Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SALT LAKE HARDCORE 101: LIFELESS


In Fall of 1995, Alex Slack, Taylor Williams, Dustin Black and Zach Clough got together in Williams’ parents' basement to start a new band that was darker and heavier than anything Salt Lake had ever seen. Williams and Black each brought half a song—which would, by the end of the night, become “Darkness” and “No Time” respectively—and one of Salt Lake’s most revered bands—Lifeless—was born.

In 1996, Lifeless unleashed their new sound on Salt Lake City in the basement of the now-burned-down Club DV8. “It was an awesome show. Alex and Dustin were pretty prominent members of the local hardcore scene and Pathway (Williams and Clough’s previous band) had gained a decent following as well, so I remember it being pretty packed,” said Williams. “I think we only had like 4 songs and I wasn’t sure what people were going to think of it because it was pretty aggressive and different from other SLC shit at the time. All of our songs were about death, suicide and self-loathing.”

To their surprise, people loved it. The band built a solid following and were soon turning heads with their new, darker approach to hardcore. The Salt Lake scene had been dominated by the likes of Insight, Iceburn and the Flatline Records roster during the early 90s--either traditionally-rooted or bizzarely-experimental. But with the rise of Lifeless, and metallic compatriots Clear, Climb and Triphammer, the modern Salt Lake Hardcore sound was born.

Later that year, Excessive Force came to town for a show at the New Hope Center in North Salt Lake. Lifeless was on the bill and another Salt Lake band that had just formed, XClearX, was set to open. XClearX took the stage for the first time and when their set was over, Dan Gump approached a the band and told them he wanted to put out their record on his label Life Sentence Records.

“Everyone in Lifeless was flabbergasted,” said Williams. “It was [XClearX's] first show and someone already wanted to put out their record? We were a little jealous and a little mad, but said ‘fuck it’ and went up and shredded our little hearts out.” This frustration paid off.

“We got done with our set and Dan approached us saying he wanted to put out a record with us as well," said Williams, "We were stoked." Later that year XClearX's The Sickness Must End and Lifeless' self-titled 7" were released on Life Sentence.

The record made a big splash but was the band's only release. Two more songs, “Stomp A Mudhole In Your Ass” (an homage to the band Bowel) and “Opened Up” (the inspiration for the early 2000s band), were recorded but were never put out in any official capacity.

“We had a period of intense writing where we didn’t play any shows and wrote about 6 or 7 new songs that were a huge step forward,” said Williams. “We were going to debut our new material with Madball at an old venue called Spanky’s, but there was a full-scale riot during the show and we didn’t get to play.”

The band eventually did get the chance to debut their new songs when they opened for Vision of Disorder. Sadly, that would end up being their last show. Slack was a huge hockey fan and shortly after that show, he and his girlfriend took a trip to Denver to see a Colorado Avalanche game. As the two were driving back to Salt Lake, they hit a patch of black ice on that dangerous stretch of I-80 that has plagued nearly every band trying to make it through and the car rolled into a ditch. Slack severed part of his spinal cord and was paralyzed from the neck down.

Without Alex’s presence—a vital part of Lifeless’ energetic live shows—and his attitude, the band was through. Bands replace singers all the time, but Alex was different. He was such an integral part of Lifeless that it seemed silly to even entertain the notion of carrying on without him. Initially, there was talk of having James Hart (singer of Eighteen Visions and a good friend of Slack's) take over, but in the end it just wouldn’t have been the same.

“Alex just had this energy and brutality to his singing and his performance that just couldn’t be replaced,” said Williams. “It sounds kind of hokey, but he really did have an aura about him. He was a really magnetic sort of person. He was the type of person that people wanted to be around and listen to.”

On June 29, 1999, more than a year after his accident, Alex Slack committed suicide.

Dustin Black tried a few times to get a new version of Lifeless together after his death, but none of them made it past the practice stages. “I didn’t really want anything to do with it anymore,” said Williams. “It ended up being this huge black hole of negative feelings for me, mostly associated with Alex’s death. Without Al there was and is no Lifeless for me.”

It’s been over a decade since the last time Lifeless played live, but the band’s legacy is still very alive in Salt Lake City. “No Time,” “Darkness” and “Zero” have been covered by numerous bands and getting your hands on a copy of everything the band recorded is something of a right of passage in the Salt Lake hardcore scene.

“I think it is pretty fucking sweet that people in SLC still have love for Lifeless,” said Williams. “Jesus, it was 14 years ago when we formed and kids are still into it! That blows my mind!

Williams may have grown as a musician and a songwriter, moving onto more experimental acts Glacial and Black Sleep of Kali, but he’s still got a soft spot for those early, stripped down Lifeless recordings.

“It is kind of funny because when I listen to those early songs they are really simple and kind of crude, but they still work. The recording is so shitty, but I think it helped showcase how raw it was. We set out to create something that hadn’t been done before. We were after a brutal sound and wanted that to come across in the lyrics, the music and the artwork. I think we accomplished that.”

Lifeless performing at the Life Sentence Records Showcase:



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