Everyone that knows me, knows how much I love this record. I have been known to go on endless rants praising this record and its virtues. Those of you that don't me, or just don't know me that well are about to find out how I feel about this masterpiece written by one of Belgium's most essential hardcore bands ever. You were bound to sooner or later anyway. Time to get wise... Here's my take on "Asteroid 164", Blindfold's second and final full length album.
"Asteroid 164" came out on Sober Mind Records/Good Life Recordings in early 1996 and prior to it Blindfold had already released a bunch of 7"s and an album called "Restrain The Thought" on the notoriously sketchy US label Conquer The World Records. Blindfold's line up on this record (and every other recording that they did) was Hans Verbeke (sporting an awesome Resurrection shirt in the band picture - check it out) on guitar, Jan Maelfait (now an accomplished tattoo artist with a shop in Ghent) on bass, Sacha Baelen on drums and Wim Vandekerckhove on vocals.
"Asteroid 164" came out on vinyl and CD, obviously I have both versions. On numerous occasions I have found copies of "Asteroid 164" second hand or in bargain bins and bought them for some of my friends, because it hurts to see a record this awesome being treated like that. Even though they might not listen to it ever (what's up Geert Hollanders?) I think it's cool to know that it can be found in those people's collections now.
I have a serious weak spot for mid 90's hardcore and this record is one of the many reasons why. One of the things that always struck me was how a lot bands from that era were experimenting, branching out and trying to stretch the limits of the genre. However at the same time they were all still very clearly hardcore bands, comprised of dudes that grew up on classic early and late 80's hardcore and who did not necessarily want to reach a "wider audience" or make it big (hardcore bands making a living out of what they did was still almost unheard of back then), they simply were creative and wanted to give the genre their own specific twist. And that's exactly what Blindfold did as well...
In true "we ain't afraid to be weird" 90's fashion this albums opens with the unorthodox sounds of instruments such as Tibetan bells, gongs and singing bowls. As weird as it is, I have grown to love "Ritual Of The Rainmaker", as the intro is called. It is a dark, moody precursor to what is to come. The albums' closing track "Vuur" is a poem in Dutch, read out by vocalist Wim, while you can hear a saxophone in the background. Might not do the trick for everyone, but you've gotta have balls to pull off something like that.
The album's first real song, "Stairs", opens with an epic, churning and doomy riff played on guitar only... The tension builds and when the rest of the band finally kicks in and the words "Strongest, richest, hardest" are yelled out you know you're in for one hell of a ride. The rest of the album is full of equally captivating moments. Nearly every track actually stands out in its own way... The melancholic, hazy feel to a song like "Swallow Everything"; the uneasy kind of anger of "Recessal Hymn"; the hard as fuck groove of "Grumble" (hello Quicksand) with the sarcastic "Thank you so much my friend" at the end... And ofcourse I cannot forget about "Exhibit E", this song was always a crowd favourite and it's easy to see why as this is probably the catchiest song on this album. "Greed's an endemic that will kill and it will kill us all" - you're moshing (or atleast doing the frigobazar). I love how a wide range of human emotion seemlessly comes together in these songs and can actually be felt, both in their music and through their lyrics. Anger, despair, joy, alienation, disbelief, angst and rage... It's all there.
While it definitely sounds pretty heavy, the guitar is rich in sound and texture. It sounds warm and somehow seems to capture the emotion that the songs are laden with very well. There's a lot of room for the huge sound of those guitars, since the drums are quite basic (yet effective) and focus essentially on supporting the rhythms that are usually laid out by the bass guitar. Bass player Jan outdid himself here, as the bass is the definite rhythmic element. On top of all this, Blindfold's vocals were one of a kind as well. Somewhere inbetween singing and yelling, in flawless English (hardly any trace of an accent), the vocals sound clear and easy to decipher. Full of emotion and conviction, they are perfect for the songs that the band had written.
Lyrically, this band was/is awe-inspiring, perhaps even more so today then when I was younger. I remember buying this record at the first Pyrrhus record store in Ghent, during lunch break from school. I was still 15 at the time and in the midst of finding out all about hardcore in Belgium and abroad. I knew Blindfold was one of the more prominent bands around here so I just felt like this was an album I had to have. On the bus on the way home after school, as always, I examined my newly purchased record. I would always stare at every picture for a while and then check out the lyrics and thanks list (I'm sure this sounds familiar to most)... My 15 year old brain couldn't quite handle or grasp the gist of most lyrics, still I read them over and over until I got home. Unlike most other bands, Blindfold's lyrics were angry in a more thought over and poetic way. They were insightful and intelligent. Some of the words used went beyond my knowledge of English at the time but I found them to be really fascinating. Upon listening to the record the first couple of times, lyric sheet in hand, it all made a little more sense ofcourse. But still, it's weird how words written so long ago can still have such an impact and ring so true years later. When in the song "Stairs" Wim says that "Every power needs a victim, every race needs a price. The price is power over mind" I think that says a lot about the competitive vibe of our western world, where we're all kind of pushed to chase wealth and fame and end up in a race that will no doubt know its fair share of losers and leaves us poorer spiritually. "It seems we are stuck in admiration of the absent and the most absent we admire is control" is a line that can be found in the song "Control" and speaks for itself. "Recessal Hymn" seems to deal with a friend- or relationship gone sour and has these incredible lines: "Know that you are the aim. I stab hard but it's face to face. Too much sacrifice pollutes love in my heart". Harsh, honest and sensitive at the same time. To wrap this up, my favourite line on the whole album can be found on closing track "Exhibit E": "I pity minds who wear a golden crown, they have been dragged down." All in all I have to say these lyrics still fascinate and inspire me today and I know that is one of the reasons why I still hold this album in such high regard.
It is nearly impossible to describe exactly how Blindfold sounds... So hard to pin down. Melody and groove are important factors to their sound and at some points throughout "Asteroid 164" there's similarities to a variety of peers like Framework, Unbroken, Shelter, Quicksand and Falling Forward. Obviously they don't really sound exactly like any one of those bands, but they sure help as a frame of reference. On a sidenote, when Vince and me used to talk to Jan about the songs on this album he would always claim to have ripped off Crowbar on a couple of songs. At the time we thought he was joking, but upon listening now, I can't deny that the opening riffs of "Stairs" and "Control" definitely have a heavy Crowbar vibe. Go figure.
The lay out was kept rather simple, but looks very stylish due to the warm red and brown tints in the cover art (a picture of an Ensor painting showing a mask) and elsewhere. What else can I say? I'm still trying to figure out what in the hell "Thanks and greetings to the world of 164" means and well, it'd be cool to know what "Asteroid 164" stood for in the first place. One thing I've always wanted to do was to interview every band member and discuss with them every aspect of this record, from the recordings to the artwork, to the lyrical and musical inspiration. Hopefully I'll get round to it one day. It might even end up here, who knows?
(The * after 164 in the record title was left out of this article due to esthetic reasons. Pictures were provided by Hans Verbeke and Even Skar, thank you.)