Their debut album Gift of Life is out now via Suicide Squeeze
Listen to “Hospital Room” by VHS
Following the release of Gift of Life via Suicide Squeeze last week, Seattle band VHS premiered single ‘Hospital Room’ on Louder Than War.
VHS’ Josh Hagerman explains: “There’s a certain kind of soap that I’ve only ever seen in hospitals. It’s called Steris. It looks like semen and smells like clean hairspray. Anytime I walk down the hallways I can smell it coming off everyone’s hands…but just beneath that smell, is the smell of adult urine. I don’t know which is worse…that’s what Hospital Room is about.”
Violent Human System is better known by their acronym VHS. And while Violent Human System does seem like an appropriately nihilistic name for a pessimistic punk band, VHS also serves as a good indication of the new Seattle band’s grainy aesthetic, early ‘80s nods, and analog inclinations. Imagine watching an early Killing Joke video on a deteriorated VCR, and you get a good idea of VHS’s general vibe. This isn’t some kitschy throwback, though. The band’s modus operandi follows the economic pragmatism of punk’s formative years. Eschewing proper studio recordings and the increasingly prohibitive vinyl format, VHS got their start by cranking out home-recorded cassette tapes. The results were the “Art Decay”, “Everything Looks Boring” and “Vultures & Hungry Spirits” cassettes, which conjured the primitive howl of Dead Moon, the driving wallop of The Wipers, and the gloomy deathrock of Rudimentary Peni in one fell swoop.
Like so many other punk bands, VHS started with very humble and unambitious aims. Back in 2014, Josh Hageman left his home in Reno to come up to Seattle and make music with his friend and former Nevadan Chris Costalupes. Art Decay was tracked on an 8-track machine and borrowed equipment that summer, and while it was getting mastered, Chris dug up some of Josh’s older recordings and decided to release it as the Vultures cassette on their own Casino Trash Records label. Within a few months, VHS had two releases, but no proper band members to play the songs live. After shuffling between a few friends for the first handful of shows, VHS settled into a four-piece with Hageman singing and playing guitar, Costalupes taking over bass duties, fellow Reno transplant Morgan Travis on guitar, and Gavin Tiemeyer on drums. By the time 2015 came to a close, the band had recorded two additional 7”s to add to their rapidly expanding catalogue.
Gift of Life, the first proper full-length by VHS, follows in the footsteps of their previous EPs, with the band self-recording their amalgam of Lost Sounds’ trashy discontent, early Big Black’s trebly guitar stabs, and Only Theatre of Pain-era Christian Death’s bleak reverberations. These are brash and bitter territories to occupy, but the band sees no other choice for their musical direction, citing the daily grind as the impetus behind their music. The harsh reality of Hageman’s day-to-day existence working on the periphery of the medical field played a direct role in the overall theme of the album. “The name Gift Of Life came from some generic blood donation poster I saw in one of the hospitals. It said ‘give the gift of life’ with a photo of a happy family at a park on a sunny day with some pamphlets under it.” It was a visual image that stood in stark contrast to the somber surrounding environment. If you’ve ever worried that punk has become too antiseptic, Gift of Life is here to deliver the grime.
“Gift of Life remains as one of the year’s standouts so far. A very impressive debut.” Drowned in Sound
“It’s heavy stuff with a dose of self-deprecating humor, in the time-honored tradition of vintage Black Flag and Descendants.” The FADER