Permanent Records is an ongoing closer look at the records that matter most.
Considering its tentacles of influence—not to mention the music itself—hardcore is one of the best things to happen to music since amplification. Ian MacKaye’s staunch DIY ethos in Minor Threat eventually led him to found Fugazi, a band that deconstructed rock and illustrated its potential to evolve beyond the chorus and guitar solo. Three years after Fugazi released Repeater, New York quartet Quicksand unleashed Slip, a nearly flawless record that combines the irony and heaviness of Helmet with Fugazi’s penchant to dismantle sound in the most energetic ways.
Whereas the branch of hardcore that shaped Fugazi emphasized personal and political ideologies, the New York hardcore that molded Quicksand was more concerned with unbridled aggression. Bad Brains (who began in D.C. but moved to New York in 1981) and Minor Threat encouraged fans to look at social issues and examine their life choices, but Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags utilized the amphetamine attack of thrash for the sake of sonic annihilation. When the members of Quicksand decided to move beyond the confines of hardcore, this pugilistic environment led them to write riffs and songs with more of a metallic punch than Fugazi.
Despite his impactful career, Walter Schreifels of Quicksand doesn’t have the household name that he should. He played bass in Youth Of Today, a straight-edge band that defined the Youth Crew facet of hardcore, which, in addition to sobriety, espouses veganism, basketball shorts, and blisteringly fast, two-minute songs. He also founded Gorilla Biscuits, another legendary hardcore group from New York. While Gorilla Biscuits’ lightning-fast punk uses the distorted chug of metal, the band also flirts with a noisiness that alludes to the discordant riffs Schreifels would write for Quicksand. Start Today, Gorilla Biscuits’ second album, also features a handful of breakdowns (see “New Direction”) that later evolved into the immense grooves in Quicksand cuts like “Head To Wall” and “Blister.”
The other three members of Quicksand cut their teeth on hardcore as well. Guitarist Tom Capone founded Beyond and played in Bold, groups that were part of the Youth Of Today facet of New York straight-edge; bassist Sergio Vega was in Collapse and Absolution; and Alan Cage played drums for Burn, a hardcore band that progressively utilized a variety of rhythms and changes and helped him develop his agile style for Quicksand.
Even while immersed in the late ’80s hardcore scene, Schreifels saw the genre’s limitations. In 1989, the same year Gorilla Biscuits put out Start Today, Schreifels began exploring the juxtaposition of vocal melodies and dissonant guitars in Moondog, a short-lived project featuring Luke Abbey of Gorilla Biscuits on drums, Tom Capone on second guitar, and then, for Moondog’s only live performance, Sammy Siegler of Judge on drums and Sergio Vega on bass. Speaking with a fansite about his motivations for starting a new project, Schreifels says,
The thing is, hardcore was getting stale to me by this point. It was all the same shit. It goes fast, it goes slow, you say some slogan, badda bing, you’re out… When you have a certain musical style with certain musical parameters you get confined and end up working yourself into a corner… I was interested in doing something different.
Though Moondog didn’t quite satisfy Schreifels’ desire to explore music beyond hardcore, it provided a crucial bridge between Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand.
Alan Cage attended the first and only Moondog show, and, when he told Schreifels and the other members that he enjoyed the set, they asked him to join, knowing that his precise and hard-hitting drumming would add a new depth to their sound. Soon thereafter, they decided to form Quicksand and ditch Moondog.
Speaking with the same fansite about his urge to make music with more of a bite than other post-hardcore acts, Schreifels also discusses how ’90s hip-hop inspired Quicksand: “For me, when I was doing Quicksand, I wanted it to be more metal, like that… Public Enemy [song] “Channel Zero” with that Slayer influence… I’m not a huge metal guy, but I definitely appreciate when something is heavy or vicious.” For Schreifels, hip-hop was always part of New York’s hardcore scene. He loved Public Enemy, KRS One, De La Soul, as well as bands like Slayer, Metallica, Danzig, and, of course, Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front. While this breadth of influence originally led him to want to combine rap and metal in overt ways, it manifested (thankfully) in Quicksand’s groove-laden hooks.
In 1990, just six weeks after its lineup was solidified, Quicksand released a self-titled EP on Revelation, the label that put out Gorilla Biscuits’ first two albums. Quicksand features “Omission” and “Unfulfilled,” two tracks that would appear on Slip in more refined forms, as well as two additional songs that show the quartet finding its footing and learning to work as a whole.
Considering its members’ hardcore cred, it’s not surprising that Quicksand played with Fugazi and Helmet for some of its earliest shows. Quicksand’s infectious verve captured the attention of major label Polydor, which released Slip in 1993. In addition to providing key influence from Helmet and Fugazi—melt down Meantime and Repeater in a foundry, and the molten result is Slip—Quicksand’s exhaustive live schedule during this period honed the band into a finely tuned machine.
Alan Cage begins “Fazer” with a Bonham triplet and flam, instantly conveying his penchant to beat the shit out of the drums. This intro leads the band into a mammoth backbeat, which Schreifels offsets with syncopated shouts that cryptically describe the identity crisis of a loved one. As The A.V. Club’s Josh Modell noted, when considering the fluid simultaneity of aggression and catchiness in the vocals and guitar work on songs like “Fazer,” it’s surprising that Quicksand wasn’t more successful. Bands such as Limp Bizkit, Puddle Of Mudd, Switchfoot, and scores of other mainstream acts exhibit a Quicksand influence, so it can also be difficult to separate this legendary quartet from the more unfortunate branches of its impact. With Slip, understanding its profundity is largely about context. In 1993, there was no other band that combined the tremor-inducing grooves of grunge with the deconstructive tendencies of Fugazi as faultlessly as Quicksand.
