To the four men that once comprised Dazzling Killmen, the music, the gigs, and the van rides are more or less ancient history. During the Olden Times of the early 1990s, four distinct personalities combined to create a dizzying mix of math, jazz, hardcore, and metal called Face of Collapse. It was their swansong.
Is it ancient history? That depends on who you ask. I asked all four of them via email.
“Kind of…yeah…. I am proud of it, but [it’s] something we did and have moved on from years and years ago,” guitarist/vocalist Nick Sakes said.
” … dk is far from ancient history. as much as i have tried, and i think we all have, to move forward, it just still fuels me in a way. those live shows, those practices, hard to put into words…” bassist Darin Gray said.
“it is something i’ve always been proud of being a part of,” drummer Blake Fleming said.
“it was an intense experience .. that affected everything afterwards I suppose… DK saved me from cultural oblivion … ” was guitarist Tim Garrigan’s answer.
Collapse is the mathiest math rock album I have ever heard. It is a thicket of jungle. It is a bumpy ride through rocky terrain. The music, completely organic, is full of intensely calculated fervor. There is hardly a single 4/4 moment. You can’t just bob your head to this music. It’s a challenge to the listener to keep up. Dissonant sounds erupt from the guitars, the drums are ruthless without being cliché, and the bass glues it all together. Sakes’ vocals are a thing of their own–just ask Gray.
” … some of the biggest things that have made [Killmen’s] music last…. i think really it is the sound of nicks voice and his lyrics. i mean… this guy means it! you know? he is still my favorite vocalist in the world!” Gray said. “i haven’t had a band of my own since that uses a vocalist because of it. nothing compares for me.”
Sakes’ vocals are indeed unique, and convey a rare mix of vulnerability, frustration and anger, that culminates in an almost accidental raw power. He wasn’t going for powerful, but he achieved it–it is this sort of artistic honesty, almost stumbled upon, exuded with equal effort from all four musicians, which pervades Collapse.
Sakes is humble about his role in the album’s writing process.
“I just made up some basic riffs for some of the songs and those guys built on them. They were the musicians. Not me,” Sakes said. “The other three guys did all the big arranging and structures. Face Of Collapse was almost all those other 3 dudes. Geniuses.”
According to Sakes, the other three were music students at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
“I was friends with Darin for years before the band and hung around him and his previous band called Culture Shock (not the English version, of course). Darin played in jazz combos with Tim and Blake at school and asked them if they wanted to join us in our thing.”
Garrigan joined the band after they had already been established.
“I was inspired by Dazzling Killmen before becoming a part of it,” Garrigan said. “Blake Darin and I played together in an ‘electric jazz’ trio.. before I joined [DK].. through college.. Blake and I had known each other first.. that’s how I met Darin then eventually Nick. All those guys saved me from eternal damnation of bad taste…”
And thus was born a quartet who released their best album in relative obscurity, then broke up. They still haven’t heard the end of it from fans.
“i’m always surprised at how many people i run across that are still rabid fans. crazy,” Fleming said.
“it was released over 15 years ago and people still approach all of us about dk and face of collapse. we had no idea that this music would stand the test of time,” Gray said.
“yes.. there are still people who mention Dazzling Killmen…who maybe saw us once and remembered us..or who came upon our music after we split..and old friends who still mention it every once in a while…it’s nice!” Garrigan said.
As a big fan myself, dear reader, I felt the story of the band has never been told in great enough detail.
Collapse has had a big impact on me. It helped to shape the way I think about music, both how I perform it and how I criticize (listen to) it. Almost every album I hear I can ultimately compare to Collapse, and come to the conclusion that it falls short in some way. And this is not to say Collapse was perfectly executed, but it’s got a realism and honesty that many aspire to, and few achieve. And it’s fucking insane.
“This album was recorded in a basement in Chicago during four September days of 1993,” the liner notes read. “The recording and balance engineer was Steve Albini.”
The album has that signature Albini sound: no overdubs, live band recording, distant vocal micing, mid range-heavy guitars. It preserves a band as they play together, not separately. The vocals swirl within the music, not above it.
Opinions on Collapse’s sound vary among the four.
“i’ve never been happy with the drums or bass sounds on the album. they’re small sounding to me. guitars and vocals are fine,” Fleming said. “steve is a great engineer and person. i think he was a bit too busy at the time when we did FOC for him to give it his undivided attention. the whole record was recorded and mixed in 4-5 days.”
“I’m not crazy about my guitar sound, it’s muddy, which was how my set up sounded,” Garrigan said. “Steve was very gracious… and it was exciting to work with him.”
Gray is more positive: “As of today, right now, how can i not be happy with the way face of collapse turned out.”
“I think [Collapse] sounds great,” Sakes said. The vocalist is the least outspoken one.
Though the band’s opinions about the album seem more or less split, the end result caught its share of ears. For all the hurriedness, emotional turmoil, and imperfections that may have slipped into the recordings, the songs sound polished. Albini’s mix is a raw one, which suits DK’s music. It is a complete package of pure DIY mathcore. It’s not polished to sound like the new Metallica record (compressed beyond belief). It’s integral to Collapse’s greatness.
Once, during my tenure in my third band, one of my band mates, several years my senior, sat me down at what we were calling a party one day, and gave me a mini musical education. He exposed me to No Means No, Pailhead, and Dazzling Killmen, among others that I can’t remember. Mind you, I was a little tipsy, tired, and really blown away by all this awesome, raw music that existed. There seemed to be a new world to be discovered, but I had the feeling I was a little too late.
Collapse had been released six years before even I graduated from high school, let alone by my first listen. But it didn’t matter.
I’ll never forget how impressed and shocked and inspired I was to hear ‘Blown (Face Down)’ and ‘Staring Contest’ from Collapse–those were the songs Edweird played for me. I later bought the cd at a used record store in Ann Arbor, thus beginning a torrid six-year love affair. I’d play it everywhere I went, even though it’s too harsh for most casual listeners. If anybody wanted to know what I was into, what I thought was some cool, new music, I’d play Face of Collapse. To this day I carry it around in my cd book, though it’s mostly out of nostalgia than a need to hear it again for the millionth time.
The lives and careers of the four gentlemen have taken several turns throughout the years. Fleming has had the most obviously successful post-DK musical career, as he went on to be the founding drummer of The Mars Volta, and went on tour with them and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sakes has been in bands here and there since DK–Xaddax is his current project with his girlfriend Chrissy in Brooklyn, and he’s also been in Sicbay. Garrigan and Gray still make music, though nothing came of it that I know of.
It’s been so long since the four have gone their separate ways that asking them to rehash the memories carries with it a little eye-rolling. Artists want to be asked about what’s currently on their plate, not about something they did as younger, different people. So basically there’s no good way to end this story, but there’s no bad way to, either. It’s ongoing. The lives of the members continue to burn bright. There will never be another Dazzling Killmen record. Buy Face of Collapse. Listen to it. Learn from it. End of story.
Do, however, show it to some youngster someday and blow his or her mind.
Label: Skin Graft Records
Avantgenre: Math-Jazz-Noise Rock
Origin: St. Louis, MO
Official site: None
Review online since: 05.02.2010 / 17:46:49
01 – Staring Contest