twentynine Scene #4: The Bled - Pass the Flask (2003)
The year 2019 is now Twenty Nine-Scene. Join Two Minutes to Late Night co-creator Drew Kaufman as he looks at back at the seminal albums that defined what it meant to be someone who lived for -core between the years 1999 to 2009. Screamo, power violence, mall metal, whatever your older brother called it. Do these albums still live up to their hype, or are they beautiful little time capsules buried beneath the Toys R Us where your mom bought you Donkey Konga Bongos for your Game Cube? Buckle up your studded seat belts and pull your old snake bites out from the scrapbook as we wait in line to buy merch for number four, The Bled’s Pass the Flask.
Long ago, it was 2006 and I had spent the whole winter practicing my mosh moves in front of a mirror to perfect my Olympic-style windmills. March was beginning to thaw and all I wanted to do karate-fight some ghosts with my friends. The Bled was playing a small club a couple dozen miles north of where I grew up so my friend James and I waited for my mom to get out of work so I could borrow her car and drive us. Of course, we showed up late, though luckily we did manage to catch a few songs from the opening band–some Canadian band called Protest the Hero on their first American tour. James said those dudes sounded like DragonForce with breakdowns and I agreed. But let’s save that for another inevitable twentynine scene.
During their set, the Bled tore that place up and it was everything I could have dreamed of. However, that show was one of three happening that night as the venue was one theater with three smaller clubs attached to each of the many floors. Apparently, there was a Casualties show going on downstairs and the punks who didn’t like the opener bands had snuck their way into the Bled show to fuck shit up. Amidst the fog of gnar, spikey denim kids and tight-jeaned proto-Biebers worked together in harmony to tear apart this venue like some sort of Coalition of Freedom, liberating huge pieces of the drop ceiling to the ground while limber children from the exposed pipes.
The treaty quickly ended when the Bled started playing their song with the sickest breakdown, “Daylight Bombings” off of Found in the Flood. This song has a very slow build, which the punks did not appreciate, giving them the causation to start a skipping circle pit. The hugest of the hardcore folk took this as an opportunity to push all the glue heads out of the pit to hog the slam dance showcase that was about to happen. Four minutes and twelve seconds into “Daylight Bombings,” the breakdown achieved critical mass, releasing every tough dude in the scene into an area about the size of an apartment kitchen. In the maelstrom of thrown fists and flailing Puma shoes, I found myself doing a shitty cartwheel straight into the middle of ground zero before ultimately clawing at the air the same way my small cat attacks my couch. Things we going so well in my bubble of spin kicks that I felt like I was floating in the air. I looked down and saw that I was literally levitating. It felt my belt with the chainsaw buckle had gotten significantly tighter, and that was when I realized there was a giant pair of arms locked around my waist like someone was giving the Heimlich maneuver to my ass.
This gigantic known scene bully had decided he did not like my crowd killing and decided to physically remove me from the pit. This guy was almost a full foot taller than me and he broke no sweat picking me up and chucking my scrawny body against the wall like a dodgeball. My whole body hurt so much I had to sit down on the floor for a full song to try and regain enough HP so I could grab the mic during “Red Wedding.”
Anyways it goes without saying everything The Bled did still totally whips ass.
Pass the Flask is one of those really special albums that hasn’t really been duplicated properly-both in a musical and physical sense. Seriously, The Bled changed labels before the release of their second album and Pass the Flask was largely out print during those years. This was also around the time Kazaa and Soulseek stopped being reliable and you either had to know how to use torrents or know someone with a cool older brother and a CD burner to hear this album. Quick side note, did anyone else think they downloaded a bad MP3 rip of “Porcelain Hearts and Hammers for Teeth” but now with Spotify and iTunes, you found out this song is oddly mixed compared to the other ones on this album? For a literal decade, I thought I just got screwed by The Pirate Bay.
Back to the stuff that matters, this album established the perfect middle path a band could take to perfect the genre. It’s intricate and mathy, but not so mathy that you need to play adult board games to appreciate It. It’s aggressive, but not so aggressive that you need to get a big bird tattooed on your chest. And it’s a bit screamo, too, but not so screamo that you need to get a big bird tattooed on your neck to match. It’s kind of like Refused with the socialism replaced by heartache and lip rings and I mean that in the most endearing way.
But This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race. Let's tear apart Pass the Flask.
