“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.”
― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
Winnipeg quartet Dead Ranch formed only three years ago, but are adapting to the complex conditions within the heavy music scene with grace. Shortly after their formation, they released the primitive Birds of Pray EP; the release was adorned with excellently eerie artwork, an Ouroboros of carrion feeders that hinted at the aggression within. The music was massive and energetic, but the production left fans wanting. So, they adapted. As a result, their raging, 2013 full-length debut, Antler Royal, is a true demonstration of their spastic musical capabilities, minus the jagged edges that plagued their early work. The self-described “animalistic” process resulted in far heavier, yet adeptly captured, tunes.
“The way that the album was recorded, it was raw, it was done in seven days. We were sleeping in a studio in a city we’d never been to. It was just like, we had nothing, and we just let it all out in the record. It was natural. We were [there] to make the record,” explains Chad Alsop, guitarist and vocalist. He spoke with BeatRoute during off time from his several jobs, reiterating the quartet’s pilgrimage from their hometown to Vancouver, where they recorded at the now defunct Hive Creative Labs with the renowned Jesse Gander (Bison, Ahna, White Lung, Japandroids). The record features guest piano and tambourine on one track by the recorder and mixer and is available on vinyl from No List Records. It’s a far different process than that which resulted in Birds of Pray (2012).
“It was in a basement in a friend’s house in Winnipeg. It was super casual, we walked in, we said, ‘Let’s eat pizza and do whatever.’ It was really nonchalant and casual,” recalls Alsop. At the time, their former bassist was on board for recording.
“We recorded our first EP with him, and that’s when we started to talk to Chris [Jacques] from Prairie Fire.”
The tape-only label is based in Winnipeg; their objective is to “promote the work of dedicated musicians and sound artists working in the fields of noise, drone and experimental music.”
Looking to have their music pressed to vinyl, they approached another Winnipeg label, the long-running No List Records. What their owner said in response inspired the quartet to up the ante and deliver.
“He said, ‘I will release something good.’ Essentially he said, ‘You need better production because this sounds like crap.’ It was totally honest and a kick in the ass. After that, I got on the phone with Jesse Gander at the Hive and told him, ‘We’re poor as hell, can you help us out?’ He said he could do it in a week.”
They travelled 2,300 kilometres to fulfill the offer.
“When we went out to the Hive, we weren’t going to shows or checking out downtown Vancouver, or anything like that. It was, ‘We have 12 hours of work ahead of us, we are living here, we are spending thousands of dollars to drive halfway across the country.’
“We grabbed our tribe and went nomadic, went to a different place, we worked, we lived together for the week while we recorded it. We weren’t eating much; we were cutting corners where we could,” Alsop says, laughing at the memory. He was joined in the studio by his band mates Steve Henderson (bass/vocals), Andre Cornejo (guitar/vocals) and Ryley Devine (drums).
“We were sapped for time and were hungry to get this album done. I think it made a difference.
“Our sound, we mash up a lot, so it’s basically a mutated anything. That’s what evolution is. I think even in the type of music we are playing, it coincides.”
If all this talk of evolution, animalism and the Charles Darwin quote at the beginning of this story have yet to clue you in, Dead Ranch makes music inspired by the environmental surroundings; their songs are dubbed “Ice Desert,” “Mudwalker/River Drinker” and the “Water Park Shark,” among others. Musically, they are reminiscent of Swedish hardcore act, Breach, combined with Vancouver’s shaggy metal warriors, Bison.
“I usually say sludgy punk. Just cause, you know, I hate the title ‘metal band’ because it’s just, you are pigeonholed,” observes Alsop. “I think we take a lot of punk elements. I listen to a lot of noise rock and punk and [Amphetamine Reptile] bands, I listen to a lot of that, and you know, at the same time, I love Slayer. Darkthrone is one of my all time favourites.”
Adorned by artwork by the talented Cate Francis, who has penned designs for Calgary acts Breathe Knives, Kataplexis, and Mares of Thrace, along with Gatineau grind stalwarts Fuck the Facts, Antler Royal is a complete package. With those light touches of variance, Dead Ranch are adapting and improving. Soon, they’ll be at the head of the pack.
Watch Dead Ranch with Doberman, Black Thunder, and Triton at Tubby Dog on Saturday, May 3.
By Sarah Kitteringham
Photo: Chris Rasmussen