Caustic Casanova is a loud, heavy rock trio from Washington, DC. The CC, as they are affectionately known by their fans, has been tearing up stages and studios alike with their unique brand of eclectic, “absurdly muscled uber-psyche” (Indy Week) since their inception on the campus of The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia in 2005. In 2008 CC released their first ever full-length studio album, a fourteen song, seventy-two minute tour-de-force entitled Imminent Eminence. Four years later, Caustic Casanova unleashed 2012’s critically acclaimed Someday You Will Be Proven Correct, produced by J. Robbins.
After the release of Someday You Will Be Proven Correct and a 2012 SXSW tour came the departure the group’s original guitarist, and a most critical juncture for the rhythm section of the band – whether to continue as Caustic Casanova, start another project, or part ways altogether. After much deliberation, drummer/vocalist Stefanie Zaenker and bassist/lead vocalist Francis Beringer decided to honor the work they’d done over the years together by continuing Caustic Casanova.
Months of experimenting as a bass and drums two piece were followed by rounds of guitar player auditions, finally yielding the missing element to the new Caustic Casanova, longtime fan, friend and all-around six string wizard Andrew Yonki. In Andrew’s two and a half years with the band, the rejuvenated Caustic Casanova has gigged wherever and whenever possible, embarked on two lengthy national tours and several shorter ones, and has earned a much bigger following in DC.
In 2014 Caustic Casanova signed to Retro Futurist Records after opening for psych metal veterans and label owners Kylesa, and later teamed up with J. Robbins to record lots of new music and release the first in a series of 7-inch singles called Pantheon: Volume 1. Despite losing Stefanie for nearly half the year to severe wrist injuries from a life threatening accident (once again putting the very existence of the band in jeopardy) Caustic Casanova returned stronger, tighter and more motivated than ever to build sonic temples in which to worship feedback, massive riffs, delay pedals, bass fuzz, thunderous drum fills and soaring vocal melody.
The end product of these years of writing and recording through trial and tribulation was Caustic Casanova’s album and Retro Futurist debut Breaks, once again produced by J. Robbins. Breaks featured seven unconventional and melodic heavy rock songs, none quite like the other, and covers a vast sonic territory from dark, driving post-punk to psychedelic post-metal, from heavy doom blues to epic space rock and everything in between.
Ghettoblaster caught up with the band to discuss the 2016 albums that were blowing their minds. This is what they told us.
Francis’ Top Ten Albums of 2016
- Husbandry – Fera
I listened to a lot of albums this year, definitely more than fifty. Fera clearly stood apart from all the rest as my numero uno. This is a band of extremely talented musicians. Guitarist Jordan Usatch, bassist Arnau Bosc, drummer Andrew Gottlieb, and vocalist Carina Zachary can just about do anything they want – they’ve got full mastery of a bunch of different styles and the chops and gear knowledge to make any sounds they like – they do angry math rock, noise rock, frenetic heavy metal, soaring pop, classic riffy post hardcore, even a bit of psychedelic ambience, and that’s just touching the surface. There are, however, other bands that fit this description if not Husbandry’s exact recipe. But as far as sonic innovation, technical insanity and genre-mashing, most of them (cue Jurassic Park theme) are too busy worrying about whether they could to stop to think about whether they should. Which is to say – the more technically jawdropping the metal and post hardcore music gets, the more the songwriting gets graded on a curve. Too many of these psychotic riff mongers have songs that sound like they were given to a vocalist as fully formed pieces, and he or she was asked to throw something on top as an afterthought. Who cares if the song has a hook? Nobody can play these riffs, man! Fera is the antidote to all of this. If stripped of their ornamentation, these would still be great songs. I’d listen to these with an acoustic guitar and Carina’s voice. They are that structurally sound – they highlight the best part and best performance and can feature cascading layers and trips into dissonance because the foundation is unshakeable. Husbandry know when to go off the wall insane with frenetic abandon, and they know when to hold back and sit on a simple arpeggio, riff or vocal line and let it sink into the listener’s mind. The only band I can think of that has the ability to cram this many hooks and delightful, memorable instrumental passages into a record is Mastodon – but oh Mastodon does not have Carina Zachary, one of the best vocalists in the entire heavy scene, and does not have a bassist comfortable quoting funk and blending it with progressive death metal in a single bass part, which may very well make Husbandry the better band on the whole. Detailing the sonic glories of each track’s twists and turns into a maelstrom of surreal jagged chaos swirling with pop sensibilities would make this review go on forever, so I won’t. It’s nine brilliant songs. Jordan’s Usatch puts the guitar performance of the year into this one. It has by far the best collection of riffs of any album I’ve heard this year. Favorite song: With Codeine
