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Like the best of them, Frodus was a band ahead of its time. In the ’90s, the Fairfax post-hardcare trio wasn’t just the driving force of Northern Virginia’s punk scene—it was the most raucous, the most unpredictable, and the most contrived band in the D.C. area. As its final album, And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea, showed, it was also perhaps the most prophetic. The album was doomed from the get-go.
Its sound—a self-described “spazzcore” blend of heavy, angular riffs and carefully syncopated drum rhythms paired with guitarist/vocalist Shelby Cinca’s unbridled screaming—helped spawn the post-hardcore scene that would have its moment in the early ’00s with bands like Thrice and At The Drive-In. It’s not hard to imagine the level of success the band might have achieved had it not thrown in the towel in 1999, just after its members finished recording Weapons. The album was eventually released on CD in 2001 by Fueled By Ramen Records (before it became a subsidiary of Warner Music Group and spawned platinum-selling artists like Fall Out Boy, Paramore, and Panic! at the Disco) and had a very limited vinyl run through a small label in the Czech Republic.
Since then, the members of Frodus have moved on, both musically (all three members have since played in a handful of other bands) and geographically (Cinca now lives in Sweden), but their legacy is nonetheless intact thanks to local label Lovitt Records, who last week reissued a remastered version And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea on vinyl, complete with expanded packaging that documents the last year of the band’s life.
The story of Weapons goes like this: Cinca, drummer Jason Hamacher, and then-bassist (the band went through a lot of ‘em in its time) Nathan Burke recorded the album’s songs between August and October of 1999. Toward the end of recording, the band—burnt out from years of touring—decided to call it quits. Prior to recording Weapons, the band had left its label Tooth & Nail Records to sign with MIA Records, which went bankrupt not long after signing Frodus. The band was left without a label to put out its final record.
It’s almost too fitting that Frodus’ last tours were with Swedish band Refused. Like Weapons, Refused’s final album, 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come, was an abrasive and harsh record whose far left-wing messages were almost perfectly aligned with the stuff Frodus was singing about. And like Frodus, Refused pioneered the sound and, well, the shape of punk to come, experimenting with drone and electronic music in its particular brand of post-hardcore. Exhausted from constant touring that led to tension between bandmates, both bands called it quits before getting the chance to really capitalize on the attention their music would later receive. (Refused reunited in 2012 while Frodus had a brief—but memorable—reunion in 2009).
For the next two years, the record remained shelved (though widely shared online) until Fueled By Ramen Records agreed to release the CD version in 2001. By that time, the group had moved on: Cinca and Hamacher had formed a new group—Decahedron, with Fugazi’s Joe Lally—and Fueled By Ramen’s release of Weapons was more of an afterthought than a priority for the label.
But now, almost 15 years later, the album’s themes are more relevant than ever. Frodus was a band that interrogated and toyed with heavy sociopolitical issues like capitalism, big corporations, and the dark side of technology at a time when society was on the cusp of some major technological advances. Many of those themes are still very much at the forefront of our collective anxiety.
“The machines never died/ The recurring threat of technology can be used to confine populations/ It’s not a reason to reject it all/ Just the minds who abuse the knowledge” Cinca screams with guttural conviction on “The Awesome Machine.” Written sometime between ’98 and ’99, the song is an obvious rumination on the technological anxiety fueled by Y2K, but in 2015 it reads more like a scathing dissemination of drone warfare and government surveillance.
Above all, Weapons is Frodus’ epic coda. Cinca, Burke, and Hamacher have all cited the album as the one they’re most proud of, and it shows. From Burke’s thunderingly distorted bass riff that opens the album to the melodic ambiance of closer “Title Track,” Weapons coalesces into something singular and powerful. Like 1998’s Conglomerate International and, well, pretty much everything Frodus ever did (the band put as much effort into its own mythology as it did its music), And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea is very much a concept album. But it’s also perhaps the most personal album it ever wrote, and one that would seal its fate.
Take the explosive opener “Red Bull of Juarez” for example: Cinca screams “The weapons drawn/ Rock ’n’ roll is war/ We looked away from ourselves/ Our vans die/ I don’t care.” It’s not a battle cry, but a farewell note, explaining how hard this whole “rock ’n’ roll” thing is: It’s war.
And war is hell, as the saying goes. After a while, all you want to do is put your weapons away, pack up, and go home. There’s no shame in knowing when to call it quits.
Image via Lovitt Records