Attack Attack Was Outsider Art All Along
In my hometown of Billings, Montana, scene music had staying power. The subgenre that laid claim to Hot Topic, excessively straightened hair, and the infusion of crunk with metalcore still had influence during my high school years. From 2010 to 2014, kids continued to rep Hollywood Undead and Asking Alexandria even after each of those bands had lost their cultural notability.
There are obvious problems with scene bands. While all of the most popular ones have wildly differing approaches, there are some general commonalities: namely, mixing metalcore conventions like breakdowns and screamed vocals with pop and hip-hop sensibilities. Unlike nu-metal, though, scene music eschewed toughness for a kind of femininity that metal proper would never accept. It was just as much about the fashion as it was the music.
Compositionally speaking, many of these bands were also flat-out terrible. The aforementioned two bands each had numerous flaws, but there were even worse ones: Brokencyde, Blood on the Dance Floor, and Millionaires, to name a few. The lesson nu-metal should have taught aspiring young musicians is that the combination of disparate genres can be a tricky thing to balance. The best successes of that era found ways to combine their varied interests into moments of rebellious brilliance.
What scene music did, though, was go further in a different direction. The often-inspired synthesis of hip-hop and metal from early Slipknot and Korn efforts was traded for extreme variance. Songs blast through different genres at a neck-breaking pace. One moment, it’s pop punk. The next, a breakdown; then, suddenly, dubstep. It rarely ever works, which is why it’s quite difficult to find an album from that era that was met with true critical acclaim.
One scene band, though, is truly an anomaly: Westerville, Ohio’s Attack Attack!.
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Attack Attack! were strange right from the outset. For one, they formed the year after a Welsh band, almost-identically named Attack! Attack!, did.Their music was even less attuned to songwriting conventions than some of scenecore’s strangest offerings, flying through genres so quickly that keeping up is often difficult. The band’s bizarre stage antics, on display in the music video for their track “Stick Stickly,” led to the creation of the “crabcore” meme, so named because of guitarist Andrew Whiting’s crab-like squatting.
The band’s debut album Someday Came Suddenly sold well but was critically maligned, even among publications dedicated to covering this sort of thing. At just over 30 minutes long, the album darts between electronic music, pop punk, crunk, and metalcore at such a ferocious speed that it’s a wonder the album is digestible at all. But somehow, it is. As a friend noted, it’s remarkable for an album to contain so many different styles while every song still manages to sound the same.
But Someday Came Suddenly is more than an eclectic album that’s also mostly a failure. As the album approaches its tenth anniversary, with plenty of distance from both the time period and subculture that it called home, it has managed to take on a remarkably different air. More than any other scene album, Someday Came Suddenly sounds strange. All of its ideas are crammed into remarkably short track lengths. Only three of the 12 songs reach the three-minute mark. Within each song is a mix of synth noodling, metalcore sensibilities that draw a straight line to Converge, and poppy moments that call to mind Blood on the Dance Floor on uppers.
That’s all fine on its own, but the frenzied manner in which Attack Attack! stitches these elements together seems to point to a disregard (or lack of understanding) for songwriting conventions. “Stick Stickly,” the band’s biggest song, doesn’t have a chorus. Attack Attack! songs are mostly a series of bridges with intros and outros.
I’ve found myself listening to Someday Came Suddenly a lot for the past few months, all the while trying to figure out why. All signs point to it being unworthy of anyone’s time. Yet its appeal is undeniable, if only because of how strange the journey can be.
It’s almost better to think of Attack Attack! as a modern example of outsider music, the soundtrack for what the late Mark Fisher once referred to as “capitalist realism” — an amalgamation of disparate parts that have proven profitable, mashed together. No bands have come along since Attack Attack! that even come close to matching their strangeness.
The outsider label may seem far-fetched due to the polished nature of the album. In spite of everything, the members of Attack Attack! are proficient at their instruments, and some of the rhythms in the band’s heavier moments are genuinely complex. Nothing sounds sloppy. What it does sound like is a band with no influences that were active prior to the mid-2000s. It’s as if these gifted musicians were somehow only aware of bands that wound up being their contemporaries.
And yet it simultaneously deconstructs the conventions of its own genre. Those laughable song titles e.g. “Shred, White and Blue,” “Bro, Ashley’s Here,” and “What Happens if I Can’t Check My Myspace When We Get There?” read like parodies of other bands. It’s possible to think, if only for a moment, that Attack Attack! had some awareness of what they were doing.
Attack Attack!’s later work continues in much the same vein as the band’s previous material, but it never achieves the same sort of head-scratching bewilderment as Someday Came Suddenly. No other bands matched Attack Attack! back then, and it’s hard to imagine anyone willingly citing them as an influence these days.
Listening to Attack Attack!’s magnum opus in 2018 has me wondering if we’ve perhaps misread scene music from the beginning. Maybe it wasn’t meant for anyone other than those strange kids that dotted the halls of Billings Senior High School (and other secondary education facilities across the nation). Attack Attack!, and by extension scenecore at large, couldn’t have been gunning for true mainstream acceptance. More than punk, more than noise, scene music is truly despised by everyone except its target demographic. Perhaps that’s worth celebrating.