No Hardcore Dancing In The Living Room: Can you mosh to Pass the Flask? Does a bear shit in the pit? Dude, this album has some of the best breakdowns I have ever heard. The first five songs on this albums are more than enough to help you stretch out even the tightest pair of Levi’s 527s. What really makes these songs stand out, besides the quality riffs and scream-alongs, are Mike Pedicone’s idiosyncratic drums. I love me a quality chugga-chugga breakdown, but every song on this album is so much more than that. Also, huge bonus points to the breakdown in “Sound of Sulfur” which is so intense I decided to use it in an extremely dated short I made my freshman year of film school. Spoiler alert: I had a chinstrap beard.
Gluing Carpet to Your Genitals Does Not Make You A Cantaloupe: Are The Bled’s song titles utter nonsense? No, actually. The Bled was pretty well known for you know which's song title, but we’ll get to that later. Pass the Flask has some very poetic song titles, including “Spitshine Sonata”, ”Porcelain Hearts and Hammers for Teeth”, and “Nothing We Say Leaves This Room”, which is so good that it’s one of the reoccurring section names in this column. Fuck yeah! All here are two obligatory movie quote titles: “Get Up You Son of a Bitch, Cause Mickey Loves Ya” from Rocky, and “Ruth Buzzi Better Watch Her Back” from Wet Hot American Summer. Whoah, that was a deep cut in pre-Netflix 2003. The alternate title was “the last thing I need today is some diabetic freak prancing around on stage making my life a living HELL!”
You’re Cute When You Scream: James Muños vocals were really some of the best in the game. He’s got that great scream that sounds like a hurt dog in a fight, but the lyrics are still fully understandable. James starts the album like a punch to the temple with “Red Wedding” and I would place Jame’s opening screams of “I lost my voice in a fire” from the song “Spitshine Sonata” in the top 10 most iconic songs in hardcore. My guy also had quality pipes and could really sing the slower parts of songs well enough to never tempt you to fast forward, especially when he carries us out of the bone-crushing breakdown in “Sound of Sulfur.” The 2007 reissue of Pass the Flask features a bonus inclusion of some pre-Muños songs and they’re pretty interesting from a research perspective (“F is for Forensics,” after all) to see how the whole band really grew into their own sound with a singer who didn’t sound like a baby dinosaur. They certainly wouldn’t have been able to do the only good Bad Brains cover ever. Sorry, Gwen Stefani.
Nothing We Say Leaves This Room: Is this album problematic? No, folks. I combed the lyrics and I could not find anything not up to my bleeding heart SJW standards. But we haaaaaaaaaave to talk about “You Know Who’s Seatbelt.” Of course, we all know that you know who is the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt, who tragically died trying to feed his Tamogachi while racing a big car. The song was named “You Know Who’s Seatbelt” on the back of the album, but was titled “Dale Earnhardt’s Seatbelt” in the liner notes. Not only is “Dale Earnhardt’s Seatbelt” such a funny-with-a-shit-eating-grin name for a song but by censoring themselves they created this meme-like inside joke with their fans. Who didn’t manually change the file name on this song? Posers, that’s who.
In hindsight, what’s so interesting about “You Know Who’s Seatbelt” to me is it’s the only time we see The Bled try to be funny on a record. Myself and everyone I know in the scene who ended up doing stand up did it because James Muñoz and Keith Buckley did stand up and we were inspired. I’m not even sure there would be a Two Minutes to Late Night without The Bled or Every Time I Die. But Every Time I Die was writing sardonic song lyrics and most other hardcore bands at this time are either cramming Rodney Dangerfield one-liners into the song titles. Meanwhile, the Bled are here writing sincere music and they sneak in one song title that’s somewhere between Cannibal Corpse and Season 3 South Park and truthfully the part of that song people remember the most is the hook, “let’s set our hearts to self destruct.” James became a comedy idol for a lot of people my age even though he rarely showed his cards unless you saw his band in person. You should definitely follow him on Twitter.
Hey, It’s Your Funeral, Mama: So whatever happened to The Bled? They broke up in 2011 after ten years and four albums. Pass the Flask was followed up by Found in the Flood in 2005 and extensive touring. Found in the Flood is ostensibly thought to be the better album, but I personally like to listen to them back to back as if they were one masterpiece project. The Bled would release two more albums, Silent Treatment in 2007 and Heat Fetish in 2010, both of which mark an expansion of sound and a logical progression from the first two albums in the best ways possible. Heat Fetish is in a weird transitional place where it’s hard to tell if the Bled was influenced by other contemporary bands or if other contemporary bands were influenced by the Bled. Either way it was a great experiment and I’m sad that we never got to see what would have come after that record. Revisit their whole discography today!
I give Pass the Flask five flat irons out of five. Make sure you seed your torrents to a 3:1 ratio!