This Is War, Hate Letter (Rockerie Records)
In every music scene, there are a least a handful of hidden gems. By that I mean that there are folks whose contribution to this scene are quite often overlooked – or at least minimalized – when in fact, they’ve provided more sustenance and backbone than many of the “bigger” known acts. One of these gems is multi-instrumentalist Scott Warren.
Scott runs one of the city’s biggest sounding studios, Rockerie Records, and records many projects, both local and out of town, as well as his own projects. But that doesn’t define who Scott is. He is much more than a producer. He’s had tenures drumming for such local acts as Johnny El Camino, Somatose, Bombast and Vultures? But a drummer simply doesn’t define who Scott is. As a vocalist, he proved his chops as a more than capable backing vocalist in Vultures? and as a more than impressive front man for short lived hard rock collective Lone Locust. But a vocalist doesn’t define what Scott is.
This Is War, the one man project that has been Warren’s labour of love (or hate?) for over a year, however, does. Showcasing not only his production skills (he recorded, engineered, mixed, mastered and produced the entire project at his aforementioned Rockerie Records), his musical prowess (he played a majority of the lead vocals, drums, guitars, bass and synth tracks himself), or his songwriting (written almost entirely solo), he showcases himself. Hate Letter – his debut release under the moniker This Is War – is an emotionally revelatory concept album that strips Scott Warren to his absolute barest soul and unleashes a verbal and musical diatribe, emoting every feeling he endured throughout a failed relationship that he turned into his greatest masterpiece. Bon Iver may have written For Emma… under similar circumstances, but while Bon Iver’s “letter” sounds more like he got over it by drinking Chartreuse in a Minnesota mountain cabin, crying over Jeff Buckley bootlegs, Warren’s Hate Letter sounds more like he drowned his sorrows on a case of Jack Daniels and at least four street fights in downtown Detroit. He came out swinging and he wasn’t going to coddle the fact that this woman broke his heart. He was licking his wounds, he was tearing them off his body, one by one.
The album sounds like a mix tape you’d make in high school when a girl broke up with you. And I mean that in a good way. That sharp attack of the brain where you release that the only way to pull your sorry ass out of the gutter was to channel it all in music. Didn’t have to be your music, it just had to match up with how fucking crushed and emotionally jarbled your brain was, and pull you away and let you rage within the confines of the song. Well not only did Warren accomplish this on Hate Letter, he did it by writing all said music himself. He’s created the ultimate break up mix tape.
Once the spiraling groove of small intro opener “All By Your Loathesome (The Squatter)” ends quickly setting up the scene of the crime, the album launches into a powerhouse anthem that would have been a sure fire #1 single in the late ’90’s, “Fuck Today”. But what it commands in powerful ’90’s hooks and delivery – think a less Chris Cornell sounding Ian Thornley of Big Wreck – it manages to not sound as dated as many of those songs have ended up. The music is emotionally charged in a way that many of the 90’s alt. rock’s vapidly ignored and it carries a heavier Helmet-doing-the-Smashing-Pumpkins thing under these immense vocals and lyrics by Scott Warren. I’m not sure how a radio edit would work on a song that is so profane (“Forget Today” would only cut the nuts of the power), but this still today has the makings of a monstrous radio single.
“Great Minds and All That” – which like many of the album tracks features Vultures?, Bombast and Lone Locust co-hort Andy Langmuir on guitars – continues the vibe of the Smashing Helmet sound. And by this I mean, it sounds like the guys from Helmet trying to replicate that Billy Corgan tone and resulting in something that is hauntingly beautiful.
The first new vocalist appears on the head bobbing Soundgarden-esque “Easy Off” in the form of Grand Maris bassist/vocalist Meg Farron (although her vocals and melody are far from Soundgarden and fully compliments the words with the groove going on behind her) and also guests another Vultures? (and Somatose bandmate) Jeff Riley on guitars.