- Big Business – Command Your Weather
Big Biz’s return to the two piece bass and drums format had me initially skeptical, since they’ve done so much great work as a trio. But these lean bass and drum songs (with occasional keyboard accompaniment) do not suffer from a lack of creativity. Big Business is pushing forward, making innovative heavy rock and roll just as they have for a decade. On Command Your Weather, they’ve brought another LP full of vocal melodies and massive choruses that should embarrass most other bands. As far as combining dazzling, ascendant vocal hooks and sludgy, heavy grooves, this band has no equal. Coady Willis remains one of the most frenetic, innovative drummers of his generation and he puts in another mindblowing performance on this record, this time adding blossom bells to his kit and using them to fill out space gracefully. Bassist/lead vocalist Jared Warren has a warmer bass tone than ever before that really gives the record a live, 70’s rock feel. If you’re not familiar with this band, expect a sound that has no peer – a bassist who a total mastery of tone, weaned on the riffs of the Melvins, a singer with Lennon/McCartney-esque skill for vocal melodies, a drummer who could hold his own with the likes of Keith Moon and Neil Peart, and a brilliant lyricist with a gift for evoking the likes of Queen with some theatrical and truly haunting and spacious arrangements. All this from a bass-drum duo, trafficking in what is on the surface some twisted carnival version of sludgy, noisy heavy metal. Another incredible record from one of the best bands on earth. Favorite song: Father’s Day
- Deftones – Gore
Few would have predicted it listening to their nu-metal tinged debut record, but over 20 years into their career, Deftones have evolved into one of the most important (and best known) art-metal bands on earth. They make a romantic, visceral, sexy heavy music that is completely unique to them. The brew they’ve been concocting since the mid-2000’s – luminous post-rock, atmospheric goth rock, sinewy post-hardcore, and aggressive as hell drop tuned heavy metal with riffs and tones that can suggest Meshuggah, Crowbar and Helmet all in the same passage – is all on display here. And the band has never sounded more confident in the potency of its supremely diverse delivery. Textural swells, Stephen Carpenter’s classic chugging riffs, and powerful rhythm section performances stake out meaningful space in nearly every song (this time with a few nods to thrash and groove metal!). Above it all, vocalist Chino drops his best performance on a Deftones album to date. Gone is the breathy, whiny, slightly out of tune Morrissey meets Robert Smith impersonation that was Chino’s go-to 15 years ago (and which still occasionally appeared in recent releases). In its place is Chino at his most fully realized after two decades at the mic – mature and emotive, powerful and vulnerable in a way that makes him a singular heavy rock artist, and in total command of each part, dropping ear worm vocal hooks into each section in which he can place a melody. Gore’s experimental trappings and its plethora of mid tempo, moody tunes make it a little less immediate than predecessors Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan, but it is surely their equal, and together these three records represent in my opinion what is unquestionably the greatest period in Deftones’ career. Bonus points for the beautiful and unexpected Jerry Cantrell guest guitar solo in stand out track “Phantom Bride.” Favorite song: Doomed User
- Neurosis – Fires Within Fires
One of the great heavy bands of all time, the inventors and elder statesmen of the post metal genre, Neurosis return for yet another breathtaking LP. This time, it’s oddly short for them, which makes it seem like an EP simply because it’s forty and not eighty minutes in length. But the shorter record seemed to have focused them – all five songs are gems. It’s the usual Neurosis brilliance – quiet passages that explode into metallic rage and overwhelming atmosphere and emotion. One place where Neurosis has shown substantial progress on this record is in the vocal department. The best Neurosis songs over the decades usually featured a particular visceral rhythmic barking or a subtle, simple yet evocative vocal melody. The less effective ones often seemed to have vocals that were jammed into spaces where they did not necessarily fit, featuring awkward phrasing and distracting deliveries. This is the first Neurosis record that, to my ears, only features the best of Neurosis, vocally speaking. Every vocal part from Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till is a perfect Neurosis part. And as far as the heavy repetitive riff, that which Neurosis does better than just about any band that ever existed? There’s plenty of top notch doom and sludge riffs in all 5 songs, and they’re all gorgeously beat into the ground with that soothing insistent groove that only these metal gods can deliver. This is one of the best albums of their storied career. Favorite song: Broken Ground
