At Both Ends was a zine (the paper kind!) based out of the Vancouver area that capped off its finish with a mammoth explosion of a double issue and double 7" release last October featuring new/unreleased tracks from the giants of hardcore and post-hardcore--Bane and Grade--as well as newer acts Unrestrained (ex-members of Pulling Teeth and Desperate Measures) and Between Earth and Sky (Trial, ex-Walls of Jericho, ex-By a Thread, a few more). It's a hell of a way to go out.
First, let's talk the 7"s. As an overall package, they're pretty good.
The "headliners" split the first record (colored a vague brown-gray). Bane's "Non-Negotiable" and "Struck Down by Me" are, far and away, some of the band's most tenacious and exciting material to date. Okay, granted, "Struck Down by Me" is actually a re-recording of the same song off 1999's It All Comes Down to This full-length. But "Non-Negotiable," the all-new one, starts off with flailing guitars and percussion and is just urgent as hell before it finds a slower, more emotionally resonant path complete with grainy spoken-word in the bridge akin to old folk standards. And the band end it so that it segues into "Struck Down by Me" just brilliantly, its opening that much more livid and enraged than its original, stomping and pounding in a thrilling, enlivened manner. If this was a stand-alone EP, it'd probably be Bane's best to date.
Grade's tracks are, quite surprisingly, very Orgcore. "These Eyes Are on the Exit" starts off with frontman Kyle Bishop sounding an oddly awful lot like Brendan Kelly over a lone guitar before the song jumps into a gruff, dynamic emotional punk song that is, honest to God, like a slightly screamier Smoke or Fire--especially the vocally reared-back chorus. "Optical Portions" isn't as catchy, but has a really anthemic part towards its finish and is a jam and a half itself, with some definite SoF-isms about it as well. Maybe my record player is just spinning an RPM too slow or fast, but the similarities are simply mind-boggling--and awesome. I mean, Grade had punk influences throughout their history but I don't remember them ever really truly treading this territory before; they apparently do it incredibly well. Let's hope they use these tracks as a jumping-off point for a reunion LP.
Unrestrained and Between Earth and Sky appear on the other 7" (standard black). Unrestrained do this slightly metallic style of mid-tempo hardcore that's sort of screamy (with some tense muttered parts) in a Kiss It Goodbye or 108 way, but it's not terribly heavy or too abrasive. Instead they throw in the smallest amount of groove and motion to keep "Immaculate Deception" and "Anak Krakatau" moving well and never stuck in any sort of musical rut. Fairly cool stuff. Between Earth and Sky I'm not totally sold on, but I can hear the potential--it's somewhat adventurous and definitively spiritual stuff from ex-Trial frontman Greg Bennick and company. "Skin and Stone" is another mid-tempo, '90s hardcore song without much of that metallic edge but plenty of lurching, stop-start guitars and a couple spoken-word parts in between the gruff yelps--it's not bad, but "Flow" is a completely spoken-word piece backed by an almost cinematic take on early '90s emo/post-hardcore (I'm thinking, specifically, what Turning Point might have done after the No Escape split) that, despite the song's crescendo, doesn't do too much for me.
The zine itself is a long read with a lot of interesting features if you're willing to invest the time. I read it cover to cover and while everything didn't strike a chord with me (a caution to vegans about sugar production), there's some great stuff--the Bane tour diary of South America--and plenty of diversions into other nerdy, non-musical areas (horror filmmaking, science fiction interests) with fairly interesting results. All the interviews get incredibly in-depth about the subject's personal, social and political beliefs, and while music nerds might not get much out of it looking for info about their favorite bands' songs and such, I have to say I'm pretty jealous how thorough, thoughtful and timeless a lot of these interviews read. One of them, with the aforementioned Bennick, has absolute zilch to do with Trial, or any of his bands; instead, it basically invades Bennick's head and discusses, at great length, the ideas behind his philosophical and social documentary films. As a result, it's fucking fascinating--granted, I never got into Trial. But even then I'd imagine fans would find this really, really thought-provoking.
The reviews sections can be kind of exhausting (it's like the last four years of hardcore and every related subgenre reviewed, practically...okay, not really, but still), but these are very tidy and honest capsule reviews that thankfully do something I see so many reviews somehow avoid--describe the actual fucking music. A lot of people whine about "labels" in terms of genres or how naming a few sound-alikes is a cop-out, but in truth, it's the best way to convey to a reader what a band sounds like. And that's just what At Both Ends does in these little reviews. Plus, you're always curious what they're gonna say about a band you really like (The Redder, The Better thankfully gets high praise).
As a grammar Nazi, this zine is far from perfect but you can see there's a good amount of effort put into this as far as that editorial oversight is concerned. Especially for its gargantuan length.
Overall, this is a serious and engrossing package. These last two At Both Ends issues don't necessarily enscapulate an entire timeline of hardcore and punk, but it's not really trying to--instead, it offers a multi-faceted read with some general content for curious perusal and other rather serious subjects that'll get you thinking. And it's got some mostly great music to boot.
Grade - These Eyes Are on the Exit
Grade - Optical Portions
Unrestrained - Anak Krakatau