If the intent of Useless Against is to remain a faceless mystery, they’re doing a solid job of it. The group maintains no social media presence. Band members, however many there may be, choose to be anonymous. Instead of a press photo, the group employs an ominous black and white logo of a cartoon snake eating its own tail. To add to the sense of drama and flair for the peculiar, the label issuing their debut EP — a boutique cassette imprint called The House is On Fire — doubles as a socio-culture blog and activist resource repository. None of this is terribly radical in and of itself, but it’s enough to beg a few questions.
But before we get to that, let’s take note of the music. This is a premiere after all and Useless Against is indeed a band. Specifically, they refer to themselves as a metal group, which makes sense on the surface. Big riffs, emphatic rhythms, piercing vocals — you get the picture. But if Useless Against is in fact a metal band, they’re the kind of metal band that employs heavy pop overtones and covers Kate Bush. Their debut single “Westworld” is a classic blues-boogie scorcher that reminds me as much of FIDLAR’s frantic garage punk as, say, Dio or Judas Priest. It’s fast-paced, fist-pumping, thunderous rock and roll with — surprise! — a decidedly political bent. In other words, there are some layers that need to be unraveled here.
So who exactly are Useless Against? We spoke with the group’s guitarist and vocalist to get the band’s backstory, their influences, and a sense of the musical and political ideologies driving them forward.
How did the band come together and get started?
I wrote and recorded the EP very quickly in January and then assembled a band to play it. I was taking time away from music to focus on activism and doomsday prepping and when I finally picked up an instrument again it was me in front of my stereo, playing guitar along to classic riff-rock and rediscovering the visceral release of playing classic metal/guitar music. It was like a pressure valve had opened. Like a weight had been shed. I wanted all of the songs to just have RIFFS in them that felt good to play.
Is “Westworld” a reference to the HBO show?
The song was the first written for the EP, and uses the metaphor of Westworld, wherein the “hosts” are programmed to unwittingly act out a predetermined simulation, to examine the intellectually hardwired obstinacy that seems to inform right wing opinion. During and post-election there seems to be no fact or line of reasoning that bears any impact on the calcification of support for their narrative. “I don’t care what they’re saying ’cause I can’t say no” is a line in the song and was going to be the title but was too long and this is not the Smiths.
You were presented to us as a metal band, but there are a lot of catchy pop overtones running beneath this track. Do you have influences that run in that direction?
Yes. “Houdini,” from our EP, is a Kate Bush cover. That song works perfectly in a doom metal treatment but her version is a beautifully melodic piece of baroque pop that is mostly cello and piano. Some of her music is far more haunting and ominously unnerving to me than most metal bands could hope to be. This music is more metal in a late ’70s, ’80s sense too, where there was a lot more melody in it. Iron Maiden sounds like classic rock next to some of the Beat-Down new metal of today. All of us love music and play/have played in all different types of projects, which is why the deliberate decision not to outwardly project any individual identities in releasing this music. This is a political metal record and I want it to exist by itself. I want Useless Against to exist by itself as a metal EP and now as a metal band. We’re not trying to be Ghost, some people know who we are, but it’s just not important to actively project that.
What can we expect from Useless Against in 2017?
We will spend the summer disseminating our cassette, working with other activist groups, and playing shows. We put the EP out on tape because it is a patient medium. It is a medium for people who listen. You can’t skip. It takes action to play it. Plus, this is music inspired by bands of the cassette era. We are also involved with The House is On Fire, which is a website for political essays, activist materials, and a label. The idea is for art, activism, and literary discourse to work synergistically and to funnel a lot of the dread and negativity inherent to the Trump era in to something positive and actionable. And into some gnarly riffs.
Useless Against’s debut cassette is available now via The House is on Fire.