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Hardcore from days of yore with Kansas City’s Season to Risk

This is pretty funny. Neither of the web addresses included in the booklet of Season to Risk’s The Shattering CD was working when I tried them, so I just typed “Season to Risk” into an Internet search engine. The first thing that came up was an Estonian Web site saying (in Estonian) that there wasn’t much information available about the band. Don’t ask me how I know that—getting the general gist of things in Estonian is one of my many recondite talents—but I thought it was kind of amusing that I had to go all the way to the shores of the Baltic Sea just to find that out.

It turns out there is plenty of online information available about the Kansas City four-piece. Hell, there ought to be—they’ve been playing together, albeit through a couple personnel changes, since 1989. That’s a mighty long time to be touring and releasing albums just so some indolent Estonian can shrug his shoulders and say eriti informatsiooni saadaval ei ole.

Most of the bands they used to open for and tour with are now just names strewn along the continuum. Killing Joke. Big Chief. Prong. The Pain Teens. Fudge Tunnel. Babes in Toyland. Unsane. Buzzoven. 7-Year Bitch. Corrosion of Conformity. Is anyone out there still with me? These are the kind of bands we used to pray would play just one show in Missoula every summer. There should be a word—and perhaps there is in Estonian—for the pleasurable feeling of recognition and mild embarrassment you hear upon putting needle to an album you used to listen to a couple times a week but hasn’t been on the turntable in 10 years or more. I’ve got a couple like that—Prong’s Beg to Differ and Fudge Tunnel’s Hate Songs in E-Minor among them.

Proffering its pedigree among such a roster of fossils, you’d think Season to Risk would sound like a complete Stooges-meets-Black-Flag throwback to the grunge days. There was a time, believe it or not, when being described as “the Stooges meets Black Flag” was high praise indeed. You’d expect something oddly out of time and place as a coelacanth, or something as embarrassingly trying-to-be-with-the-times as the Discharge metal album, the Celtic Frost glam album, or Tom Jones strapping on the vocoder and jamming with an aging Run D.M.C.

What you might not necessarily expect is for Season to Risk to sound vital, which on The Shattering they most assuredly do. Impressively technical without compromising the power, The Shattering sounds like a band that has taken a lesson or two from other bands its members have looked up to along the way (Fugazi, for example), but that eventually either outlasted or outgrew any easy comparisons or facile references to its contemporaries. I marvel at all the directions that hardcore has taken in the past 15 years, and the new directions it continues to take. In some ways, the term has become as fungible and fundamentally useless for pinning down a particular sound or aesthetic as punk itself, but—as cheesy as this sounds—the spirit lives on in the most unlikely places. You get a whiff of it in the gang shoutalongs on The Shattering’s title track, and in the dissonant drone of tracks like “National Gomorrah” and “Last Breath Aboard,” the latter of which seems to be about a sinking submarine, possibly the Kursk.

Season to Risk definitely sounds like something I would have been psyched to see in 1989. Beyond psyched, probably. But the bigger compliment, I think, is that Season to Risk is something I’d still be psyched to see in 2002.

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