I panic. What the hell is this white, flaky shit falling off this piece of red construction paper that the cook at Paradox Café just handed me? The sheet was stuffed inside the case of his punkish metal band's homemade cassette demo tape. I begin to see lyrics—scribble like, "There's a burning in the night/No way's wrong and nothing's right." I turn the sheet over and find a hastily stenciled, toothpaste-thick chipped outline of what might be a grinning skull wearing sunglasses. DIY rock, I am reminded, is alive.
At a time when the heavy music promotion machine has gone mostly virtual, with record labels like Nuclear Blast and Earache moving from promo CDs to digital downloads, a physical recording in hand is a surprise feeling for this writer, even disregarding Ripper's crumbling insert. It is rare for me to take in music that isn't expressly sought out or subscribed to, clicked on, and decompressed.
The actions of the cook, Ripper vocalist/guitarist Robbie Chronic, suggest the revived cassette-tape medium is showing heavy music a way back to its tactile roots. We talk by phone before another of his kitchen shifts. He spent the morning making demo tapes in his bedroom with the trio's one master CD ("Stereophonic Mastering, that's where we went"), a stockpile of blanks from tapes.com ("You can get 'em for like $25 for 100"), and his beloved Technics dual deck ("So I can make two at once"). No doubt he decorated and numbered each one by hand as he did mine. "It's an arduous process," he says, laughing.
Pushing play recalls my first impression. Chronic shreds apart, periodically invoking the banshee of a mid-'80s Flotsam and Jetsam ax solo. His Amebix-like pipes strain toward unreachable melodic-rock rafters. Bassist Mira Sonnleitner and drummer Dustin Ferris go as if drag racing, their in-pocket grit and double bass kicks insisting no song out of the six exceed the three-and-a-half minute mark. Explains Chronic: "It's intentionally simplified." Adds me: Hell yes