Sunday, April 25, 2010

April 25: The Mark Of Cain, "Point Man"

Artist: The Mark Of Cain
Song: "Point Man"
Album: Ill At Ease
Year: 1995

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When it comes to aggressive, hardcore music, it is not surprising that one of the most common themes is violence in one way or another.  The nature of the music simply works with such a theme, and though there are countless examples of hardcore music going on other directions with great success, it is often these more aggressive subjects that yield the finest results.  Similarly, though the hardcore style of music is dominated by bands based in the U.S., one can find a number of equally fantastic groups from all over the world.  Without question, one of the finest hardcore bands in history hailed from Australia, and there has never been another group that brought the sound and power that one finds within the music of The Mark Of Cain.  Taking heavy influence from groups like Helmet and Fugazi, the band debuted with one of the most powerful records in history, 1989's Battlesick.  Though the record was an instant classic of the genre, the group continued to refine their sound over the next few years, and through a few lineup changes, the group found their sound perfected as a trio, which in itself is a rarity in the hardcore style of music.  Crossing all subject matter, from lost love to rising against adversity, The Mark Of Cain proved to be one of the most talented and powerful groups on the planet, yet for some reason, they never gained much commercial traction.  It is, in fact, their third full length album, 1995's Ill At Ease, that contains their most stunning work, and the true brilliance and sheer power of The Mark Of Cain is perfectly captured on the song, "Point Man."

From the moment "Point Man" begins, it is clearly shaped to be a song that is so powerful, that it attacks the listener at every turn.  Kicking off with a tension filled, simple guitar riff from John Scott, the song quickly fills with a crunching, over-dubbed guitar piece, and then the other two members of the band drop in and the song explodes off of the album.  The cycling, hypnotizing core guitar riff keeps the song in a fantastic feeling of nervous, unsettling aggression, and drummer Aaron Hewson pushes this point home as he sounds as if he is destroying his drum kit during the song.  The tension that Hewson is able to create is truly uncanny, and it is clear that he understands the blues theory of "knowing where NOT to play."  Bassist Kim Scott adds the final, perfect element to "Point Man," and his winding bass gives the song a foreboding, dark mood, and the way in which the trio power through the song as a single unit is absolutely brilliant.  The production on the song is also a major factor, as the instruments move all over the mix, panning from side to side, as well as punching through at various points.  This is no doubt a purposeful plan to make the music "move," and due to this, one cannot overlook the fact that the entire record was produced by hardcore legend, Henry Rollins.  When compared to the rest of The Mark Of Cain's catalog, the album stands out in many ways, and one must give credit to Rollins for his influence on the band, as well as the absolutely brilliant way that he mixed "Point Man."

Along with providing the pulverizing guitar work on "Point Man," John Scott also handles the vocal duties; and in them, he brings a similar amount of aggression and talent.  Though nearly the entire song is done in a spoken vocal format, Scott proves to have an absolutely captivating voice, and it makes the vocals all the more powerful.  Similarly, it is clear that Scott fully understands how to build tension with vocals, and as he builds up to the explosive bridge and chorus sections, the energy and urgency within his voice moves in a similar fashion.  It is at moments like when Scott yells, "...I got a gun, I got the bullets..." and cues the band to erupt at full power, that one is able to fully appreciate the full scope of Scott's vocal talents and his understanding of timing and dramatics within the hardcore form.  When one looks at the subject matter of "Point Man," it is clear, yet one can make the case that it can be applied to a number of different eras.  As the title suggests, the lyrics speak of the Point Man from a military company; the man who goes out ahead of the rest to "scope out" the area and look for the enemy or traps.  Within the song, The Mark Of Cain capture the tension and dark nature of war brilliantly, and the group covers every aspect, from the fighting itself, to the internal struggles of an individual soldier.  Turning the song into a far darker space, Scott refers to a "third" way to die in battle, and that "...she's at home, with your best friend..."  It is this take on the internal battle that soldiers fight that sets "Point Man" apart from any other song about war or fighting, and it is also what makes it a far more grim and sobering song.  Furthermore, the band delves into the idea of "what happens when you get home," and Scott gives a brilliant look into the dark mind created by the war when he speaks, " makes me weak not being out there, I sit around, I can't think anymore..."  Keeping the powerful nature of the music a constant, it is the fact that the subject matter is so fleshed out that makes "Point Man" such an amazing song.

While one can easily make the case that aggressive, if not violent subject matters yield some of the finest hardcore music, one can see that completely fleshing out these ideas can create a far more impressive work of music.  Addressing a number of different aspects of the time-tested "war" theme, The Mark Of Cain created a true classic of the hardcore genre with their sobering, somber tale, "Point Man."  The song itself brings an absolutely unparalleled amount of sheer force, and the fact that all of this sonic power is being created by only three men makes the song all the more impressive.  Quickly making their case as Australia's finest hardcore band, the group unleashes one of the most mesmerizing, unforgettable musical arrangements, and the way in which it truly "moves" on the track is unlike any other hardcore recording in history.  With the unique tone of the guitars, and the crushing, unrelenting attack from the rhythm section, The Mark Of Cain perfectly displays the tension-filled, borderline chaotic nature of war, and it is this "complete picture" that they create that sets "Point Man" so far beyond its peers.  Though the band and album never quite got the worldwide recognition and credit that it truly deserves, the songs themselves have easily withstood the test of time and remain some of the most powerful and perfectly crafted songs to ever come form the hardcore genre.  At every turn, the band is bringing their sound at full force, and to properly understand and appreciate the awesome power of The Mark Of Cain, one must experience their stunning 1995 song, "Point Man."

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