The brick ranch home that Corey Dial, the guitarist in slumbering metal trio Bitter Resolve, rents sits in dense woods. Indeed, were it not for the murmur of nearby traffic, it would be easy to forget how close Chapel Hill is. Listening to Bitter Resolve, it's easy to forget how close the band rehearses to Chapel Hill, too. The monolithic riffs and malevolent rhythms of their proto-metal suggest the sort of bros who would bludgeon the town's stereotypical indie rocker in the back alley behind Local 506, just for fun. But that would be missing the message.
Today, just before practice, the band—Dial, bassist and howler Rob Walsh, drummer Lauren Fitzpatrick—looks on as a young garden snake explores the yard, staking out a window box. Baby birds chirp and squeal in protest. It seems an appropriate prelude for the crew; they descend into the basement to smoke cigarettes, drink cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and, most important, pound out high-volume metal. They do this three times every week, without fail.
Bitter Resolve is a group of perfectionists, says Dial. Indeed, the members' long histories in other bands have led to this refreshing discipline, this belief that if they want to be something special, it doesn't come by false promises and skipped practices.
"It's the only time I've been in a band where we've had that logic and followed it," says Dial, with relief. "[Other bands] always talked about it: 'Let's do things. Let's be serious. Let's make progress.'"
This time, they're actually doing just that, moving forward with cohesion and confidence. Sitting in white plastic chairs in Dial's backyard, Walsh dishes with Fitzpatrick about bands they mutually dig—Melvins, Nirvana, Dire Straits, Baltimore guitar wizards Arbouretum. He abruptly changes gears, shifting, as is his wont, from positivity to negativity and back again.
"I hate it when people are like, 'I was thinking about all the starving children when I wrote this,'" says Walsh, a gruff dude with tattooed knuckles ("High life," they read, letter by letter) and a deep-set scowl that's often countered by a charming, goofy crooked grin. He leads in like it's a joke or an aside. His gravelly slur of a voice quickens now. "But I was. I was totally thinking about how human beings can allow other human beings to fucking live in degradation and hardship while I can sit here and drink beer and have a shitty job and have the right to complain about it."
Walsh is simultaneously carefree and grave, like some Kerouac-style sacred bum; his speech is littered with profanity and absolutes. Revolutionaries fail, and activism is a first-world luxury, he says. Thoughts of genocide and other global problems keep him awake at night. This existential quandary—that life is horrible for everyone who doesn't live in the developed world, as he puts it—drives his lyrics. But pondering it and singing about it is about as far as he's willing to go. He grins, as he teases himself for his own ideas.
"I don't buy into this 'part of the problem/ part of the solution' bullshit. I never went to Africa to try and do anything there. What would happen there? I would get off the boat and get shot," he continues, leaning back in his chair and lecturing a hypothetical activist. "Man ... go fall in love."
Indeed, as Bitter Resolve sits in the post-practice dusk, their overall message is positive: Walsh is newly married and Fitzpatrick will be soon. Dial is a new father who's buying a house, too. Former Veelee ex-guitarist Matt Park helped Bitter Resolve record its self-released debut LP, Bows and Arrows Against the Lightning, giving it the same clear, spacious mix heard on his own defunct duo's LP. A friend of the band completely bankrolled the album, an attractive package with transparent vinyl and a full lyrics and credits sheet—the works, really.
"As long as I can sit at home and listen to [the record] with my headphones on and rock out, I don't give a shit," Walsh says. He's rarely happy with anything he's recorded, but Bows and Arrows is different for him. "I have impeccable taste in music. If I don't like something, I don't like it. I am truly happy with what we did."
The road to that satisfaction wasn't without its problems. Though this is the band's debut, multiple factors make this record feel like it was a long time coming.
"Rob and I have known each other for 10 years," Dial says in his quiet drawl. He played in Sinn Fein—a skate-punk band with a 311 feel, as he puts it. Walsh was in The Spinns, a garage rock trio that broke up before garage rock had become trendy, a recurring theme in Walsh's career as a musician. The bassist's time in that outfit helped cement a reputation he's ready to lose. "You're married now," Fitzpatrick reminds him.
"I'm a little different now," Walsh agrees. "I'm a well-known ne'er-do-well. That's common knowledge. I'm trying to move away from ... 'Oh, I'm Rob—that guy who whipped his dick out in Raleigh Times.' You know what I mean? I don't want to be that."
Membership woes plagued the band's start. Bitter Resolve formed with a different drummer, who's referred to as "asshole" and other, even less flattering epithets. When the friend offered the money to make the band's LP, Walsh and Dial realized they had to find a different drummer. They weren't good enough as is, they reckoned.
"That guy really sucked," says Fitzpatrick. "His problem was he didn't play the drums enough. That one time I saw him I was like 'Rob, you could do so much better.'" Walsh, who had been impressed by Fitzpatrick's playing in the now-defunct blues-metal duo The Curtains of Night, ran into her in a club and drunkenly asked her to play on the record. She not only accepted but agreed to stay on as a full-time member. Now, says Dial, "the drums make it."
Indeed, this trio rumbles with grit and swing, much like Walsh's conversational cadence. The riffs are monstrous, unwieldy things, like oversize weapons somehow handled capably. Fitzpatrick leans into her drum hits like she's pushing a stalled car uphill. Walsh riffs on a distorted bass and chants through an effects box, his vocal approach falling midway between Electric Wizard and Melvins. During solos, even at rehearsals, Dial puts his whole body into his playing, jumping and posturing with arena-size abandon. There's no irony or self-awareness in Dial's performance. He's like a young man with a new skill, taking an approach to guitar playing that was nearly omnipresent in '70s rock and bending it to his will.
Actually, many of Bitter Resolve's standout qualities—the craggy riffage, the Geezer Butler-inspired lyrics, the gorgeous space-prog outro to "A Day Without Fairies"—point squarely at that decade, an aspect that puts the band alongside the recent stoner metal revival. But with many of their closest kin, rock moves of Bitter Resolve's caliber are typically softened or bypassed entirely, giving Bows and Arrows the feel of an LP predating the resurgence. Or, once again, before it was trendy. This isn't to say Bitter Resolve never stumbles. With all its '70s rock signifiers, the band risks coming across as a relic. And Bows and Arrows' too-topical closing track portrays the Large Hadron Collider as some sort of doomsday machine, replete with scheming scientists at the controls. Yet if Hawkwind can age gracefully, that shouldn't be a problem.
"I was in that band Black Mountain. I got kicked out, those dicks," Walsh jokes. "Seriously, because I was too heavy. But all of the sudden, heavy music is in. People are like, 'Have you ever heard of that band Sleep?'"
Walsh is a lifer with this stuff, after all. Fitzgerald remembers her adolescence in Syracuse, when she watched Walsh play with For King and Country. His bandmate at the time, Tim Herzog, went on to play with Des Ark and Black Skies, among others. "I always thought you were the best. I was 15," she says, recounting his long history with slow-and-mean music for him. "You're doing the same shit now, but you covered 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald' really low with super-distorted vocals."
Walsh nearly shrugs in response.
"All the things I desperately love," he says, "are all of the sudden popular."