Poison the Well love heavy metal, metalcore and screamo. They grew up listening to Slayer, Metallica and Void and have played with everyone from Cryptopsy and Candiria to Hatebreed and the Deftones. Unlike many nihilistic noise rockers, however, their aggression stems not from misdirected anger but rather from a sincere desire for social and political change.
"The United States' social structure has made it imperative that bands like us say something real and try to make a difference," guitarist Ryan Primack said. "We feel responsible because of the general air of apathy among young people. Someone's gotta say something."
Poison the Well singer Jeff Moreira doesn't just scream when he raises his voice, he regurgitates his demons like George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher from Cannibal Corpse. And when Primack lets loose, he plays turbulent staccato riffs and static-filled chord blankets that push the aggro meter into the red. A melodic quality to the songs provides vivid contrasts.
"We've been as affected by hardcore and punk as we have by metal," Primack said. "The most influential period in music for me, other than classic rock, was the [Washington, D.C.,] Dischord Records scene in the '80s. We love bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Nation of Ulysses, Teen Idols, Rites of Spring and Fugazi."
These groups' impact wasn't just musical. The Dischord scene encouraged young, passionate kids to pick up instruments, form bands, write fanzines, start labels and promote shows themselves.
"I'm only 25, so I missed that whole thing when it was happening," Primack said. "But I caught up with it later, and those bands had a huge impact on us, whether it was something as simple as how much you sell your T-shirts for or the fact that you don't have anything if you don't stand for something."
Poison the Well's multidimensional third album, You Come Before You, is filled with harrowing rhythms and resonant personal lyrics. It powerfully juxtaposes melancholic despair and raging anger.
"We can be vicious, but we can also be a happy little band," Primack said. "Are you happy all the time? No. Are you vicious all the time? No. But you do feel both things, sometimes simultaneously. Sometimes you get so happy you cry, and sometimes you get so mad you trash something. That's also a part of life."
The album's title, You Come Before You, represents the importance of being true to yourself. It might sound selfish coming from a band that stresses political awareness and advocates charitable causes, but in Poison the Well's perverse world it makes perfect sense.
"Sometimes people think they're small and what they think doesn't matter," Primack explained. "The title is about taking seriously the things you feel strongly about. The inside you comes before the outside you that you portray to people. The things you really feel are the things you should really say, and you shouldn't hold back."
The band recently filmed a video for "Apathy Is a Cold Body" — just don't call the track the album's first single. "I hate singles," Primack said. "No one should feel close to a record because of one song. Around 30 years ago, bands put out albums as statements, and it should still be that way. You can't just listen to one song on our album; it's a collective work. You can't get the whole idea unless you hear all of it."
Poison the Well will headline clubs beginning February 6 in Pomona, California. They'll join Thrice, My Chemical Romance and Moments in Grace for shows in larger venues starting March 17.