sticks, even now. Listening back to We Are The Romans, to American Nervoso and the band’s final recording, the five-track (discounting a short opening track) An Anthology of Dead Ends EP of 2002, it’s tough to pick any names from today’s hardcore ranks who’ve reshaped the field in such a dramatic way. The aforementioned offshoots play their parts, but where are the bands nowadays producing records that shift from the purified rage of ‘Vietmam’ to the understated splendour of the morose ‘Afghamistam’ (both sequential tracks from An Anthology…). I never saw the band live, but knowing that (most) members are still exploring creativity within their musical callings gives me hope that, perhaps, they will again match the heights achieved with Botch. Not that these highs were evident at the time – like many true classics (rather than instant-hit 5/5s), We Are The Romans has only been elevated to such a level over the course of a good few years.
It seems to me the time is right – if not before this year is out then certainly next year, the tenth anniversary of We Are The Romans – for a special, one-time-only reunion, be it in Washington, London, Australia, Japan… wherever. Have albums, will travel. Such an event would simply be too great to miss. To say the chances are slim is an understatement – as outlined above members have so far made it clear that any reformation is highly unlikely to happen – but if Botch were ever to set a stage alight once more, 2009 seems the year to do it.
Video: ‘Saint Matthew Returns To The Womb‘
Video: ‘Hutton’s Great Heat Engine‘
Video: the encore at Botch’s final show
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