"That's what life is all about, man. Pussy and blasting on the drums."
I despise Jacksonville perhaps more than any city I've ever been to in the world. There's a lot of reasons for it, but here's a few: I've never actually seen the sky in Jacksonville. Literally every time I've been there the entire city is shrouded in a combination of rainclouds and smog. The people are surly, poor, and vaguely zombie-like; in fact, I've often described Jacksonville as what I imagine a city constructed by zombies to look like. Everything is grey and rotting, the city's layout is haphazard and nonsensical, and unfinished construction projects dot just about every street. I was also involved with a girl for a while from there in a relationship that ended in a fairly nasty fashion, so I'm extra soured to the town. It's a bleak environment that I absolutely can't stand. As a result of this, the sort of cracked, broken urban environment that it so perfectly represents is just about the perfect location for extreme metal to blossom.
I've been all over Florida's metal scene and Jacksonville consistently puts out some of the strongest music. Tampa faltered long ago, Orlando is a basically incoherent mish-mash of nu-metal and extremity, and other locations are just too inconsistent to be functional. Jacksonville, on the other hand, features a combination of the upper half of Florida and basically all of Georgia in a single, large, vibrant scene which is more focused than just about anywhere else in the south (barring Texas) on brutal death and goregrind- exactly the things I love most. Jacksonville bands are brutal, intense, and obsessively focused on extreme violence and hatred- the things I most typically feel when I visit the city anyway. It's here that Extremely Rotten, the band I toured as a part of, hails from.
I'm not an official member of the band- at four hours away, the distance is simply too long for it to be feasible. However, after seeing me perform with another band of mine, Forged in Gore, in Jacksonville a couple months earlier, drummer Juan Campo hit me up a few days later to see if I would possibly be down to fill in as a session vocalist. Their usual vocalist is swamped with a weird, inconsistent work schedule, and my flexibility in that department was invaluable for the tour's purpose- since I'd never been on a tour as full-fledged as this one, I jumped at the opportunity to play brutal music across the east coast of the US. If nothing else, I'm never one to pass up an opportunity when it's dropped at my feet.
The Blue Hole is the center of our little corner of Jacksonville brutality. It's several things housed in a small, blue, brick building that used to be a movie theater back in the '70s, with some of the seating still laying around to use by the bands who infest it: a practice space where several artists jam, a venue where the parking lot is used to put on cheap underground shows, and the impromptu home of Juan of Extremely Rotten. It's about as nasty as you'd imagine: located directly across the street from a methadone clinic and right in the middle of one of the more awful ghettos of Jacksonville, it's exactly the sort of location you'd expect a band like Extremely Rotten to play. I arrived at the Hole a couple days before the first show at the very same place in order to familiarize myself with the band a little better and get some much-needed practice in.
When I arrived, I quickly realized that things were going to be a bit more complicated than I anticipated. For one: I wasn't exactly sure who I was playing with. Apart from the most consistent member, Juan, Extremely Rotten is composed of what seems like a constantly rotating lineup of half-members, session performers, and friends doing favors. I think I saw two bassists, three guitarists, and even another vocalist in my time there, and it wasn't until the Jacksonville show itself that the lineup became consolidated. For that first couple days, I was running somewhat blind, having only met the members of the band in passing twice max in all my years before working with them. It didn't inspire a ton of confidence that things would work out, but fuck it, I was in Jacksonville and decided I might as well pursue it.
Extremely Rotten has lyrics- but they got lost at one point, so I didn't have anything to work on apart from basically memorizing the vocal patterns of the songs and improvising as I saw fit around them. I've performed in brutal death bands before, but Extremely Rotten was a different breed from those: instead of the loose, ugly, chaotic compositions of Forged in Gore or other bands I've worked with, Extremely Rotten's music is tight and precisely composed, taking a great deal of influence from bands like Malignancy as well as more conventional slam bands like Suffocation. Getting the vocal patterns down ended up being trickier than I anticipated; they were much more rhythmic and precise than much of the stuff I'd worked on before, and with no lyrics as a guideline, I was forced to listen and re-listen to every track in our setlist over and over on my laptop, quietly gurgling while listening to tracks like "Rotten Placenta" and "Inhuman Harvest" crackle through my cheap headphones. It wasn't particularly exciting, but it was necessary. A little bit of levity was granted by getting to meet Trial By Ordeal commenter Jake of the (surprisingly sick) local power metal band Skyliner to chill, talk about metal, and shoot the shit about how terrible Jacksonville is- you might be familiar with him from his novel-length comments regarding Christianity in the article I wrote on the very same subject. He's not as schizophrenic in person as his writing would suggest, I promise.
The couple days of practice crawled by almost achingly slowly; since practices were held later in the evening, I had a ton of time between sleeping on couches and growling away to do basically nothing. The Hole is fortunately equipped with wireless internet and air conditioning, which made it a perfectly liveable situation, but when you have to spend hours alone doing nothing across from a methadone clinic, it can become a pretty bleak affair. So I counted the hours until the first show on the 17th, waiting for the party to really begin. Around 6 in the morning on that day, the members of Symbolic, the Death tribute band we would be touring with, arrived from their long drive down from Washington D.C., and that's where our story really begins.