- Rhin – Passenger
Every time I play this record, when the full band kicks in for the first time on the massive opening riff to “Uncle Tuck” a big smile comes across my face. I know I’m in for an overdose of noise rock pleasure for the entire running time of Passenger, which at this point has become exceedingly familiar to me due to its role as my late night stay awake and drive album of 2016. This West Virginia trio delivers no-frills, aggressive punk rock right to the gut on every track, but they never lose sight of the importance of hooks amid all the raw anger and fuzz overload. Who cares if every new “Helmet” album seems designed to intentionally make fans of this kind of music upset? Rhin is here and now – and this record is as powerful and devastating as anything Helmet ever did in their heyday. Two departures from the full karate chop to the throat riff and snare drum devastation Rhin normally delivers are just as good – if not better – than anything else on the album. On “Snivlem” (spell in backwards) the boys drop the best Melvins song of 2016 in a year when the Melvins released two albums. On album closer “Bad Timing” they start with a bit of funk rock, then blast into space with a sunnier, more epic, more purely rock and roll version of Rhin. Just as distorted and overloaded with rich bass and guitar tone, but first and foremost anthemic and catchy – something like later era Fugazi meets Torche. This band can do wrong in my eyes, and this is my favorite thing they’ve done. Favorite song: Snivlem
- Child Bite – Negative Noise
This is the first band I’ve heard that takes obvious cues from the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and turns them into something wholly original, at times harnessing utter punk rock chaos and at times bursting with guitar melody in an uncommon way. Perhaps it’s because this band is comprised of absolutely top notch musicians who seem to have no limits on instrumental dexterity? Their take on 80’s hardcore careens in wacky directions I’ve never heard before seemingly by sheer force of Child Bite’s obvious ambition. The end result has not only touches of Jello Biafra and Greg Ginn but also a healthy dose of surf rock, weirdo post hardcore a la The Jesus Lizard, and heart stopping, neck snapping math rock in the vein of Don Caballero. Negative Noise is one of the most innovative albums of the year. Favorite song: Apex of Anxiety
- King Buffalo – Orion
This is a beautiful record of psychedelic swirls, huge vocal hooks, endlessly hypnotic blues drones, hazy atmosphere, bubbling fuzzed out bass lines and old fashioned heavy rock riffs. There are touches of Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and Wino’s myriad bands all over this monster LP. I really like that certain vocal and guitar themes appear throughout the record, which gives it a cohesive framework. This is not a collection of a songs but a journey unto itself, and really needs to be experienced as an album, played as loud as possible. These guys know how to jam and absolutely deploy their talent in that regard on this lush and fluid space rock record, but there’s not a stray note on the whole thing, which is unique in this genre to the point of almost being bizarre. Expert arrangement and free wheeling psychedelia do not hand in hand typically go, but this power trio has tremendous talent for both. Add more expert level talent for songwriting (especially in the vocal department!), dynamic push and pull among all three instrumentalists, pacing (this album is put together with such care, down to the track listing!) and you’ve got a world-class LP and a band that I hope will be huge someday. Favorite song: Kerosene
- Tone – Antares
In a year where two of the giants of instrumental post rock, Mono and Explosions in the Sky, released albums, I think it’s fitting that Washington, DC’s Tone released the best one. This band has never received the credit it richly deserves for being one of the genre’s innovators and hopefully this brilliant record will help to remedy that. Each song is expertly crafted by masters of pacing and scope in heavy guitar music. A special note must go to Gregg Hudson’s drumming, because I can’t remember the last time I was this shaken and moved by a percussionists’s performance on a post-rock record. His bombastic pulse drives this beautiful guitar music in ways almost any other drummer could learn from. Antares could be the soundtrack to your saddest memories or your most vibrant daydreams. Favorite song: Weapon of Moonlight (which also might very well be my favorite song of the year – it’s certainly my favorite instrumental of the year).
- Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – Mariner
I’ll admit to being quite late to the party on Cult of Luna – this was my first exposure to the band, though I’d seen the name and heard good things for years. Julie Christmas, on the other hand, is a vocalist for whom I have utmost reverence – her work in Made Out of Babies, Battle of Mice and Spylacopa makes her an underground legend in my book. This collaboration album has brought out a new level of devastating emotion for this heavy rock heroine. She gets a new kind of canvas on which to paint another vocal and lyrical journey – this time it’s cinematic heavy metal of the highest order – ethereal, eerie, low and slow. In a year where 80’s synth horror soundtracks became a part of the culture again due to the popularity of Stranger Things, this record puts a lot of those vibes into a heavy metal context via carefully deployed synth lines and other haunting keyboard and guitar textures. The allure of Julie’s vocals – and what makes her such a singular talent – is her ability to deploy different vocal moods at will. It’s almost as if within her head she has a pedalboard of voices, and like a master guitarist/pedalboard geek she knows precisely the right times to use each effect. Cult of Luna’s brooding, atmospheric post metal acts as the perfect backdrop for its lead character to perform an emotionally harrowing one woman schizophrenic play. She screeches, soars, and bellows, whispers with timidity and weakness and then angrily slashes across the vocal field with the confidence, strength and genius of a hundred lesser vocalists combined. There is no singer on earth like Julie Christmas and this collaboration is unlike any record I’ve ever heard. Props to Cult of Luna for having the wisdom to have her join the band for one record. Here’s hoping there will be more. Favorite song: The Wreck Of The S.S. Needle
- Whores. – Gold.
This is actually Whores. debut LP, even though their first two EPs were so well received that the band seems almost like the kings of their scene at this point. Their scuzzy, four on the floor brand of noise sludge is on full display here. There is an unlimited amount of powerful fuzzy riffage, clever lyrical indictments of self and society howled and barked with utmost urgency and tortured inner pain, generous and highly skilled use of amplifier feedback and a relentless bass and drum stomp reminiscent of the best to have ever done it – Unsane, Helmet, Melvins, The Jesus Lizard, Eyehategod and Rage Against the Machine. This is 35 minutes of unfiltered, visceral audio assault, a noise rock beating with an unstoppable groove that comes from the pelvis, not the head. Start to finish, this is probably the pure headbanging album of the year. This is also one of the best produced, best sounding records of the year. Every instrument is clear in the mix, but the effect of all the clarity never messes with the record’s intent – to bash in your skull with no subtlety whatsoever. Favorite song: Bloody Like The Day You Were Born
Honorable Mentions: Mars Red Sky – Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), Stone Machine Electric – Sollicitus Es Veritatum, Every Time I Die – Low Teens, Conan – Revengeance, Helms Alee – Stillicide
EPs of the Year: 1. Voivod – Post Society, 2. Sierra – 72, 3. Virginia Creep (S/T)
Stefanie’s Top Ten Records of 2016
1.Kvelertak – Nattesferd
Nothing even comes close to this record for me this year. Kvelertak nailed it with 2016’s Nattesferd, topping their excellent 2013 sophomore release, Meir. This record overflows with raw, loud, punk rock testosterone and equally delivers with technical proficiency and impeccable arrangements. Three guitar players and an extremely competent rhythm section create beautiful, shimmering layers and thick, unbreakable chords which manifest into propulsive songs that break and release the tension at just the right moment. Pulling (sometimes heavily!) from Van Halen, Thin Lizzy, black metal, and pure rock ‘n roll frenzy a’ la Motorhead, they just make me believe. They make me want to head bang until my neck is sore and my ears bleed. I can’t even understand what singer Erlend Hjelvik is screaming because it’s all in Norwegian – but I believe nonetheless! Listen to this on your next road trip with all four windows rolled down while barreling down the highway at full speed, and you’ll believe too.
