Editor's Note: Detroit, Michigan – During a Cold As Life and Steel Nation show Bitter End guitarist & backup vocalist Jacob Henderson's car was broken into. Two of his bags were stolen, one held a notepad that Henderson used to respond to interview questions. We extend a special thanks to Henderson for accommodating this feature by forwarding Grave Goods Society an audio interview in lieu of the unfortunate events.
Read through for a full feature on Bitter End's evolution over the past decade, from their inception to their latest release, Illusions Of Dominance. Henderson recounts the first show that Grave Goods Society witnessed their performance at, gives a detailed breakdown of the influences behind each of their albums, and talks about plans for the next year.
We've also done something very special for this feature and have embedded the audio interview that Henderson put a great amount of his time and thought into–the passion for his band is apparent in every word. Enjoy.
The First Encounter & The Rallying Cry
The first time that Grave Goods Society caught a Bitter End performance was in 2007 during the hardcore music festival, Sound & Fury. This was a short-lived, but iconic festival held in Ventura, California. In its short lifespan the annual event quickly became the hub for West Coast inhabitants and visitors abroad to see a combination of the country's hardest working and rising acts.
Bitter End played the 2007 pre-show and opened their act with the same audio sample that prefaces the first track off their debut full length, Climate of Fear. The dissonance of wartime news bytes seared an indelible impression into our very being. Bitter End and Sound & Fury; they were one in the same. Like the force-fed experience of Ultra-Violence in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, Bitter End held a mirror to the festival's audience that night, exposing the hopelessness, doom, and chaos of the world.
Henderson recalls vocalist Daniel Rosen screaming, "Sound & Fucking Fury" and in a swift moment Bitter End tore down that fear and uncanned the spirit of anger and rage. That night and throughout the band's career they have stood as sentinels raging against the war within by filling the spirit with strength to wage on.
Waging War Within One's Self – What Are The Themes?
Those who hear Bitter End might pick up on overt themes of warfare, geopolitical unrest, and in general, global instability. Henderson expanded on this topic and explained what subject matters are synonymous to Bitter End, "I think the first track, 'Power & Control' sums up the themes of [Illusions of Dominance] pretty well. Themes vary, but we try to keep them vague and let listeners interpret for themselves...A lot of people see this record and Climate of Fear as political records, but we don't consider ourselves a political band. I can see how you could come to that conclusion, but these songs are coming from a much more personal level.
'Power & Control' and 'No Man's Land' do take a look at society, but tracks such as 'Into the Unknown' and 'Pleasure & Pain' are much more about growing up and reaching different stages in our own lives; however fans decide to interpret it is the correct theme really."
Henderson keyed in on one of the tracks off Illusions of Dominance that resonated deeply with him, "One of my favorite songs in this album was written by our guitar player, Shane Woodman; 'Pleasure & Pain.' I love the mellow feel of this song, but even though it's mellow it still hits hard and has a real heaviness to it. I really like the balance, musically, that we achieved with this song.
He continues, "A lot of the themes in this record are really about finding a balance to our own lives. Our Twitter bio says, 'A band of overthinking-insane-introverts.' I think that's a pretty accurate description of our personalities."
Breaking Down Evolution
With each release Bitter End continued to exhibit refinement of their sound. Henderson shed light on where they were as a band in relation to each album. He touched on goals and motivations for each release, as well as their big influences at the time, both musically and abroad.
Mind in Chains: "We were just skimming the surface with musical taste and what we liked. We were inspired by Madball, Terror was a huge one...and this was around the time of 2005 so obviously No Warning was a big influence on us. We were trying to get away from that Metalcore sound that had been dominating the early-2000s."
Henderson continued, "Daniel, our singer, said that in the early-2000s in San Antonio–where Bitter End traces its origins–if you wanted to be in a band you had to be one of two things, you had to either sound like Hatebreed or like Poison The Well. Those bands are fine, but we wanted to do something different.
When we recorded Mind In Chains we experimented with song structure, started incorporating more guitar leads, and we had that signature 'New York bounce' in some of our songs. We even tried to emulate that Madball Hold It Down bass tone."
Climate Of Fear: "If you look at the artwork and if you hear the sound clip 'Panic' you might be able to tell that we were listening to Sick of It All's Just Look Around. That was probably the number one influence for this record. We kind of used that as a template for Climate Of Fear."
Henderson recalls, "We were all in the van driving back from a show late one night, and our bass player at the time, Jason Wallace, and us were talking about the record and he goes, 'We should call it Climate Of Fear,' and that was it, that became the name of our first LP. I think it's perfect, I love the title.
Jason also really helped us with song structure. In our practice space we had this carpet on the wall and a magic marker–we would write out verse...chorus...verse...solo...chorus.
We were also incorporating lots of other genres into the music as well. You definitely hear Cro-Mags, Biohazard, and Madball influence, but we were also listening to a lot of 90s-alternative, especially the Seattle rock bands and grunge bands such as Temple Of The Dog, Alice In Chains, and Mother Love Bone–we loved all of those bands while we were writing Climate Of Fear."
