Dave Witte has been involved with so many different projects over the course of the last twenty-five years that you could probably use his career as the basis for a metal version of ‘Six Degrees of Separation.” Probably best known at this point as the drummer for Municipal Waste, he also currently plays with at least half a dozen other bands, including Indy Metal Vault favorites Brain Tentacles and Deny the Cross. Before joining the Waste and becoming one of the most in-demand drummers of the new millennium, though, he played in a trio of other notable bands. The most popular was probably Burnt by the Sun, a metalcore/grind outfit that put a few records out on Relapse. The most revered (at least in hindsight) was art/grinders Discordance Axis. And somewhere in the middle was NY powerviolence unit Black Army Jacket.
BAJ were only around for a few years near the end of the 90’s, but they were remarkably prolific; they only recorded one full-length, but they also released numerous 7” singles and splits before Witte and guitarist John Abudato left to form Burnt by the Sun. Most of those tracks were compiled on the posthumously released 50-track semi-discography Closed Casket, which has been remastered and it set to be reissued, along with the aforementioned full-length 222, by Magic Bullet Records. If you’re a fan of either Witte or old-school powerviolence and haven’t heard these records before, now is your chance to correct that oversight – these are both pretty essential listens.
Not to sound like a crusty old-timer here, but 90’s powerviolence was a different animal than what gets called powerviolence today, and the distinction between it and grindcore was much more pronounced. Grind has always been more influenced by death metal than anything else, but early powerviolence bands like Assück, Spazz, and Capitalist Casualties were mostly inspired by hardcore, with some curst and thrash thrown in for good measure. There are blasts in Black Army Jacket’s music, but it’s more like fastcore than grind. The draw with BAJ is more the rawness and attitude of the music than pure speed. They were also one of the lyrically smarter bands of the era, mixing the usual socio-political commentary with songs that had a more existential feel to them, like “When I Can’t See You Are You There?” or “Covered by Snow.”
It’s difficult to talk about individual songs with this type of music, because they’re mostly short and aggressive and not really built for vocal hooks or memorable riffs. Either you get that and powerviolence is your thing, or you don’t and it’s not. My advice would be to start with 222 – since it was recorded as a full-length, it’s a little more cohesive than the sprawling Closed Casket, and it clocks in at a friendly 29 minutes. If that grabs you, then dive into the 70-minute compilation – it has some of their stronger material, including my favorite BAJ track, “Avalanche Rapids.”