2.Every Time I Die – Low Teens
I’ve been a big fan of these guys ever since I discovered them right after The Big Dirty came out in 2007. It was my favorite ETID record until now. Buckley’s vocals are always intelligent, clever, urgently delivered, and easy to understand, something unparalleled in heavy music. He does a fair amount of clean singing on this record and it really stands out. It’s tuneful and convincing, and he reminds me a lot of Cave-In’s Steve Brodsky (one of my favorite vocalists). ETID deals in controlled chaos and all the signature moves are here, but what makes this a standout record is that the entire record is peppered with influences from classic rock to post punk and even 90’s alt rock. ‘It Remembers’ has a definite Pink Floyd ‘Money’ vibe, and ‘Awful Lot’ has angular, slinky, discordant guitar lines that remind me of Jawbox or their more contemporary acolytes, DC’s Two Inch Astronaut. The musicianship and songwriting on this record is astounding, and Keith Buckley matches that with an impressive vocal performance. It even has guest vocals from Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie – and despite what you might think of Panic! it further shows that ETID is delving deeper into other genres, something they’ve proven to be quite competent at.
3.TONE – Antares
TONE is a Washington, DC instrumental post rock band, and have quickly become my favorite local band. Having once been on Neurosis-founded Neurot Recordings they have been around for a while (in one incarnation or another), and have influenced bands like Pelican and Mono, among other post rock luminaries. When it comes to crafting beautiful, melancholic, and apocalyptic songs they are unbeatable. That’s lofty praise you might say, but their emotional and arresting live shows will back it up. They are masters of building tension, using shimmering delay-soaked guitars, dynamics, and propulsive drumming to bring the listener to a blissful aural climax, only to expertly release it at the exact moment you’re begging for it. I listened to ‘Weapon of Moonlight’, the first single they released, about five times in a row the first time I heard it. These songs are beautiful, unsettling, and full of little sonic treats with every new listen. I can’t wait for their next release.
4.Mars Red Sky – Apex III (Praise For The Burning Soul)
I wasn’t too familiar with Mars Red Sky before I listened to Apex III, and I’ll admit that the Coheed and Cambria-sounding album title didn’t inspire much confidence. But boy was I glad I gave them a shot. I can’t think of any other bands that sound quite like them. They truly have a vision – a singular and unique take on fuzzed-out psychedelic doom. The delay and reverb-soaked vocals mirror the guitar perfectly. This album has visceral and astral qualities to it that I can’t place yet – it makes me think about my purpose on this earth. Maybe somewhere in there I’ll find the answer, but until then I’ll sip on a fine whisky and slowly head bang the night into oblivion.
5.Moon Tooth – Chromaparagon
This was one of the first 2016 releases I heard and I haven’t stopped listening to it since. I play it in my car, at the gym, on the bus, and everywhere in between. The musicianship is unsurpassable and their live show is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The first time I saw them the lead singer got on the drummer’s shoulders and they did a double drumming solo in the middle of a song. They made it look easy. And fun. The song arrangements on Chromaparagon are unique, interesting, and obviously crafted with care. Guitarist Nick Lee is clearly a master of technique and tone, using pedals with discretion just when they’ll add the perfect flourish. Their influences range from Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age, Intronaut, and My Bloody Valentine to James Brown and Stevie Wonder. They’ve made big strides this year and I expect more are coming.