Henderson laughed, "If you listen to the beginning of 'Phantoms,' which is my favorite Bitter End song, and then listen to the beginning of Alice In Chains' 'Would' I mean they sound pretty similar." He continued, "That's kind of the first time we started blending together our love of all different kinds of music and genres making them into a hardcore song, and then a record. I think we've incorporated that more as we've progressed as a band."
Self Titled EP: "This is whenever our hair got longer and we stopped shaving," Henderson joked.
"We definitely got a lot more metal, listening to more groove, extreme, and trash metal. If we were going to listen to the Cro-Mags, which we were, it was going to be Best Wishes and Alpha Omega."
Guilty As Charged: "We wanted to incorporate our influences from the previous records, but we also wanted to incorporate a more 'San Antonio, Texas' sound so it would be like 'San Antonio meets New York' hardcore.
We also wanted to experiment musically and really expand. You'd have these interludes and the instrumental 'Los Suenos Muertos' for example. We were also listening to a lot of the 90s Roadrunner bands like Type-O Negative, Machine Head, and Soulfly–we wanted that recording sound. Our engineer and producer, Craig Douglas from Origin Sound Studios, really helped us capture it. He was great to work with and really helped us make the record turn out as well as it did.
It was real hard work getting everything together logistically–some of our gear had been pawned so I had to go and buy it back and when we were recording vocals the computer crashed; it ended up being a blessing because we ended up creating cooler lyrics, so it all worked out and I'm really happy with how it turned out."
Illusions Of Dominance: "This was our first record with a different lineup. Just like Guilty As Charged we wanted to incorporate everything that we'd previously done, but also do something new and innovative.
This is my favorite of all the albums. It's the one that I was most emotionally invested into. I think you can kind of feel that if you listen to it. I think our songs on this album are a lot more well-developed, but they're still hard-hitting and aggressive. Working with Nick Jett of Terror was great. We flew out to Los Angeles and he was awesome to work with, he really understood what we were going for–he produced the album as well.
I was borderline obsessive with getting this record done and it was probably giving me ulcers at some point–just really unhealthy. I was fried emotionally and mentally. Nick came in and helped us complete a lot of the songs that I just had ideas for, and it turned out really well. We've gotten a lot of positive feedback on it and I'm really excited to start playing it live."
What The Next Year Looks Like, And Other Acts To Look Out For
According to Henderson, Bitter End's goal for the first year of the record is to hit every area of the United States, "We may not be able to hit every city, but we'll try to hit every area."
Some cities can oftentimes get overlooked and Henderson points out that the East and West Coasts often split the limelight. While both coasts are definitely melting pots for some great acts we keyed in on other notable acts to keep a heavy eye on, "In San Antonio, Shadow Of Doubt with our former drummer Eli, he sings for them–I like them a lot. From Knoxville you have Will To Die. Our bass player, Sammy, he sings for them. From North Carolina you have Society Sucker. Ethan, our drummer, plays in Steel Nation from Pittsburg, and another great band from Pittsburg is Eternal Sleep who toured with Harm's Way recently."
Henderson continues, "A lot of people talk about the new bands and I think that's great because they definitely need all of the support that they can get, but we can't forget bands that have put out great releases such as Take Offense's United States Of Mind...Cruel Hand's The Negatives. I just saw Drown and Point Blank in Cincinnati–those bands just have so much energy and people were going crazy for them. It's just a good time for hardcore I think."
Henderson closed our interview by commenting on the unique quality of the hardcore scene, "If you've ever been in a band or are just a fan of the music, you've probably traveled a significant distance to go see a show. You talk about going to Sound & Fury in 2007 and how you still remember it–I think it's so foreign to some people to travel as much as we do as fans of hardcore. You can talk to most people and they'll talk about one major road trip in their life and it usually has a huge impact, and they always remember it. You talk to some of these people in hardcore and they do these road trips 3, 4, or 5 times a year to go to a fest, shows, or meet up with friends. I drove to Canada to meet up with Ethan, our drummer, just because we wanted to see Bolt Thrower and Cro-Mags."
He continues, "I think traveling is a great way, not only to see the country, but to discover yourself and who you are...A lot of people get comfortable living in their bubble and they don't step out of it, but with hardcore you're always seeing people travel–you might be in California and then North Carolina the next month and see the same people."
Needless to say, despite the busy lives and commitments that the members of Bitter End live outside of the scene, they have shown a serious commitment to developing the band over the last decade.
With the release of a refined work like Illusions Of Dominance, it's no secret, there is no illusion when it comes to the dominance of Bitter End as a band that has, time and time again, put their axes to the grindstone and delivered something timeless for the annals of hardcore.
Bitter End Lineup:
Ethan Raese - Drums
Shane Woodman - Guitar
Daniel Rosen - Vocals
Sammy Pajcic - Bass
Jacob Henderson - Guitar | Vocals
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