The Blood Brothers want to hurt you.
That opening song on their new album is called "Set Fire to the Face on Fire," and unless you live in a war zone, it's unlikely you'll hear anything as hard, visceral or abrasive all year. From Johnny Whitney's Beavis-channeling scream of "Fire! Fire! Fire!" to Cody Votolato's machine-raging guitar crunch, it's the sound of monks burning themselves alive. You feel the pain.
"The songs are more direct," explains co-vocalist Jordan Blilie. "We present ourselves as we are and we physically react to playing. With us it's genuine and you pick up on that."
The Blood Brothers emerged out of a tepid post-grunge Seattle scene almost 10 years ago with an agenda to make hardcore music you could think about. To them, the days of "TV Party" and "I Got Straight Edge" weren't abstract enough. If they worked by a maxim, it would probably be: Even within a scene, you should always make your own rules.
"Living in a strong, all-ages community really influenced us," Blilie concurs. "I think one thing that keeps us excited about being a band is the concept of change, which was always inborn, and it shows on this record."
The record is Young Machetes, the fifth they've released since first breaking strings together as teenagers. Though they've never been afraid to go off the handle live, where their chaos really comes across, their previous albums hinted at a more direct pop sensibility. And Young Machetes is undoubtedly their most accessible to date-songs like "1, 2, 3, 4 Guitars" and "Spit Shine Your Black Clouds" sound downright funky.
This change may be due to Fugazi guitarist-vocalist Guy Picciotto, who produced the album. Or maybe it's because Votolato (whose brother is talented folkie Rocky Votolato) is experimenting with slower guitar styles. Or maybe they're just tired of rattling the cage.
"I thought the collective dissent of our generation would bring about positive change," Whitney suggests. "When that didn't happen, I felt like the bottom had fallen out."
Not surprisingly, the change came as a surprise to many of the Brothers' longtime fans. As a general rule, fans hate change. Among the most hardcore fans of hardcore, nobility comes from a long, strident dedication to independence and poverty. Some are still sore with the band for signing to major label V2 before 2005's Crimes.
But the truth is that many of their original followers may have simply outgrown them. Hardcore appeals mostly to the young, and Blood Brothers shows are consistently filled to the brim with a new crop of teens. The tried-and-true among them will eventually grow tired of hearing the band scream. Hell, the bandmembers grow tired of it themselves.
"There are bands that put out the same-sounding records for 15, 20 years-that's something we don't want to do," says Blilie. "I think when any kid connects to a particular record or a particular sound, they expect to hear that same thing again on subsequent releases. For me it's much more exciting to see how much further a band goes, rather than hearing them rehash what I originally liked about them."
Young Machetes is The Blood Brothers at their least hardcore, and that makes it their greatest hardcore album. It screams with steady hands for a broader audience. Call it selling out or buying in. Call it evolution. But growing pains rarely sound this appealing.
The Blood Brothers play with And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and Brothers & Sisters at House of Blues on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. $18. 619-299-2583.