Every album starts somewhere: sometimes with just a cutting room floor's worth of riffs recorded to a phone, or maybe with a single, powerful idea. For the Chicago-based sludge trio Downcaste, their debut EP Pre-Apocalypse started with a concept about a World War II fighter pilot with a striking name: Dick Bong. A pandemic's worth of writing and evolution steered the band away from fully committing to the concept, instead focusing on more, let's say, cerebral topics, but that initial thought and the minds behind it are what yield Pre-Apocalypse: a power-trio sludge offering with little to no pretense placed between the riffs and the listener. Though the guitar and bass tones at play are viscous and artery-clogging, the band doesn't rely on that to hand-wave away the nuances of songwriting. Their grime-stained vision of the world is often besieged by extreme, overbearing violence in the form of intricate up-tempo onslaughts, but just as often it creates a bizarrely peaceful meditative state. Close your eyes while blackened grooves and snarled, cynical poetry whirl past your ears, and you can almost imagine a world even more fucked than ours. Check it out now with our early premiere:

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From the first few notes of "Suffer the Breath," Downcaste's aptitude for heaviness is well established, but it isn't until the break near the end that their manic, unpredictable side steps into the light. Ushered in by a out-of-nowhere "Go!," the second act of the song is louder, angrier, and punches in a hell of a stoner groove to go with the dense lyrics. Vocalist/guitarist Kevin Miller spits out a coherent rasp that's grit layered on grit, finding a sweet spot between growl and snarl that matches the exasperated, somewhat insane, cynicism of the instrumentals. Some tracks reveal a tinge of beauty underneath the rust, like the almost-hopeful riff that opens up "Sins of our Fathers", but for most of the EP you can expect savage, rhythmic proceedings.

There's a tinge of wry humor to Pre-Apocalypse; even though the tongue-in-cheek origins aren't immediately obvious in the final product, the album's acerbic bite holds a certain devilish charm. What better way to face the (almost) end of the world than with a grin?

The band offers their thoughts on the album below:

We all have eclectic tastes in music and life. As a band, we do our best to have that represented in the music we create while sticking to the motto "make it heavy as hell".
We play what we truly enjoy and we hope that it's reflected to the listener like stepping in a puddle and not realizing until it's too late that you're fully immersed in the scene scape we've created.

—Kevin Miller (guitars/vocals)

I think the eclecticism and sense of groove comes from the fact that we were able to play music at all, especially in the context of the pandemic. We were still able to come together and create music because we could do so at a safe, social distance. (Masked up, plenty of space, good ventilation). So the fact that we could play together at all is rather miraculous. If you're happy to be there, that's gonna come out in the music, even if you're singing about war and the apocalypse in a death metal roar.

The other thing about the pandemic was that, since we didn't have to worry about getting material ready in time for a live show, the pressure was off. We could focus on the material, and make it as strong and as heavy as possible. Since I'm also playing bass as well, I had time to figure out how to use the bass in order to enhance the heaviness of the guitars by way of double-stops and power chords, or to tighten up with the rhythm section by playing more syncopated notes on the off beat.

All in all, I'm really proud of how this came out. Heavy as fuck, but also with a sense of groove so people can nod their heads as the world burns around them.

—Jon Graef (bass/guitars)

Heh, Dick Bong.

—Kevin Kovacevich (drums)

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Pre-Apocalypse releases July 16th independently through the band's Bandcamp page.