If the idea of an album titled Dead Forever gets you smiling, Blue Youth have what you need.
When it’s movie night at my place, it’s very possible that before my wife and I decide on a movie, we are going to talk briefly about the horror movie genre. Horror films aren’t my favourite, because they make me feel uneasy in a way that I don’t enjoy even when I can recognize their cinematic and narrative merits. In contrast, my wife is an ardent fan of the horror genre and she appreciates these kinds of films in their various forms, from B-movie jump schlock to art-house frights. While it personally doesn’t do the same for me, she says the horror genre offers her catharsis from her everyday life.
The idea of catharsis can be traced back to Aristotle’s Poetics, where he metaphorically compares purging emotions such as pity and fear from your body via experiencing art to … well, purging shit from your body by means of a specific class of laxatives known as cathartics. It’s no “love is a red, red rose”, but it’s not supposed to be — we are supposed to recoil at the thought of others purging their emotions, but understand the desire to do so and the relief that comes from it. From this starting point, thinkers and writers have grabbed on to the loose idea of catharsis and have used it to peddle their specious theories, from Sigmund Freud through to Jordan Peterson. After being twisted around like an ideological pretzel, the idea and usefulness of catharsis can be hard to grasp. Ultimately, though, the general public acknowledges that the idea of purging our emotions feels good and seems right.
The idea of catharsis (specifically in an art-related context) was heavy on my mind as I took in Blue Youth’s newest record Dead Forever. The title is evocative, but a little playful, too (how often are you dead temporarily?) and made me think of campy horror movies. Make no mistake, Blue Youth more resemble Metz than they do Rob Zombie, but I found some very clear parallels in how Blue Youth and the horror genre provide catharsis.
The pure sonic texture of Dead Forever is gritty, thick, and full of adrenaline. Right from the opening of “Black Lung” you are treated to fast and heavy riffage that would be classically considered “dissonant” or “disjunct” but has a uniformity in rhythm that draws the listener in. Things are not noisy beyond recognition or absent of melody; there is even a bit of a pop tinge to some of the melodies. But when vocalist Gage McGuire (also of Surf Dads/Oiseaux) yells, there are occasions that make you wonder if he’s suffering from the titular black lung himself. These ill screams found across the record feel like what anyone who has ever buried their head in a pillow wishes they could release into the air and will surely inspire some screaming along.
Although the majority of the songs have the speedy quality of a chase sequence, the moments where the band slow down are the most unsettling: “Delusional//Apologetic” breaks into a plodding, ritualistic march which punches me in the gut; the circular “Pause for Death 8.18.00 PM” maintains its eeriness largely because it’s missing that steady snare rhythm that’s calling the audience to the mosh pit. Even the most tender moment of the album, the intro of “The Worst is You”, is painted with distortion and dissonance.
The palette of sounds that Blue Youth feature function a lot like the art direction of a horror movie. Distortion is the colour grading changing how we view even the simplest of details, and the rhythmic tandem of Jon Wolfond on bass and Garret Matheis on drums represent the tempo in the camera cuts controlling the narrative pace. It’s not surprising then, that there are cathartic qualities found in both.
When it comes to films, the biggest difference in how we each experience catharsis is in how we relate to the protagonists. Part of the joy in a horror movie is separating yourself from the characters: “I might be scared, but at least I do not have a chainsaw-wielding maniac chasing me” or “I can feel the adrenaline but I do not need to act on this fight or flight feeling”. In comparison, Blue Youth asks you to put yourself in the narrative. It’s noticeable in the way the lyrics are voiced, such as in “Delusional//Unapologetic”: “I’m unapologetic, and I know it may seem a little bit pathetic, but I’m not afraid to say I want you” is heard through a bunch of overdubs. The echoing, recursive effect makes it seem like your own self-reflexive inner voice is calling back at you. Combined with the catchy riffs and hooks, it drew me in and had me quietly screaming in my apartment (so I didn’t interrupt my wife watching a horror movie).
Catharsis is a process that has me involved, sweating, screaming, and feeling. Blue Youth have done a spectacular job of making me feel welcome to do all that on Dead Forever. It’s a wild ride that has a lot of guts and lot of brains. It’s not the same guts and brains that are splayed out all over the place in horror movies, and this album certainly doesn’t appeal to my wife. Catharsis doesn’t need to be the same for everyone, but if the idea of an album titled Dead Forever gets you smiling, this might be the purging of emotions you need.