Ok.Ok. On Slam-Steel Band’s ‘Enduring Freedom’ Album & Extra

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To borrow a drained chorus from the early COVID period, we’re now residing by ~unprecedented instances~. A former US president was convicted of 34 felonies. AI is ruining the web. And a one-man slam-metal band influenced by avant-garde classical and free jazz, whose Conflict On Terror-themed music has no lyrics and is sung by a drummer strapped with a headset microphone, at the moment are the most well liked new band in hardcore.

In case you’ve missed the viral movies of their block-spanning merch strains, the delirious reactions to their barbarically violent mosh pits, or essentially the most distinguished frontperson in hardcore, Knocked Unfastened’s Bryan Garris, calling them his new favourite band, the group placing fists on everybody’s lips this spring are referred to as Torture. The whole lot about their skyrocketing ascent is unparalleled.

For one, they’re a band working throughout the hardcore scene who make slam-metal, a distinct segment demise steel subgenre that replaces speedy blast-beats with chuggy breakdowns (i.e. “slam” elements). Slam and hardcore have solely often rubbed shoulders over the previous style’s 30-year historical past, however Torture have shattered that barrier in just some months’ time. Their 2023 album, Enduring Freedom — self-released final fall when Torture, now a four-piece, had been nonetheless the solo mission of savant multi-instrumentalist Ok.Ok. — began selecting up a buzz amongst hardcore followers late final 12 months. Between then and spring 2024, Torture went from a secret handshake amongst dialed-in moshers to an plain breakout act on the verge of a scene-wide takeover.

Torture have solely performed eight reveals since their stay debut in April 2024, and so they’re already booked to co-headline a distinguished Canadian hardcore pageant later this fall. They’re nonetheless unsigned (they turned down a suggestion from one of many largest labels in steel) and are dedicated to holding every little thing DIY — as a result of why wouldn’t they? Their week-long DIY tour drew tons of of hyped-up followers every night time, and the quantity of merch they bought on these seven dates was, based on a supply I shared the figures with who’s fluent in merch gross sales, greater than what many established bands who tour full-time are capable of obtain.

“That is my life’s dream, what’s taking place to me proper now,” a visibly thrilled Ok.Ok. tells Stereogum.

The 24-year-old, who prefers to make use of his initials for Torture-related endeavors, was born and raised in Chicago, and nonetheless lives there at the moment. Opposite to his band’s grim music and the grave earnesty of his stay presence, Ok.Ok. is well mannered and heat, and sips thoughtfully from a cup of tea between talking. He concludes most of his sentences with a disarming giggle, and oozes a uncommon pleasure about music, whether or not he’s speaking in regards to the Seashore Boys, classical composers, or obscure free-death bands.

“I actually consider everybody needs to be making artwork,” he says throughout a spiel about his political philosophy. “I’m agnostic, so I view artwork as type of like my god. I worship artwork as a result of it’s the truest illustration of us that we will put into the bodily world. I don’t want no heaven. I don’t want any of that. I would like my artwork to stay ceaselessly.”

We’re talking two weeks after the tip of Torture’s tour, which was so profitable that Ok.Ok. was capable of stop his job at a shoe retailer the place he labored for 5 years. He’s now capable of do music full-time — an achievement that goes past mere inventive success.

“In different interviews, I’ve talked about my autism. It sucks plenty of the time,” he says, his blissful tone sobering up. “I’m grateful that it gave me my musical capacity, however working and being in the true world is simply the worst.”

For so long as he can bear in mind, he’s been envisioning his escape from the true world. He grew up watching Metallica and Rush live performance movies along with his dad, daydreaming about taking part in his personal songs stay at some point. His childhood publicity to oddball steel bands like Dream Theater and Mr. Bungle translated into his high-school obsession with djent-metal bands like Periphery, Animals As Leaders, and TesseracT. Sooner or later, his present Torture bandmate Jake turned him on to Deicide, and from there, he quickly went down the death-metal rabbit gap — and nonetheless hasn’t emerged.

