Arrrrrgggggghhhh! Hardcore! Right? Well, maybe not so much with descender. These guys all wear glasses. They all have beards (none out of control, all tamed). They’re graphic designers. They drive Zipcars to shows, for Chrissakes.
The band’s name comes from the typographic term for the spacing below a headline. Don’t worry, I didn’t get it at first either. I thought it was more along the lines of Descender = one who is descending into hell. And the band may be doing just that—because it mixes metal with hardcore like many in the history of loud New York music, but it isn’t about violence or being macho. These guys are into typography. “That makes it fun. You know, we get to talk about types a lot in between songs. We dork out a bit,” says guitarist and vocalist Angelo Pournaras.
If I’ve learned anything from my heroes of early-1980s hardcore, it’s that it doesn’t matter what you are or what you look like, it’s what the music sounds like. Descender is a geeky band with a geeky name. But when you listen to the group’s songs, you won’t be able to tell. The band doesn’t have that Dead Kennedys whine and doesn’t do funny love songs like the Descendents. Like those bands, however, there is intelligence in Descender’s loudness.
Pournaras met Eric Palmerlee at a bar in 2000, the first day he came to the city from Georgia, and they started playing together soon after. “Angelo and I would practice at my apartment in headphones with both our guitars plugged into my computer, and my roommate would walk by and we’d go, ‘dude, you don’t even know how heavy this is,’” says Palmerlee.
Pournaras soon invited his friend Jay Morris to play bass, and the three started jamming in the East Village with a drum machine. Needing a non-robotic drummer, the guys put out an ad on Craigslist and found George Manolis. It was a perfect fit the first time they met. “What do you do for a living? ‘Oh I’m a graphic designer?’ Oh yeah? Done,” recalls Morris.
Descender played its first show at Lit Lounge in 2008 and released a six-song, self-titled EP last summer.
From the first 30 seconds of the record’s first song, “Spit and Stare,” you can hear a lot of ’90s post-hardcore. You know the drill—the song runs through six very different guitar riffs before falling away for a bass/drum verse. The band works with the sounds of the late ’80s and early ’90s, you know, when all the kids from the early days of hardcore started new bands and worked on crafting songs that weren’t all three chords. And while a lot of bands like to go back to that time, descender remembers bands like Quicksand, Snapcase, Helmet and the mighty Fugazi. Descender constructs melodic songs without losing the hardcore killer instinct. And the best part of Descender is that it sounds like a classic hardcore band, but the music is never verse-chorus-verse. The line “This will end!” in “Breaking” could easily pass for a classic hardcore mantra, while the main riff sounds like something out of Steve Albini’s brain with metal Kung-Kungs breaking it up.
“For a while I felt that Brooklyn bands all sounded the same, but now I’m starting to feel that there’s a lot of diversity,” says Pournaras.
This is the sentiment of many louder bands in Kings County. For years the DIY scene was something to envy, but a lot of the bands sucked. Now, some of the heavier bands are using the scene to bring about a third wave of New York hardcore that’s about letting off steam with the chops to back it up. Descender plays DIY bars like Tommy’s Tavern in Greenpoint or Bushwick’s Party Expo with bands like Tournament, Pygmy Shrews and Vagina Panther.
In January, Descender released Live at the Mercury Lounge, eight songs the guys recorded themselves onto a minidisc player. It’s got a lot of songs from the self-titled EP, but the band is definitely better live. On “And So We Marched,” Morris and George prove to be as important to the band as the dueling guitars up front. The song is essentially the band’s sole slow groove song, and it’s a sign that melodic hardcore not only ain’t dead, it’s being reborn. Or, if you’re going by the image on the album’s cover, it’s being ripped from the womb. Either way, the typography is pretty good—if you’re into that sort of thing.
Aug. 5, Lit Lounge, 93 2nd Ave. (betw. E. 5th & E. 6th Sts.), 212-777-7987; 9, $TBA.