Read any article or comment thread about the Seattle noise-rock outfit Great Falls and you’re likely to see descriptors like cathartic, heavy, crushing, and unhinged. Maybe even psychotic. And sure, those are all apt: For over a decade, vocalist/guitarist Demian Johnston and bassist Shane Mehling (who also played together in the early-2000s noisecore band Playing Enemy and the experimental duo Hemingway) have honed their sludgy, overwhelmingly intense brand of heaviness, punctuated by delectably discordant riffs, terrifyingly low, thwacking bass lines, and mesmerizingly tight percussion. In the live setting, too, they’re notorious for a stage presence that is so aggressively confrontational and menacing that Mehling once broke his own arm mid-set.
But the most striking aspect of Great Falls, setting them apart from the murky sea of sludge metal and AmRep-inspired noise-rock bands, is their ability to paint a deeply, utterly human story through an all-out assault on the senses: an art the band has perfected on their fourth full-length album Objects Without Pain, out September 15 via Neurot Recordings. The album is not only their Neurot debut, but also the first LP featuring drummer Nickolis Parks (Gaythiest, Bastard Feast), who joined the band prior to the release of their exhilarating, cacophonous 2023 EP, Funny What Survives.
Ahead of the album release we asked the band to talk to us about some of their main musical influences. Demian picked the first 3 albums below, Shane the last 3. Check them out here:
Craw — Lost Nation Road
I had just graduated high school when I first heard this record. I was touring more with my hardcore band at the time and getting exposed to many more bands outside the world of straight edge. I was looking for something new in music aside from just the anger and power that I felt hardcore and metal had offered me. It turned out I was searching for derangement. Craw had a confounding insanity in their songwriting that I had yet to encounter. They gave me the odd time signatures of prog rock but without any of the being terrible. The lyrics were stories filled with fear, confusion and wild missteps. The guitars played against each other is incredible ways with bizarre chord structures and the bass was heavy and inexhaustible. I felt like I had finally heard my favorite band. Lost Nation Road (named after a road in Cleveland, tied to the Iroquois Indians) came out 29 years ago. It has yet to be knocked off the top of my favorite-records-of-all-time list. There’s nothing I’d change about it. Even the slightly annoying Peter Brotzmann-esque saxophone-plosion song is fantastic (although I do skip that one sometimes, it’s a lot).
Today is the Day — Willpower
Steve Austin wrote one of the best records ever 29 years ago. At approximately the same time as Craw wrote and recorded Lost Nation Road coincidentally. Steve Austin and his ever-rotating supporting members have never stopped making weird, noisy, pissed, off-time and off-kilter records but nothing has, or likely will, top Today is the Day’s second full length, Willpower. It was the perfect group of musicians at the perfect time. It didn’t feel like “Steve and the TITDs” but it felt like a real band. An actual collaboration of ability and expression. There were very clear and unique voices that uplifted and supported each other through the album’s 8 tracks. The guitars were cutting and painful. The bass supported the guitars perfectly while still talking time to approach some riffs in bizarre non-conventional ways. The drumming basically changed the way heavy bands played drums from that point forward. Steve’s voice was full of anger, fear and regret. The production was incredible and it still stands up as one of the best sounding albums from the 90s. Everything a post-teenage Demian needed. It’s a perfect album and I don’t envy Steve for trying to chase that.
Spaceboy — Getting Warm on the Trail of Heat
There was a thing that I had to do when I couldn’t write a song. It was just put on this album. That’s it. I’d listen to this record and a song would fall out. This record is such a wonderful journey that you can’t help but be a little changed each time you listen to it. Spaceboy is another one of those bands that when they wrote this album they had the perfect group of people. Like a Justice League of standout players bonded by a desire to produce marijuana-fueled chaos. Most people I meet have never heard of these guys but they’ve certainly heard of their other past projects and people they’ve worked with: Bl’ast, The Fucking Champs, and Link Wray to name a few. I’m so lucky I got to tour with them in 2003.
Smoke weed and listen to this record.
Helmet – Strap It On
If I had heard Strap It On first, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tolerate it, but the more palatable Meantime and Betty albums (that I worshiped at 13) eased me into their debut, which to this day still sounds like a guy yelling amongst razorwire and pneumatic presses. There are a lot of moments on this record that elicit feelings I’ve wanted to recreate with our band, but that first minute or so of ‘Sinatra’ is something I doubt we’ll ever match.
Season to Risk – In a Perfect World
This is another record where the heavy bass and guitar-as-noise approach made a big impact, but these are such dark, sardonic songs with Steve Tulipana’s half-rant/half-scream and lyrics that still sound like someone just on the edge of a serious mental collapse. Honestly that is how the whole band ends up sounding, like four guys who are trying to get it all on tape before something terrible happens. I can’t listen to this record without feeling like I need to shower or at least brush my teeth, and what higher praise is there?
Sicbay – The Firelit S’coughs
As someone who can only play bass, it may be heresy to talk about a record with no bassist, but this post-hardcore power trio with members of Dazzling Killmen and Colossamite is such an inspiringly emotional album. There are sections that harken back to the mathy skronk these guys are best known for, but if anything that elevates the raw hooks and windswept Midwestern sadness that seems to stick with you all day. And the opener has, to me, one of the greatest lyrics of all time: I could spend my whole life just listening to sound.