As a listener and a participant, music has at all times come naturally. After mastering the drums on the Rock Band online game, he acquired his first actual package at age 12. That day, he wowed his household by taking part in Avenged Sevenfold’s complicated “Beast And The Harlot” simply by visualizing the patterns he had memorized on Rock Band. He picked up guitar a pair years later and performed in a number of low-level bands and solo tasks previous to Torture, which started in 2022. A type of was an unreleased endeavor the place he tried to merge demise steel with an avant-garde classical model referred to as serialism.

“I attempted for some time, but it surely grew to become actually daunting of a activity to write down,” Ok.Ok. says. “It will simply take a very very long time to even write 30 seconds of a bit.”

As he was feeling dispirited by not with the ability to get his serialist demise steel band up and operating, Ok.Ok. stumbled into photos of the Abu Ghraib jail. He grew to become fixated on studying in regards to the facility the place US troopers infamously tortured, abused, and killed Iraqi detainees in 2003. As obsessed with historical past and present occasions as he’s music, Ok.Ok. was “extraordinarily disgusted” by the heinous violence his nation dedicated throughout the Conflict On Terror years, and he felt the urge to course of his anger by artwork. On the time, he was very into gorenoise — a harsh noise spinoff of goregrind (an much more excessive type of grindcore) that’s recognized for utilizing crime scene photographs of brutal murders as cowl artwork — and commenced to type the imaginative and prescient for an explicitly political band that integrated Conflict On Terror imagery into the gorenoise framework. Nonetheless enamored by classical music, he was additionally influenced by how composer Krzysztof Penderecki weaved the horrors of battle into his iconic 1961 piece “Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima.”

“It’s a very unhappy, emotional piece that’s excessive as fuck,” Ok.Ok. says. “It’s type of what I wished to do on my first three albums: most extremity, most emotion.”

On July 1, 2022, Ok.Ok. started recording the 37 songs that comprise Torture’s first album, Conflict Crime: 37 Tracks – 37 Homicides. He improvised each drum beat, guitar stroke, and vocal gurgle on the mission, and launched the report three days later, pointedly, on July 4. His subsequent dispatch, the 57-song(!) Exhibit B: Dehumanization Techniques, dropped a pair months in a while Sept. 11, and the third installment, III – Thrill Kill: The ‘Kill Workforce’ Murders, arrived two months in a while Veterans Day.

These Torture albums — the primary three in a “quadriptych” that concludes with Enduring Freedom — sound considerably totally different than Ok.Ok.’s 2023 breakout. The songs hardly ever crack the one-minute mark, and once they do, it’s often as a result of he buttresses the 20 seconds of free-form gorenoise with a related information chew. The music titles (“Prisoner Rape,” “Sensory Deprivation,” “Donald Rumsfeld,” and so on.) and graphic cowl artwork (collages of victims from Abu Ghraib and the US Center Japanese army occupation that adopted) do the conceptual lifting, whereas Ok.Ok.’s bursts of musical fury animate the vile material. Ok.Ok. clarifies his largest influences weren’t even essentially steel bands, however free-jazz artists like John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. The way in which these musicians would “make their devices sound human” was significantly fascinating to him.

“Like they’re crying and screaming,” he says of the free-jazz pioneers’ squealing saxophones. “That’s what it actually sounds wish to me.”

Torture’s music has the same impact. Ok.Ok.’s apoplectic snarls — wordless as a result of no language may suitably convey his rage and unhappiness — evoke the agonized screams of the Abu Ghraib victims, whereas the artillery-fire drum blasts and hornet-buzz guitars imitate the soul-snuffing equipment the US employed to slay tens of hundreds of civilians. Between the frantic, structureless compositions and the stop-start whiplash of the quick songs’ crashing stream, the primary three Torture albums zoom in on the visceral, corporeal violence of battle. Enduring Freedom takes a extra macro strategy. Ok.Ok. calls it the “grand finale” to his Conflict On Terror quadriptych,

