The band’s brand of breakneck music encapsulates this notion of psychological fracture, propelling them to become one of the most vital units in hardcore.
‘A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So, he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusion.’
So said 1950s/60s Zen philosopher Alan Watts about the perils of spending too much with one’s own thoughts. Live, Vein.fm have used a sample of Watts saying this to introduce the song “Doomtech” from their 2018 album ‘Errorzone’.
“Doomtech” seems to be about the perils of consciousness – the complex circuitry of our minds caged inside our heads. It is a warning about the effects of this entity starting to look too far inwards, folding over back on itself. Its lyrics conjure obsessive, intrusive visions: ‘everytime I close my eyes I crash a thousand cars and all my/loved ones die’.
The song stood as an emblem of ‘Errorzone’ as an album which depicted the human mind as a machine that was malfunctioning: ‘psychosomatic ticks keeping the feeble conscious stuck inside/a broken stereo’.
Vein.fm’s vicious, breakneck music encapsulates this notion of psychological fracture. ‘Errorzone’ jerked itself around so violently that 2020’s ‘Old Data in a New Machine Vol.1’ felt like necessary recuperation. It contained reimagined and remixed songs, and demos of older material, like it was re-examining a locus of immense trauma.
Both albums confirmed Vein.fm as one of the most vital bands in hardcore. They were also contortions of the genre itself. The intimacy and claustrophobia in their lyrics had a raw yet elliptical emotional fabric more in keeping with the ground-breaking works of neo metal in the nineties: Korn’s debut and ‘Around The Fur’ by Deftones in particular.
When I speak to singer Anthony DiDio over Skype he is outside a venue in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the midst of a US tour in support of their new album, ‘This World Is Going To Ruin You’. They recently shot a performance video for upcoming single “Hellnight” on a day off while on the road. The title of the song sprung from what DiDio calls a ‘band in-joke’.
For a group of keen gamers, DiDio says it’s a coincidence that the song shares a title with a Japanese survival horror Playstation game from 1998. DiDio scoured the video game stores for it when the band toured Japan in 2019. The game shares the band’s compulsion to pull participants into an all-consuming, often nightmarish space.
DiDio speaks of ‘This World Is Going To Ruin You’ as another universe the band has crafted that the audience can step inside. The album’s message seems to conflict with Watts’ warning about the overthinking person. Instead, it points to the danger inherent in the world outside. And by extension, reality itself.
‘I mean, that’s the whole dichotomy,’ explains DiDio. ‘And the whole thing is: you put yourself out there, and you do experience all these things that can negatively affect you. It makes you want to retreat. Then once you’ve retreated, you’re trapped within yourself and in your mind. That’s one of the worst places that you could possibly ever be: trapped inside your own head and having to deal with things that you can’t. At least with the outside world, you can walk away from it sometimes, or physically remove yourself from certain things. But you can’t physically remove yourself from yourself.’
We live in a time when we can switch on the horrors of the world at a push of a button. We curate the way we perceive the world. That has a dangerous power. It presents a certain peril which Vein.fm seem to want to convey on their new album. The world most liable to ruin us is the one we create for ourselves – filtered through the unreality of our web browsers. DiDio describes the smartphone as a ‘pacifier’.
‘I don’t really think people do know how to deal with themselves,’ he says.
The album was written before the pandemic hit and recorded with producer Will Putney in his studio in Belleville, New Jersey, weeks into the first shutdown. It was a tough time for people who struggled with being by themselves. Or, as DiDio puts it, had previously been ‘distracted by reality itself and the outside world’. ‘The party’s dead/And you are the host’ as “The Killing Womb”, the first song released from the album, puts it.
‘No one’s such a pro that they can go through their whole life without having to sink inside and deal with certain things,’ says DiDio. ‘And I think that’s what a lot of people had to deal with. But unfortunately, it was a pandemic. For a lot of people their only sense of reality was through the internet, which is fake. I think it could fuck with a lot of people’s heads. So, in a way (as much as I love being shut in and like being alone), you need both. You have to counteract that by going out into the world, and being in front of reality, to remind yourself of what is actually real. And what isn’t. To feel things and experience things, because if you sit in a room for your entire life, and you sit inside your head… you know, it can do things to you.’
‘This World Is Going To Ruin You’ showcases a band on a precipice. Maybe it was the circumstance of its recording, when the sense of danger in the day-to-day was palpable. Vein.fm seem to operate at their peak when they are on a tightrope.
On “Fear in Non Fiction”, the band grapples with a feeling of disempowerment: our being unable to author our stories before they are plagiarised by the world itself. ‘The fear is losing fiction/In a coma of our choice’, DiDio screams. The song traverses the razor’s edge of blind aggression and searing melody. It recalls the herky-jerky greatness of the Dillinger Escape Plan on an album where heaving ferocity and singsong moments are both more pronounced. Even the distant drums and two-note piano motif of the following “Wherever You Are” pulsate with threat.
