The Willowtip Files: Watchmaker – Erased from the Memory of Man

Pennsylvanian-based independent label Willowtip Records was established by Jason Tipton in the late ’90s. From humble beginnings the label has stood the test of time, becoming one of the most respected and highly regarded record labels in the extreme metal scene. It takes something special to create a label with a consistently unfuckwithable roster of quality, innovative artists, while retaining long-term integrity and durability. Willowtip is the self-proclaimed forward-thinking label, releasing a slew of modern classics and top-shelf albums that may have a lower profile but are more than worth your while.

This feature focuses on a pivotal early period in the label’s history that had a huge impact on my own extreme metal tastes. As such, I am highlighting some outstanding albums released by Willowtip between 2001-2006. Some are lesser-known, however I will argue are must listen releases from the label’s early golden era. I will skip over a couple of particularly pivotal albums from the period that are more suited for Yer Metal Is Olde honors, otherwise, it’s open slather. Welcome to the Willowtip Files.

Kicking off this brand-spankin’ new feature, I thought the turbulent global climate and ongoing ramifications of the pandemic required a particularly ugly, abrasive soundtrack. Many Willowtip bands of the era often featured spastic overtones of grind, tech, and white knuckle extremity, regardless of which genre they fit into. The unpredictable, hostile, and often challenging output held great appeal as I was constantly seeking angry outlets to challenge my idea and knowledge of extreme metal. I will delve into more accessible and essential releases throughout this feature, however, for grind maniacs unfamiliar with Boston’s Watchmaker, prepare for an insanely destructive, visceral assault of the senses. Third and final LP, 2005’s Erased from the Memory of Man showcased a touch of refinement from their first couple of albums, without sacrificing one iota of their rawness, aggro and fever-pitch intensity.

Hateful, blackened grind featuring hardcore and noise influences is the band’s modus operandi, concentrated into a particularly raw, ugly and violent battering, not for the faint-hearted. The album is a tightly executed explosion of breakneck tempos, relentless blasts, blistering riffs, d-beats, gnarly distorted tones and utterly vicious, feral vocals. Blasting through 16 relentless nuggets of savagery in a mere 26 minutes, the album’s brevity works to its advantage. Too much more of this material in one sitting would be tough to take, but in the right mood this shit slays. The outward extremity and breathless urgency on display does not come at the cost of solid writing skills. Sheer speed and precision of the musicianship is admirable, while sneaky snippets of melody and strong riffing frame elusive hooks lends the assault a subtle addictiveness.

Like most grind and grind-affiliated extreme metal albums, Erased from the Memory of Man is best consumed whole for full appreciation and immersion in Watchmaker’s unsettling world. “Oncrushing Advance” is an absolutely brutal gut punch, highlighting the razor-wired dirty riffage and standout drumming from Michael Garret. Just about any track you isolate offers some sort of gratifying nugget of intensity, such as the d-beaten, foot on throat ferocity and spastic vocal convulsions of “Irrevocable Change,” noise laden doomy distortion of “Relentless Post-Mortem Killing,” and frantic, piledriving intensity of “Lice Crawling Humanity.” Like most great grind, Watchmaker possessed the ability to amp up the listener and really get the blood and adrenaline pumping.

I guess there is an argument Watchmaker’s music is a little too hellbent on speed, destruction and white knuckle extremity. Yeah a few groovier explosions may have been welcome, but neither is the music hamstrung by its relentlessly violent approach. And when more measured and out-of-the-box moments pop up to crush, kill, destroy, they are all the more impactful, evidenced on the off-kilter rumble of “Inescapable Melancholy,” or sludgy grind meets noise headfuck, “Therapeutic Dirt Nap.” Watchmaker punched well above their low profile to create visceral, caustic morsels of calculated extremity and uncompromisingly brutal music to soundtrack the apocalypse. Proceed with caution.

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