Published Jan 01, 2006On a languid Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1999, I saw the future of metal. Not in Boston or New York. It wasn't in Toronto, Philadelphia or New Jersey, but in the most unexpected of places: Brampton, Ontario. At a tiny Legionnaires Hall called the Irish Centre in Brampton's industrial section was where I first witnessed the End. It was the band's second-ever show, and by their various band shirts, immature demeanour and youthful appearance, they could have been any local band borrowing the mini-van to play an all-ages matinee. That was, of course, until they started playing. In a short, terrifying set of aural and visual obliteration, the End unleashed a collision of frantic grindcore-style runs, unorthodox jazz-inspired chords, bloodcurdling screams, flailing limbs and nearly decimated gear. By the end of their set, guitarist Andrew Hercules sat slumped on the floor, blood pouring profusely from a cut on his head he'd been tagged by a stray, flailing guitar during the performance. The End had served notice that they were ones to watch.
Five years later, sitting in a downtown Toronto bar eating nachos and drinking beer with Andrew and vocalist Aaron Wolff (the End is rounded out by guitarist Steve Watson, bassist Sean Dooley and drummer Anthony Salajko), it's clear that the End of today is a different beast than the talented but immature kids seen at that show. They have a newly inked record deal with underground metallic powerhouse Relapse Records. They have a brilliant, impossibly heavy new record set to drop, called Within Dividia. And they have overcome their first roster change; vocalist Aaron Wolff is their newest member.
They've evolved into a hardworking group of professionals focused on their goals, yet they remain the immature group of kids with boundless talent who would forget to bring equipment to shows, forget their merchandise in the rehearsal space and be paralysed when their van broke down on tour. "There's still bullshit that goes down," says Aaron. "We're still five stupid people. There are still slips."
Chances are, those slips come less and less often these days; this is one band that know what it wants. "Being in a band, the territory is that bullshit happens," Andrew says. "As much as it's about the art, it's a business as well. There are still slips, but you do it because that's your job."
The End's 2001 debut album, Transfer Trachea Reverberations From Point: False Omniscient, on Toronto indie Redefine Records, realised much of the potential they demonstrated in that Brampton legion hall two years earlier. "We tried a lot of things that we hadn't really done before," says Andrew on Transfer Trachea's hostile but experimental leanings. "Really intense dissonant harmonies among the instruments, stuff that typically doesn't go together but worked for our sound at the time." Unexpectedly, Transfer Trachea was named the 2001 metal album of the year by the Canadian Independent Music Awards and recently placed number two on UK aggressive music magazine Metal Hammer's "Ten Mathcore Albums You Must Own" list, behind only the Dillinger Escape Plan's Calculating Infinity and ahead of such icons of innovative heaviness as Converge, Botch, Coalesce and Candiria.
But while Transfer Trachea's amalgam of technical hardcore, metallic terror and eerie atmospherics gained the band unexpected accolades and perched them on the precipice of metallic greatness, it also brought with it a stream of endless comparisons to the technical metallic hardcore scene's biggest and best-known band, the Dillinger Escape Plan. When Dillinger released Calculating Infinity in 1999, it changed the rules in the aggressive underground scene. Never before had a band so technically ruthless and extreme garnered such a huge reaction from the underground while flirting with mainstream notoriety. The resulting spotlight shone on many of the bands playing similar music has been both a blessing and a curse bands like the End received attention they might not have otherwise, but Dillinger's shadow can be impossible to escape.
"They're great, but I just think it's just different music," Andrew says about the constant comparisons. "It was the easiest comparison and it was the timing. A lot of what we, and bands that share similar influences are doing doesn't typically do very well [in sales]. Dillinger is a band that made a breakthrough and they became a reference for people, almost too easily."
"Dillinger broke at the right time and they broke in the new scene," says Aaron. "They're a fucking awesome band. It's when people say we're a Dillinger rip-off that it really hits us. You can compare their sound to Dillinger' that's one thing, but I hope the new record separates us from that."
With the release of Within Dividia, the End are certain to shake such easy and inaccurate comparisons. Within Dividia offers up a darker, less chaotic, heavier and more death metal-inspired vision of their metallic cacophony, one fixated on exploring extremity one moment and eerier atmospherics the next. "We wanted to be heavier," says Andrew. "I think we knew we could be heavier with our live sound and we wanted that to translate into the album. It's not so much that our view has changed, but our ability has increased. We've gotten better at being able to do it."
This darker, heavier and more abrasive sound was not the only new territory for the band, whose ambitions included an overarching concept for Within Dividia. "The idea is about a place and time we created, Dividia," Andrew says. "The Dividia estate, the bloodline Dividia, and the events that befall these people. The rest of the meaning is in the lyrics."
Just because it looks and sounds like a concept record doesn't mean it is one; the band are well aware of the concept album's ignominious history. "It's based on a conceptual tale but that wording has so much stigma attached to it," Andrew says. "I don't consider it a concept record' in the traditional way." Within Dividia smoothly and obtusely fuses its lyrical content, packaging and heavier, darker sounds to successfully pull off the tale of the Dividia estate and its inhabitants. "It's an album that in its entirety is together, every song is connected," says Andrew, "which I think is how an album should be done." But are they at all concerned about coming across as too arty or pretentious? "It doesn't matter what you do, people are going to have something negative to say. We know where our hearts lie and it's not in appealing to a mainstream audience; it's not in doing something that's cool. What do I want to see, what do I want to hear? That's what I'm going to make."
Watching their easy chemistry whether it's joking around at a photo shoot or dominating a concert stage it's hard to argue with Aaron's assessment of the band's current line-up: "I don't think anyone in the band can see it different than it is right now."