Pushed by Sergio Vega’s bass, the verse in second track “Head To Wall” starts with uptempo rock but then revels in dissonance by resting for a full measure. With Vega and Cage working as the undercurrent, Capone and Schreifels let loose a wave of cynical pop harmonies. In the spirit of Gorilla Biscuits and Youth Of Today’s hardcore sing-alongs, Quicksand hops into a beautifully simplistic breakdown, illustrating that smartly crafted grooves are often heavier than dick-waving technicality.
In Slip’s first single “Dine Alone,” the traversal between palm mutes and high, discordant chords provides a blueprint for the breakdowns used by bands like Converge, Every Time I Die, The Chariot, and Dillinger Escape Plan—a branch of influence much more in tune with the aesthetics that shaped Quicksand than the aforementioned branch of mainstreamers (Limp Bizkit et al.) With his oddly placed fills in this song’s intro, as well as his tendency to accent off beats with nimble crashes and bell hits throughout the album, Alan Cage’s influence on drummers like Danny Carey and Abe Cunningham is largely unacknowledged. He deserves mention alongside such ’90s drumming legends as Matt Cameron, Dave Grohl, and Chad Smith.
In the title track, Capone and Schreifels’ guitars plow forward like an indifferent stream of rush hour traffic. Clocking in at only two-and-a-half minutes, this song is a microcosm of Slip: it’s completely devoid of bullshit. This is the beauty of hardcore’s influence upon rock. It taught bands to avoid the potholes of extended guitar solos and repetitive choruses and take the shortest road possible to get the point across.
Vega opens “Freezing Process” with gentle bass chords, which his bandmates quickly destroy with a noisy barrage. A dual guitar lead drives the chorus, though the notes don’t conform to any traditional scale. Instead, they unite enough to show intention, but they also push against each other to create an underlying discord, ultimately mocking the idea of a lead-driven chorus while still crafting an infectious melody. Flipping another rock trope on its head, Quicksand jumps into a bridge, where Vega drops out and Cage carries the guitars with his polyrhythmic drum work, hitting upbeats on his ride while building a tom groove that emphasizes the downbeat. Here, Quicksand highlights one more of its many contributions post-hardcore: the band upped the ante of musicianship in a way that retains self-awareness.
“Lie And Wait” seamlessly transitions between bludgeoning rock and spacey shoegaze, punctuating each section with crisp transitions. Seventh track “Unfulfilled” puts Schreifels’ vocals on a pedestal during the verses and then dives into a subtly caustic groove before finding air in another tongue-in-cheek dual guitar lead. Near the end of the song, Capone plays a spiraling solo that sounds like he’s ripping the strings from his guitar, destroying this rock cliché from the inside. Cage leads Quicksand from section to section in “Can Opener” with extended fills that are bookmarked by adroit doubles. In his oft-mimicked-but-never-duplicated syncopated vocal execution, Schreifels rails against ’90s narcissism when he shouts, “The attention you’re not getting, it makes you so upset,” amid a breakdown that expertly juggles poppiness and heaviness. Again following the serpentine tail of Cage’s fills, Quicksand hops into a sparse jazzy section before ending the song with a windstorm of cacophony.
Schreifels’ punchy vocals in “Omission” beg for group sing-alongs. Instead of the one-sided anger in many hardcore lyrics, however, he implicates himself in his tirade about self-delusion when he says, “Your story is always changing / We change it to hide the pain.” The song finishes on a ringing note, which blurs into the TV-static noise of the intro to “Baphomet.” Airy yet abrasive guitar notes winnow through this track as Schreifels and Capone occupy opposing ends of the sonic spectrum. The guitars periodically dissipate into nothingness, letting Cage and Vega bridge the gaps between sections. This unexpected instrumental is the longest track on Slip, and it showcases yet another Capone solo that completely defies predictability. With a shiny quality that offsets the anxiousness of “Baphomet,” “Too Official” blazes an aural swath with its straight-ahead attack. Similarly, the last track, “Transparent,” seems to convey optimism, but, because it’s Quicksand, is actually a middle finger topped with a smartass grin.
Staying true to its members’ hardcore roots, Quicksand toured tirelessly in support of Slip, opening for Anthrax and White Zombie, Rage Against The Machine, and The Offspring. In 1995, Quicksand released its second LP, Manic Compression, on Island. The 12-track record expands upon the skeptical ire of Slip and features more variety with rhythm and structure. Also like Slip, it’s virtually flawless. More successful than its predecessor, Manic Compression appeared on Billboard’s Top 200 and helped Quicksand get attention from places like The Jon Stewart Show. But, as with Fugazi, the group disbanded at the height of its success. Quicksand reunited in ’98 to play shows with Deftones and Snapcase, and to record a third album that still hasn’t seen the light of day.
Capone went on to play in Handsome with Helmet guitarist Pete Mangede, and Schreifels formed Rival Schools with Sammy Siegler. Schreifels’ new stoner rock band, Dead Heavens, which features members of White Zombie and Youth Of Today, recently released a 7”, Feel Low. Cage played drums for post-punkers Seaweed from ’96 to ’99. Vega joined Deftones after the band’s original bassist, Chi Cheng, was in a life-altering and eventually fatal car accident.
It’s easy to follow the “what if?” rabbit hole with Quicksand and lament that this amazing band only released two LPs and didn’t achieve a fraction of the success it deserved. But Slip and Manic Compression still leave us with a quiver of Quicksand songs that perfectly embodies the band’s “all killer, no filler” ethos. Quicksand even played a handful of reunion shows throughout 2012 and ’13, and the band’s long hiatus did nothing to dull its perennial, serrated blitz.