‘I think it’s threatening because it’s genuine,’ says DiDio. ‘It comes from a very fucked-up place for all of us, and also a really beautiful, loving place. And we really do just love this band and love the creation of it all. We know what types of feelings and sounds we want to put into it. I think that’s what actually makes it threatening, as opposed to us trying to design it to be threatening.’
The album begins with a female voice recorded on what sounds like an answerphone message: ‘I can’t sleep now’. You can hear the same sample during the song “Terrors Realm” from the band’s superb 2018 Audiotree session. That voice emerges at other points during the record, giving it an uncomfortable intimacy. DiDio won’t reveal its source. But he does say that it became part of the band’s live sound design before it worked its way into the album.
The voicemail is used prominently on “Funeral Sound”, the album’s finale. Along with “Wavery”, the song that precedes it, “Funeral Sound” signs another pathway for the band – down into the psychological depths, far under the choppy surface waters. Here, insidious melodies issue from guest Randy LeBoeuf’s piano. DiDio’s naked vocal makes the song frail and spindly before it bursts back into life for the climactic final passage.
On “Wavery”, guitarist Jeremy Martin and producer Will Putney worked hard between them to refine the layers and textures of the track. DiDio sings with an inner voice he has recovered from deep inside himself: ‘Retracing steps/Back into birth’.
‘I don’t want anyone to think like we would fully “switch our sound” to that or something,’ says DiDio. ‘Because to me, it all fits together. And even though that is uncharted territory, it feels really familiar for us. That is the kind of shit that people don’t hear on ‘Errorzone’. But to us, we listen to a lot of stuff like that and appreciate lots of music like that. And I’m sure that in the future, those elements will further be expanded upon – without a doubt.’
Vein.fm spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how things fit together. For a band with a feral live reputation, where total chaos looks to be a hair’s breadth away, they are meticulous in their work. This extends down to the graphical representation of the lyrics. Visit the Bandcamp page for this album to see the care and attention that goes into how the words look.
Drummer Matt Wood often takes responsibility for putting their setlists together. That determines how songs are chopped together live and what vibe the band wants to lean into any given night. Right now, it is the challenges and rewards inherent in playing the new album material live.
Adding their DJ and sampler Benno Levine to the live setup has improved the band’s gigs ‘exponentially’ in DiDio’s eyes. Levine dropped his life in Culver City, Los Angeles, to move in with the band at their home in Boston. I get the sense that Vein.fm like to move in a pack. At one point DiDio tries and fails to grab Levine and bassist Jon Lhaubouet to join our call.
With all the members evolving as people and honing their craft during the pandemic’s downtime, the band have returned to playing live with unprecedented intensity. Levine’s live improvisations have made Vein.fm shows even more of a freewheeling experience. DiDio describes the band as ‘levelled up’. He expects their DJ to be felt even more strongly on the next album.
Capturing Vein.fm’s performances in the studio is trapping lightning in a bottle. When they released ‘Old Data in a New Machine Vol.1’, what stood out to me was the demos. They are ‘low quality’ recordings but the demo of the seventy-second “Untitled” from 2016 is a remarkable document recorded in a friend’s living room. DiDio’s banshee wails and the overarching clean vocal melody soar over the spiky, fizzing turbulence of the band. Even if the studio versions often turn out ‘ten times more insane’ in DiDio’s view, it’s a thrill to be able to hear the first drafts of Vein.fm’s stories.
As we have re-emerged bleary-eyed into the world of live music again, Vein.fm have experienced some well-documented friction on this tour. It seems inevitable that a tight-knit band that builds its own world will rub against the reality outside it.
Vein.fm seem to enjoy incendiary live situations. Many heavy bands would have no idea how to handle the stage invasions, mic grabbing and physical altercations that Vein.fm encounter on an average night. The live footage of them attests to the fact they are often more than well equipped enough to handle it. Maybe it’s the furlough from live music during the pandemic that led some people to misremember rock ‘n’ roll as somehow a sanitised, well-behaved experience?
Violence can come in the most unexpected places. The night before we speak, Will Smith slapped fellow bored celebrity Chris Rock at the Oscars. Then violence occurs in more expected, yet also more horrifying, places. You can watch a new war unfurl in Europe in agonising detail. Online, objects of fascination like these are discussed and debated until they generate a corresponding antagonism.
‘You have an endless source of whatever content or information you want at your fingertips,’ says DiDio. ‘But people choose to say stupid shit about each other. And use it in the most toxic and disgusting way possible. Because that’s also an escape from reality.’
There’s the rub. Our phones are pacifiers and agitators. They are windows onto a world which is sometimes hard to believe and frequently harder to care about. With ‘This World Is Going To Ruin You’ Vein.fm have delivered a stark warning and a modern classic. The world they’ve created is not a pretty place, but at least they mean it. And they make you want it and seek it out. Hellnight. Every night. It’s better that way.
This World Is Going to Ruin You is available now via Closed Casket Activities – HERE