Musically, the songs are longer, heavier, and extra coherent. Jazz can nonetheless be heard within the algebraic drumming, and classical music informs its symphonic expanse, however the jerky upchucks of gorenoise are swapped in for the skull-denting chugs of slam-metal — a singular variant of slam, at that. The bands who pioneered slam-metal within the ’90s (Devourment, Inner Bleeding, Suffocation) nonetheless bear the thrashy riffs and headbanging pace of demise steel, whereas trendy practitioners like PeelingFlesh and .357 Murder make an easier, groovier type of slam that’s nearer to its kissing cousin style, deathcore. Torture’s music falls someplace within the center. Ok.Ok. views his work as the following step within the style’s evolution after Cephalotripsy, a extremely influential 2000s slam band who popularized the style’s cartoonishly indecipherable vocal gurgles, and emphasised meat-grinding rhythms over the vaguest sense of guitar showmanship. Nonetheless, even when they’re completely indiscernible, Cephalotripsy’s songs do have lyrics. Torture’s don’t, and each single riff on Enduring Freedom is a slam half. That’s a brand new stage of extremity.

“I identical to when the vocals are an instrument,” Ok.Ok. says. “In slam, the guitar is extra of a percussion instrument. Taking one thing and utilizing it as one thing that it wasn’t initially meant for [is] actually cool to me.”

The ceaseless slamminess of Torture’s music is instantly associated to their crossover into hardcore, the place the urge for food for metallic mosh elements — the part within the music the place followers spin-kick and arm-flail in-sync with the music’s rhythm — is bigger than ever. The heaviness of hardcore has been step by step rising since steel first blended with the style again within the mid-Eighties, however within the 2020s, it seems like the web weight of hardcore has cracked the size. The largest gateway band proper not named Turnstile are Knocked Unfastened, whose disgusting breakdowns and jagged riffs are setting a excessive normal of steel girth for brand new ears coming into the historically punk-rooted scene. Sunami, who Ok.Ok. refers to as a “slammier” hardcore band, are one other one of many style’s 2020s titans, and up-and-comers like Volcano and Snuffed On Sight make pronounced fusions of slam and hardcore that’ve earned them large buzzes within the underground. Furthermore, up to date demise steel torch-bearers like Sanguisugabogg and Frozen Soul may even have extra cache in hardcore than the steel world, and two of the largest hardcore fests within the nation had been headlined by demise steel bands this 12 months, Obituary at Louisville’s LDB and Dying Fetus at Tampa’s FYA.

Torture’s rise in hardcore would’ve been inconceivable even 5 years again, however in 2024, the panorama was primed for a band like them to interrupt by — and Ok.Ok. loves that Torture have been embraced by that crowd. “I really like hardcore dancing as a result of it’s its personal artwork type,” Ok.Ok. enthuses. “Like, the artwork is affecting you in such a means that you simply don’t care about getting harm or hurting different individuals. That’s just like the sickest factor to me. It’s stunning.”

Hardcore dancing isn’t frequent in conventional slam circles, however Enduring Freedom’s chug-filled music is just like the soundtrack that will play at a crowd-killing bootcamp: Each be aware popping out of their amps is ripe for swinging to, and the group responses on Torture’s first-ever tour this Might had been traditionally intense. The band’s present in Pittsburgh spawned essentially the most violent pit I’ve ever seen, and that have was shared by fellow scene vets who attended different dates on the East Coast run. Day-after-day, footage from the earlier night time’s bewildering carnage spilled out on-line and heightened anticipation for the following present, making Torture’s presence within the scene unusually inescapable. Their merch sales space — the place the band bought T-shirts with unclassified Abu Ghraib reviews printed on the again — was ravaged every night time, and Ok.Ok.’s merch printer and designer, Hunter Winstead, estimates they bought over 700 shirts all through the week-long run of DIY reveals.

“It’s insane… simply the expansion — I’m very grateful,” Ok.Ok. says, nodding his head in amazement. He mentions the first-ever Torture present, which went down in late April only a couple weeks earlier than the tour. “I nonetheless have this inexperienced wristband from that night time.” He lifts the tattered bracelet on his arm as much as the digicam. “It simply means a lot to me and I don’t wish to ever overlook about it.”

Opposite to Torture’s bed room roots, the band’s stay performances have now turn into their defining attribute, however Ok.Ok. doesn’t need audiences to miss the thematic aspect of Torture. Finishing the Conflict On Terror arc that started with Ok.Ok.’s gorenoise albums, Enduring Freedom captures the desensitized numbness the West was subjected to throughout the second G.W. Bush time period, when anodyne refrains like “enhanced interrogation” and “help the troops” droned out of our TVs whereas the our bodies piled excessive overseas. The quilt artwork, which Ok.Ok. had been banking for a future slam album since Torture’s inception, is an era-appropriate caricature of American hypocrisy; an motion shot of valiant troops boarding a chopper with the album’s title, flanked by sarcastic quotes, stenciled in an airbrushed camo font.

