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Listening to Grief’s Miserably Ever After, Years After I Stopped Feeling Miserable

In Schnip’s Picks, Pitchfork managing editor Matthew Schnipper identifies under-heralded music and sings its praises.


I was waiting for the subway recently, and when it arrived I wasn’t sure if it was the local or the express. As I craned to read the sign on the side of the train car, I felt a two-handed push. I turned and half expected to see someone I know, playfully greeting me with a shove. But it was a stranger wearing big sunglasses. She looked at me with disgust—I guess I was in her way—but not as much disgust as the man with her, who gave me a death stare as he passed. The train was local; I got on a different car.

Right then, I thought of the Boston band Grief, and their 1996 album Miserably Ever After, and my favorite song from it, “I Hate the Human Race.” This, I thought, is why people hate the human race. It’s not for enormous and unintelligible wrongs, like war or tobacco companies. It’s the small, unnecessary meannesses of the everyday. This is why you start a band like Grief. Not because you’re so depressed you can’t get out of bed. But because you keep getting out and this is the kind of shit you get in return.

Grief are a cornerstone act in the sludge metal genre, which in case you’re not familiar, is essentially very heavy rock brought to a crawl, or traditional metal as performed by mean gorillas on downers. As such, Miserably Ever After is filled with anti-anthems. The guitar is exploratory and innovative, based in basic riffs but swollen and creeping, with feedback like an invasive species of plant overgrown across the melody. If you have a taste for the deep-throated vocals of metal, the singing is beefy and excellent. Overall, it’s not an amateur product. So why was this dismal, generally unappealing music what they chose to make with their evident skill set? That’s the key question for sludge. Seems like a lot of engaging with a world you despise. I sense something suspicious, and it seems like Grief agrees.

“Honestly, at that time I wasn’t all that miserable of a person,” says Jeff Hayward, the band’s singer and guitarist, in an interview in this month’s Decibel Magazine. “I was never a depressed or really miserable person. You know, when you’re young, you’re kinda angry about shit.” Guitarist Terry Savastano has a plainer answer about what was going on at the time: “Basically, the same thing that causes me to be miserable today. Just working, breaking my ass, just doing a shitty job for people that don’t care about you or your family, just thankless tasks. Just totally soul-destroying work.” So, life? Not to make light of someone feeling entirely out of place with their day-to-day, but it’s old news to feel bad about the myriad small injustices of existence.

When I was 14, I had not yet begun my adult life full of routine and dull punishments, like the banal interaction on the subway. Instead, my young life felt near unbearable. I had colitis, which meant I was expelling a great deal of blood from my body daily and experiencing a lot of different types of mental and physical pain. To escape, music was my main gateway to other worlds. Sometimes this was transformative; in the case of a band like Grief, I wrapped myself in the cocoon of hatred they projected. I didn’t need too much of a push to begin to identify with Grief’s dark worldview, and I gave it a literal read. As a sick teenager, I didn’t have the perspective to know better about the small slights and the fleeting throbs of injustice they bring. Pain was my entire world, and “I Hate the Human Race” was something of a national anthem. The “I Hate” was most imperative, the “Human Race” something I perhaps skimmed over. The difference between then and now is that the feeling of hating everyone felt inward, less about others and more about me.

But the world has changed in the intervening 20 years. It’s arguably gotten worse, though I’ve gotten better (physically, at least). Or maybe I’ve just gotten older and my coping mechanisms have diversified. Musical rage is only one of them now, alongside love, shopping, exercise, time spent alone, and any number of the things free will and an income afford. Pain and its accompanying soundtrack have found a place in my life, commingling with a rainbow’s array of other emotions. The kind of direness promoted by Grief has transformed into something almost kitschy for me. It seems juvenile to believe in such a negative way of life. But it’s fun to knowingly indulge it from time to time, and sludge provides a good temporary escape hatch.

Someone saying “I hate the human race” feels almost charmingly earnest when growled out from the sternum, with the cymbals keeping time like a metronome, beastily meting out the countdown to death. That’s how the song begins, three seconds of feedback, and then staccato hits on the cymbal, a downward stroke of the guitar strings and some kind of vomited lyricism. “I hate them all,” Hayward says, though it’s more like “I!” pause, “Hate!” pause, “Them!” pause, “All!” pause. It’s cartoonish, like Satan’s answer to a Jock Jam. But it works! Though the extremeness of sound may have been a product of passion at its origin, now it’s a bit like cosplay for miserableness. When there’s enough actual bad stuff to worry about in the world, it’s a nice escape to pretend sludge metal problems are the worst of them.

A few weeks after the incident on the train, I got married. My wife does not like metal, nor is she the type of person to find occasion to hate the human race. She does indulge my own love of heavy music, though not the despair it describes, and it is in tribute to her that bleak music’s meaning has shifted from a narrative of my present to one of my past. So it was a surprise when her best friend, giving a toast at our wedding, uttered the words “sludge metal” when speaking warmly of me, the music taking a turn with it, now towards the comic. In a midtown Manhattan ballroom, beside my mother and grandmother, while wearing suspenders and a boutonnière, Grief was again summoned into my mind. I didn’t hate it.

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