25 Apr

Posthumous Spotlight: Schoolyard Heroes

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday April 25, 2010 | Horror Rock

This is how it always works out for me. I don’t discover the cool bands until its too late. Though, my friend Kiarna assures me that it spares me the heartbreak of going through the band’s breakup as it happens, it still robs the music of a bit of its power. It almost seems pointless to highlight a band who has been broken up for a few months but I have an alternate take on that process. Horror Punk is a tough scene. The fusion of horror themes and rock music are a natural pairing and depending on the particular bent of the music, the horror theme can take the overall style in one of several directions. The classic horror punk band is, of course, The Misfits but equally as important are The Cramps, who took the horror idea and spun it off into rockabilly and surf territories which then spun off into their own horror themed subgenres, producing groups like The Ghastly Ones and Demented Are Go. Meanwhile, Christian Death and LA goth culture crossed over with The Germs, Fear and Black Flag to create death rock, not an overtly horror rock sound but horror punk nonetheless. The clear victor of that arms race was 45 Grave, whose singer, Dinah Cancer is still out there in world covering Party Time with whomever she happens to be playing with. One thing is for certain, though, The Misfits are the prevailing kings of horror punk and because of this, 9 out of 10 horror punk bands feature savage three chord riffs with a tenor woah-oh-oh vocalist. There’s not much in that scene that sets one band apart from the rest which is why I tend to celebrate only a couple of them.

This is why Schoolyard Heroes stands out from the pack. Seattle punk has always stood out as distinctly Northwestern. Rainy and heavily forested, Washington rock has always carried a slightly stoned hippie vibe with it. The entire Pacific Northwest, in fact, has managed to carve out its own unique alternative music sound since people began questioning the very fundamentals of what made hard music so hard. Seattle, home of The Green River Killer and Ted Bundy’s original stomping ground has produced bands in the past with a toe in the death rock pool. By this, I mean the incredibly awesome Murder City Devils, aka the loudest fucking band I’ve ever heard. Not to mention Nirvana, a band who needs no introduction, only the mere suggestion of their name indicates a changing of the rules. For starters, Schoolyard Heroes sound nothing like any horror or death rock band you’ve ever heard. There is no romance for early garage rock, surf or doo-wop. Leather and pompadours never factor into their aesthetic at all. As a matter of fact, by looking at them, you’d never suspect them of being a horror punk band at all. That all-black fashion sense never even comes into play. Their lyrics speak for themselves, though, obsessed with horror movie themes, violence and Michael Dudikoff, the American Ninja,

What’s really unusual, though, is that Schoolyard Heroes were fronted by a woman. Rock, in general, is a guy sport. Dudes rule the day. It’s a given. I don’t mean this to be a sexist missive, so don’t misunderstand me. This is why women in rock have a tendency to be extremely bad ass when they break out. Were it not for the severe gender gap in rock music, Joan Jett probably wouldn’t be the kind of woman who could eat you alive. Horror punk tends to be dominated by men as well. In horror circles, the last word on horror punk fronted by a woman is Liverpool legends, Zombina and the Skeletones. With such an unusual pedigree, it’s no wonder that Schoolyard Heroes were unlike any horror punk band around.

Fans of My Chemical Romance will recognize the sound immediately, without the glammy excesses of Gerard Way. Where horror punk bands of the past dwell in the punk sound of the past, Schoolyard Heroes embraced the current wave of punk and hardcore, music often mislabelled as emo. It’s a hard sound that follows sometimes proggy rhythms found in the music of Coheed and Cambria. The band put out several singles and three full lengths. Beginning with 2003’s The Funeral Sciences, following it with 2005’s Fantastic Wounds and 2007’s Abominations and then broke up in November of last year. Abominations is a real kick ass album, straddling metal and pop music. Equal parts Katy Perry and Siouxsie Sioux, vocalist Ryann Donnelly put the finishing touches on what was one of horror punk’s most original entries. It’s just a shame that it had to end when it did. The final release, Abominations, sent the band out on a high note featuring anthem after anthem and putting on a sound that was far more mature than previous material.

Sample the sounds below.

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