Just as Meg’s vocals lull you into a state that perhaps Warren is getting over the emotional let down, it launches into the next big hit off the record, “Mistake From The Lake”. This thunderous assault is a no-holds barred attack as the brain launches another Jack Daniels in-fueled rager at Pogo’s. With a slight hint of Moistboyz or latter day era Faith No More or KMFDM, Warren proves on this song that he has an incredible knack for taking elements from somewhat generic or cheesy acts (such as he did in “Fuck Today”) and streamlining the best parts of them and showing them a cooler way to do it. This song would be another huge hit on modern rock or hard rock radio because, although it shares some of the appeal of bands like Disturbed or their ilk, This Is War shows that you can convey melody, hook and emotion in an industrial-hard rock anthem without sounding like you’ve spent far too much time in Hot Topic and reading your own press in Revolver Magazine.
Two alumni from Windsor’s musical terrorists Poughboy invade the next two tracks. Drummer Dave Allan (who also plays drums for Cellos and Explode When They Bloom) creates a percussive jungle of rhythm behind Warren’s Dave Mustaine-esque vocals on “The Pride of No One”, followed by Poughboy frontman Adam Craig assaulting the ears with the expectantly crude and aggressive “September’s Whore”. As the protagonist of Hate Letter continues his decent into the rage of his experience, Craig’s twisted mind and vocal attack perfectly expresses that seemingly impossible task of replicating intelligibly. Easily the least commercially accessible track on the album, but perhaps the albums most emotionally intense: this is the sonic and lyrical version of a man’s complete emotional breakdown from a breakup.
Coming out of the chaos, “Buy Gold” is lead in by beautiful guitar work from another of Warren’s longtime running partners, Anderson Lunau (Vultures?, Somatose, The Golden Hands Before God) into a somewhat mellow although upbeat number that seems to be the awakening of the broken man from his moment in the darkness, which explodes into a tale that seems to encapsulate the man’s coming to terms with his own situation. “All I’ve got is some time with a mind that’s gone wrong, am I in love with you?” Warren belows in song that brings back the sound of late 90’s industrial alt. rock like Stabbing Westward. Another song with huge anthemic potential, despite it’s short running time.
By the time “The Dead Princess Stunt Spectacular” hits you in the face, this man is clearly out for some sort of revenge. To help in this street fight, Warren brings in a couple of veterans from Windsor’s metal scene to bring some thunder. David Creed, lead vocalist for powerhouse legends Grand Maris, bassist Kyle Warren (Scott’s brother and member of Under Ruins and Lost Souls Division) and guitarist Randy Barth (Under Ruins, Black Kreek) join Scott Warren in a full on assault that sees the author release the last of his anger.
Which sets up the beauty of the melancholy found within “The Pinkest Slip”, a short heroin river ride complete with sitar, as he finally hands the emotional baggage it’s grand goodbye, it’s “pinkest slip”. The album closes with the uplifting and inspiring instrumental outro, “Know You Know Nothing” – you can practically see the smile on the man’s face as the album quietens down and finishes. A happy ending.
This Is War – Scott Warren – manage to capture something that so many bands today seem to miss the point on. An album should be an album. If you’ve got singles, put out singles. Or EP’s. But when I buy your full length album, I want every song to matter. I’ll take it that some songs may come across stronger than others, some may strike a chord more with you than others, but I don’t want any filler. I want to experience the whole album as a whole, not a series of songs you spent 10 months writing sprinkled with a couple more you wrote in 2 days to spread out the record. Hate Letter does that. Despite it having a number of ready-for-mainstream radio singles already on board, the album is a complete collection and is definitely better listened to in order – at least once. Do yourself that favour.
Last year, my favourite song of the year from a local band was “Knuckle Down” by one of Scott Warren’s projects, Vultures? And this year – after the first third of 2012 anyway – my favourite release so far is Hate Letter. Which goes to show you that sometimes even though gems may be hard to find, once you do, they shine for a very long time.