But the band overcame a major hurtle on their way to becoming Canada's brightest metallic hope the departure of their original vocalist, Tyler Semrick-Palmateer, in early 2002. (He has since gone on to form arty sludge metal mavens Mare.) "That guy is so talented. It's just the End was not his thing," says Aaron.
Andrew sheds a little more light on the subject. "Our band is serious and Tyler was not serious about our band. And that's something he was cool with and something we understood. To use a cliché, everybody gives a 110 percent the End is our lives. When you have someone who's not at that level, it's such an imbalance."
In a strange twist of fate, it gave one of the End's biggest fans the chance to join. "It's funny," Aaron says now, "I went to every single one of the End's shows. I'd drive everywhere to see them play. I don't think I ever really talked to them, I was just the kid that was at every show, knew every line, standing at the front air-drumming."
"We'd see [Aaron's] old band and we'd be like, this guy's got something, this guy's going to do something good,'" says Andrew. "We were looking for somebody and we didn't know what to do because we had on our schedule that we were still playing. Aaron just popped up, he knew the stuff and it worked out."
Nothing signals your band's arrival (or at least potential to arrive) more than signing with one of the biggest labels in the underground. In 2003, Relapse Records made the End their first-ever Canadian signing; the association provides a huge boost to the End's international reputation.
The band believes that the label is getting just as much, if not more, out of the deal. "They're not taking a chance on us; it's more beneficial to their label by far," Andrew says. "It's less beneficial to us because they haven't worked in Canada. They don't have that experience, business-wise, working here." It's a pretty ballsy statement for any band to make, especially considering Relapse's domination of the underground and the fact that before Within Dividia, the End had released but one demo and a 22-minute album. "The fact that we can spread our band and their label across Canada, which has a huge audience for metal music, is beneficial to them," says Andrew. "Most labels haven't realised that there is something up here because most bands don't tour up here. But our best tours are here."
As the End have grown into one of the underground's brightest hopes, so too has the Southern Ontario hardcore/metal/emo scene that spawned them. Thanks to the success of Alexisonfire, the scene has a chance to make a significant impact not just in Canada but internationally. All the attention may not be a good thing though. "Blowing up is very negative because blowing up is all hype and it doesn't matter what type of band you are because you're riding the wave of popularity," Andrew says. "That can help bands initially but it's destructive in the long run. Is Alexisonfire blowing up, are they huge? Blowing up compared to us? Yes. Compared to A Simple Plan? No."
At no other time in its history has Ontario's aggressive music scene witnessed more of its bands signing to American labels (the End to Relapse, Alexisonfire to Equal Vision, Boys Night Out to Ferret, Moneen to Vagrant, Cursed to Deathwish Inc., Jude the Obscure to One Day Savior, Somehow Hollow and Silverstein to Victory, among others). And at no other time has the scene enjoyed such domestic success (most notably Alexisonfire, whose MuchMusic-driven support made inroads for screaming melodic metal few ever thought possible). Andrew credits the scene's recent flurry of unprecedented activity to rather mundane origins. "All these bands come from a relatively small scene; we had a very good underground music scene five years ago and a lot of good music came through and inspired people. Because we were at the same shows, there was something that was compelling and the people that were capable of doing music clung to it. Maybe people saw enough success at a small scale that it became a realistic option and they are now finding success."
The Ontario scene has always featured an impressive list of influential, quality bands that almost achieved the recognition they deserved. (Examples include the early '90s Toronto triumvirate of Malhavoc, Mundane and Monster Voodoo Machine, forefathers of the current Canadian emo/scream scene Grade, and the impossibly heavy sludge of Shallow North Dakota.)
The question remains: why now? "It's because above all right now rock is trendy," says Andrew. "At this junction in time, the labels that are pumping this kind of music are getting some respect, getting notoriety and getting popular. It transfers over to the underground. That's what the kids are into right now. We're not capitalising as much because we're more metal, but all these labels are out signing bands because they've seen something. There have been indications and bands are doing well up here." And what have they seen? "Canada has a more content-based scene than most," says Andrew, "as far as underground music goes. Typically the bands that are being signed out of Ontario and out of Canada it's a more enlightened style of music."
Will the attention continue to trickle down from above and bubble up from below or has the scene already peaked? "The scene will sustain itself for as long as the bands can sustain themselves," ventures Andrew. "The hype will get you somewhere, but as long as people are interested in hearing you, you can sustain yourself. Hype simply means you have the opportunity to reach people. You have their attention, but what are you going to do with it?"
"Play our music," answers Aaron.
Back at the bar, Andrew nearly brings the interview to a crashing halt by almost getting himself ejected. He's nearly nabbed by a passing busboy while pouring himself an illicit glass of vodka from a bottle he's smuggled in. Despite all the changes the last couple years have brought, it's clear that the battle still rages between professional unit and band of 20-something kids. But forgiving the occasional vodka-induced misstep, the End in 2004 are a lean, focused metal machine, at least when it comes to the business of their band.
According to Andrew and Aaron, it's a necessary maturation process for them to reach the level of success to which they aspire. "If anything has changed, it is that all we cared about before was the music," Andrew explains. "Now we have to care about the business side and it almost sucks. I'd rather just care about the music. But that's the reality of being in a band. You have to compare yourselves to every other band out there that's trying to do it. You can sit there and be bitter because a band doesn't deserve it,' but chances are they're out there busting their balls. How can you compete with people whose life is their whole band if you're sitting at home going, fuck, why is nobody calling? Why isn't our band fucking Slayer yet?'"
If the End doesn't achieve their goals, it won't be from lack of effort or an expectation that they can get by on talent alone. "You have to learn to give it all up and say fuck it! I'm going to go hungry, I'm willing to go without money," Aaron says. "People are willing to do that and the people who aren't willing to aren't going to go anywhere. You can't just wait for it, you have to go out and get it."