3 out of 5
Produced by: Pat Kenneally (Engineer, Mixing)
Label: Secretly Canadian (CD rerelease)
Did you join the RCBNNN team with In the Grips of the Light? Me too. While Mogis’ production on that album has always felt strange (not just as a choice as producer but the actual sound of the disc as well), I can come to understand that it was an attempt at conforming the noise massacre the group committed at that point into something that sounded good on record. There’s always going to be a piece of me that wishes that the recording EXPLODED a bit more, but on the whole, the group’s ethos was so busy that I think Mogis found a pretty damn good compromise, and, for better or worse, it shaped the sounds I expected from the band thereafter.
So assuming you jumped on the bandwagon with the same album, and further assuming it also gave you an idea of what Racebannon should sound like, here is my advice for First There Was the Emptiness: Turn the volume up, and listen to the bonus tracks first.
Okay, the live tracks have a typically washed-out live recording sound, and the in-between instrumental doesn’t really begin or end, and its all a little sloppy sounding as opposed to chaotic, but that’s clearly Mike Anderson singing, and it’s clearly Racebannon.
Now when you go back and listen to the album, which starts off with the recorded version of one of those live tracks – make sure you keep the volume up – you’ll be able to hear the Racebannon peeking through. It actually becomes pretty obvious on the more expansive, less-thrashy tracks like Under The Influence Of Gravity: The stop-start attacks; that unique stuttering bass; Mike’s stylized singing style. But without the ear warmup, it’s hard to separate this from standard punk/thrash-fletched hardcore, this early incarnation of the band sporting dual vocalists and spectacularly shitty recording (why I recommend putting the volume up) that goes deeper than just being tinny or unmixed to sounding like someone recorded an audio cassette second hand. The unfortunate truth is that I doubt I would’ve marked the band as worthy of a second listen based on this disc.
That being said, its still clear there’s plenty more going on here lyrically and musically than most punky peers. Lyrics that peek through are cryptic, but more noticeable are the samples and sounds (such as those leading in the first track or threaded through The Redshift Z), which show an awareness of sound beyond just sounding fucking loud. And then there’s the general brashness of the thing, which is the proto-form of Racebannon’s soon-to-come antsy broken spazz. At this point it’s a mess, and the boys lean too heavily into the hardcore thing to differentiate the sound enough, but there’s enough evidence for why Level Plane (original issuers of the vinyl versus SC’s CD rerelease) might’ve wanted them on the roster.
There’s a fair amount of Racebannon material out there, but there’s also totally not enough. They remain an oddball in the hardcore scene, not really pinpointable as any one thing. Emptiness has that quality too, but only on several, several listens, moving past the boys-screaming-into-microphones vibe and particularly poor recording. Kudos to you if you recognized the talent here before what came later; to my ears, the album is a good document, but admittedly not the release ill reach for when I’m in the RCBNNN mood.