Honing in the sounds of the historic screamo bands before them, such as Usurp Synapse, CTTS, and City of Caterpillar, Ostraca take those strong influences and dial them up to 10, giving us what many would call the greatest screamo album of our generation.
The reputation of Richmond, Virginia’s screamo/skramz scene preceded itself prior to my recent move to the River City. The short-lived though highly significant early aughts skramz outfit City of Caterpillar hailed from Richmond, no doubt influenced by the NOVA/DC-based Pg.99, with whom they collaborated, and the burgeoning east-coast skramz scene which reinterpreted the chaotic San Diego-based “screamo” hardcore punk sound that birthed it all.
In the months before my move here, I was invited to a house show by a friend to go see the locally popular theyeattheirowngod, along with a handful of openers. Second or third on the bill that night was a band named Ostraca, on tour from RVA.
The 3-pieces‘ uniquely intense sound endeared them to me immediately, fusing moments of classic east-coast screamo with depressive black metal and murky sludge, performed with a raw energy best absorbed in a house show environment.
The atmospheric aspects of the band’s sound harkened back to the post-rock elements of their stylistic forefathers in City of Caterpillar while also moving into the heavier, almost progressive territory of post-metallers such as Russian Circles, while flirting with the melodramatic catchiness of Deafheaven.
After their set I tried to have a few words with their exhausted bassist/singer Gus who informed me that they’d recently changed their band name from Kilgore Trout, and that they’d be recording new material soon.
… And so I eagerly awaited the chance to cover them in print.
A few months later, thanks to a gracious friend in the area, I found an opportunity for relocation to Richmond coinciding with the release of Ostraca’s debut album, “Deathless” (released through Middle Man Records and Skeletal Lightning). In tact are all the stylistic elements that turned my ear to the band at first, now developed and laid down across six tracks which work together sublimely in building and releasing emotional bouts of tension.
The first track, “Without Articulation” lays down the ground work for the rest of the album, demonstrating the way Ostraca fuses their dynamic influences to scale the peaks which they leap from with reckless abandon. The track begins with soft, Explosions in the Sky-style reverb’d chords before making a breakneck pace change into a tremolo-picked vortex, followed by a descent into math-y chaos, breaking down into the ethereal, and then emerging once again with a powerful closing sludge riff.
The album carries on in this fashion, with the peaks and valleys at different intervals, but the joy is in experiencing the building, and demolishment of the sound structures they create. The playing on the album between Ostraca’s three members is heartfelt and tight, with a strong working chemistry on clear display. The vocals are performed between the guitarist and bassist, alternating between throat-searing screech ing, metallic barking and grunting, simple shouting, and rasping whelps, a scream for every mood.
The emotions experienced through out the ride aren’t always of a negative nature. While some of the moods could be deemed depressive, there are moments of blind fury, like the primitive breakdown in “Half Transformed”, and others that are outright beautiful (“When Is It Ever Different”), or even triumphant, such as the crescendoing apex of “All Watched Over”, the album’s closer.
After listening to the album multiple times for review and pleasure, I’m very excited for my next opportunity to see Ostraca perform, and on home turf. If you’re a fan of east-coast screamo/skramz in the vein of Circle Takes The Square, and the heavier members of the Sargent House roster, then you’ll definitely enjoy this album. Skramz at it’s best is an unbridled expression of passion, funneled through the band’s voices and instruments, and “Deathless” is a great example of that.