6.Big Business – Command Your Weather
This record produced my favorite one-two punch of 2016, eighth track ‘Diagnostic Front’ followed by album closer ‘Horses’. Where to begin with Big Business? They are a truly unique band much like Mars Red Sky mentioned above. Jared Warren has the best and most recognizable bass tone in modern heavy music, and Coady’s drumming is the perfect compliment; frenetic at times, innovative, and always tasteful. Command Your Weather is their most cohesive record to date. It has the signature low end attack and pop-driven vocal hooks and unmistakable vocal bellows. What it adds is a more focused galloping energy and a luscious, full sound (despite only being a two piece) that lasts throughout the entire record. Big Business is capable of grandiose, broadway-worthy music (like one of my favorite songs ‘Theme From Big Business II’ on 2009’s Mind The Drift), but this record sticks the landing with every song, start to finish.
7.Husbandry – Fera
This album grows on me more and more with every listen, and much like Whores., seeing them live a few times sealed the deal. Vocalist Carina Zachary tastefully snakes in and out of their frantic and devilishly slinky riffs with sonorous precision. Lines like “your pulse is calling to me like a war drum, as my skeleton climbs up the stairs, remember how it used to make me crazy” make my hairs stand up. Guitarist Jordan Usatch knows exactly when to step on what pedal. The bass sneaks in and out of the guitar and drums with impeccable technique and ideas that add more to the songs than just holding down the rhythm section, aided by solid and metronomic drumming. They know exactly when a riff is good enough to be repeated over and over, and when to tease the listener with an interesting filler. This record is brimming with unique ideas, intensity, and catchy hooks, and I often find myself listening to it twice in a row. Need I say more?
8.WHORES. – Gold
Seeing Whores. live a couple weeks ago was one of my favorite show experiences of 2016. They know how to f*cking bring it. Their passion is palpable, and the stage energy is raw and completely genuine. I feel their anger and sincerity when listening to Gold, but live I understand it and I become it. The intensity of these songs take my breath away and pummel me right in the gut. Loud drums, tastefully fuzzed out distortion, scathing and well articulated vocals, and surprisingly concise arrangements make this a record that seems much more thought out than the average noise rock offering.
9. Netherlands – Audubon
Netherlands is the fourth band from New York on this small list of ten (fifth if you count Goes Cube in the honorable mentions). Good things going on in The Empire State, it seems. I had never seen nor heard of Netherlands the first time I saw them live in DC at the Velvet Lounge. I was electrified for weeks after the show. Vocalist/guitarist Timo has a way with soulful, catchy hooks, much like Jared Warren from Big Business. These two are the best in the biz in my opinion. Netherlands is its own beast – confusing, sexual, deceptively catchy, and impossibly heavy. I don’t expect to ever hear anything quite like this again. This album is paradoxical in nature – the songs are chaotically cohesive and make me feel like I’m experiencing my personal reality inside of a video game, or at least the slightly-more-plausible Matrix. Audubon’s first single ‘Bottom of the Ocean’ is one of my favorite songs of 2016. They also made music videos for at least half of the record – something that will always keep me coming back for more.
10. Helms Alee – Stillicide
Helms Alee is one of modern rock’s more interesting bands. They use female/male three part harmonies frequently, and this album showcases their best and most ambitious vocal performance to date. The songs often feel like they’re caving in on themselves – repeating slightly varying guitar lines in odd time signatures – and then rebuilding themselves when different band members chime in with overlapping vocals. There are moments of black metal, hip hop, math rock, post rock, noise rock, and almost anything else you can think of. These are my favorite kinds of bands, especially when the common thread running through all of it is heavy and catchy. Their songs take me on journeys, and it’s not uncommon for me to forget where I am while listening to them.
Honorable mentions: Deftones – Gore, Goblin Cock – Necronomidonkeykongimicon, Goes Cube – Shadows Swallowed The Flood, Goat – Requiem, Julie Christmas and Cult of Luna – Mariner
(Visit Caustic Casanova here: http://causticcasanova.com/.)