As a multimedia mission, Enduring Freedom doesn’t simply sound, however feels, just like the US consent manufacturing equipment brring at hyper-speed. Its bludgeoning, repetitive sound could be overbearingly excessive at first, however by a pair songs in, the album’s deluge of trudging guitars, jabbering drums, and frog-like burbles lull you right into a trance that turns into surprisingly soothing. Not less than till you flick your lockscreen open and are reminded that the music you’re zoning out to is named “Blood On The Sand.” Enduring Freedom was self-released on Sept. 11, 2023, with none superior promotion, adverts, or press help, so it took a number of months for listeners outdoors of the area of interest gorenoise neighborhood to stumble into it. By the point individuals within the steel and hardcore underground started passing the album round on social media, the US was over a month deep into their steadfast backing of Israel’s genocidal battle with Palestine, and Torture’s anti-military theme took on a renewed prescience. Ok.Ok. hasn’t let that connection go unnoticed.

“My mission is especially about early 2000s Center Japanese conflicts, however I felt I wanted to make use of my platform to talk out about [Palestine],” he says. “It’s so essential to me. Everybody on the planet needs to be speaking about Palestine.”

A number of instances all through Torture’s units, Ok.Ok. will pause to writhe in his drum stool and blurt out the variety of civilians killed in Israel’s siege on Gaza over the past seven months. In a single viral clip from Torture’s present in Philly, Ok.Ok. is virtually on the verge of tears whereas speaking in regards to the ongoing violence in Palestine. He scoffs on the individuals who referred to as his outpouring of emotion “cringe” within the feedback. For him, there’s no room for cool-guy aloofness whereas our nation is funding an ongoing genocide abroad. His ardour for all anti-war efforts is lethal honest; nothing about Torture’s violent paintings and merch designs are for empty aesthetic worth. Even in our dialog, he’s nearly moved to tears whereas referencing a soundbite in certainly one of his songs that incorporates the determined weeps of a Center-Japanese lady whose home was destroyed by US bombs.

“That lady crying…each time I give it some thought, it simply makes me so unhappy,” he says, his voice quivering. “It provides me this ache in my stomach. It’s simply so unhappy. It’s…so, so unhappy.”

Torture’s ethical readability is extremely unusual throughout the slam and brutal death-metal idioms. Whereas there’ve definitely been distinguished acts like Dying Fetus who’ve often used anti-nationalist imagery and tackled anti-war themes, most slam bands put fantastical gore on their album covers that’s devoid of any real-world commentary. Furthermore, gratuitously violent misogyny is a depressingly frequent lyrical trope throughout the style. Ok.Ok. thinks such slasher film clichés are boring and “apparent,” and he “wished to interrupt out of that mould” with Torture. He sees the acerbic sound of slam as the proper medium to discover “excessive matters,” and desires to see extra essential material funneled into the style going ahead.

“I hope there’s extra slam with out the bizarre misogyny,” he says.

If nowhere else, followers can get extra of the good things from Torture. Enduring Freedom concludes the quadriptych, however the band are simply getting began. Ok.Ok., who’ll be joined within the studio by his stay bandmates going ahead, desires Torture to be a “whole-ass historical past mission” that grapples with battle crimes courting again to World Conflict I. He has tons of recent riffs written, loads of album ideas in thoughts, and teases that extra music and extra excursions are coming down the pike. However for as excited as he’s in regards to the music, he can’t separate the sounds from the subject material. So proper now, he emphasizes, it’s “everybody’s eyes and ears” on Palestine.

“I get why you’d wish to go to a present to overlook in regards to the world,” Ok.Ok. says, addressing those that may discover his leftist speech exhausting. “However for lots of people, they will’t overlook about these items. The individuals in Palestine can’t overlook as a result of they should stay by it every single day. How may I stay in peace and be willfully ignorant to these items?”


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