Pittsburgh's heavy-music scene is undergoing a resurgence of activity not seen since the early '90s. Thrashers Mantic Ritual (formerly Meltdown) moved to Los Angeles, scoring a contract with the Nuclear Blast label, while math-metalers Hero Destroyed stayed close to home and inked an album on Relapse. But brutal crust-metal-hardcore hybrid Complete Failure (a.k.a. ComFail) has attained its status via the most labor-intensive method possible.
The band, which includes drummer Mike Rosswog from Circle of Dead Children and singer Joey Mack from First Day Dead, hit the road for 90 dates in U.S. and Europe last year with established crushers Today Is The Day. Rosswog played drums in both bands for the whole span.
"What we needed as young guys was to get out there and see what it was all about," says Rosswog. "We played different levels of shows, going from driving around in a van to riding on a tour bus, living pretty decently for the type of music we did."
That music blends Mack's gruff vocals with stream-of-consciousness lyrics and a mix of swift crust and Rosswog's blasting death-metal rhythms. The approach owes a significant debt to their teen-age years. The two grew up during the golden era of crossover bands at the Mr. Roboto Project, including some associated with the Willowtip label (Sadis Euphoria, CODC, Fate of Icarus and Commit Suicide). And Complete Failure hasn't forgotten its roots: The band recently returned to Roboto to open for Krishna-core heroes 108.
A major influence for all band members, including newcomer bassist James Curl and guitarist Erik Wynn, are post-metal titans Neurosis. "When I was an ignorant kid at Ozzfest, I was blown away by them," says Rosswog. "All the band members were interacting and doing percussion, and playing guitars in a nonstandard way. They did slow, brooding music that you couldn't listen to at certain times of the day because it put you in a state of mind that rendered you incapable of normal functioning."
ComFail's relentless sophomore album Heal No Evil also contains strong death-metal influences. After all, this is a band that's playing the Maryland Death Fest and the crust-laden Midwest Fuck Fest this month. "We play fast music that leans towards death metal, but if you looked in our CD player, you would probably not find any death-metal albums," Rosswog says. "I can enjoy its senseless, barbarian lyrics and concepts at the higher points in my life when I'm really happy, but most of the time I'm more receptive to music that's more emotionally expressive and dynamic."
Rosswog adds that he prefers solid songwriting to the mere blinding speed and technicality of bands like Dillinger Escape Plan. "Speed and dexterity are tools for expression, not ends unto themselves," he says. "We use speed, and effects in the vein of Neurosis, to convey a certain atmosphere, which is partly about rage -- being very angry and lashing out in an uncontrollable way. Then the reaction to that would be the calm after the storm, that sense of peace you get after pushing yourself to the physical limit."
One limit the band has transcended with the self-recorded Heal No Evil was the decidedly mixed reception given its first album, Perversions of Guilt. The debut was engineered by Steve Austin of Today Is The Day, who had previously done good work for the likes of Lamb of God and Converge. But "Frankly, it sounded so shitty that we're embarrassed over it," Rosswog says. "We did full-page interviews in Decibel, Metal Maniacs, and some magazine from Germany. But all that everyone had to say was how badly it was produced."
ComFail has since rebounded, and between shows at the Smiling Moose, it's also organized a short jaunt with grinders Antigama, whom the band met in Warsaw, Poland while on tour.
The band hopes to keep doing as much as possible on its own terms, Rosswog says.
"We're trying to utilize all the resources available to us -- the venue, and whatever skills each of the members have" (Mack is a graphic designer and screenprinter, while Curl is a knowledgeable recording engineer). "We've got a professional sound going, and ideas about what a record should sound like. We need to prove to everyone that's heard of us that we're worth hearing about."
Complete Failure CD release shows:
With Antigama, Lone Cub and Wolf. 9 p.m. Mon., May 25. Smiling Moose, 1306 E. Carson St., South Side. $7. 412-431-4668 or www.smiling-moose.com
With Jucifer and Storm King. 9 p.m. Thu., May 28. Smiling Moose, 1306 E. Carson St., South Side. $9. 412-431-4668 or www.smiling-moose.com