"There's kind of an interesting crossover thing happening right now, where the extreme-metal aesthetic is being co-opted by high-end and street-level brands in the hip-hop fashion world," observes Succumb drummer Harry Cantwell; it's a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed by other metal fans, many of whom are appalled to see fashion models and celebrities sporting their favorite bands' T-shirts.
Cantwell, however, views it as an appealingly subversive development. He's even playing a role in making it happen. Formerly of shoegazing black-metal outfit Bosse-de-Nage, the drummer sells vintage metal T-shirts via his online store Never Gonna Turn Down Again, and thanks to collaborations with streetwear designer Jerry Lorenzo, whose Fear of God brand is popular with high-profile customers like Kanye West and Justin Bieber, some of his garments have ended up on the backs of A-listers. "I get why it upsets people, but I like the idea of someone you would never expect wearing a My Dying Bride shirt, even if they don't know what it is," he says.
"With the rise of the internet, everything's becoming so nebulous and so mixed together, and I think this is a part of that. Metal has kind of always been the anchor for me, but I also appreciate pop and hip-hop and a lot of other stuff. I like the idea that these walls are breaking down, and things are mixing together." Breaking down walls and mixing things together is a big part of what Succumb is all about. Ostensibly a death-metal band, the San Francisco quartet — rounded out by vocalist Cheri Musrasrik, guitarist Derek Webster and bassist Kirk Spaseff — displays strong grindcore and war-metal inclinations on its thrillingly off-kilter self-titled debut.
Cantwell, who was the last to join the band, says he signed on excited to play "short and simple" songs, based on the more primitive sound of the pre-Succumb demo the other members recorded under the name Cloak, but "it did not work out that way!" he laughs. "The more we worked on writing together, each song got a little weirder than the last one."
Perhaps Succumb's weirdest element, Musrasrik's anguished, reverb-drenched yowl — drawn from her background in noise-punk with her previous band Pig DNA — is a far cry from death metal's cookie-cutter cookie-monster approach. Her lyrics break the mold, too.
A demonic presence onstage, the singer describes herself as "a shy person," a bookworm who volunteered at libraries and combed through fantastically bleak passages from 19th and early 20th century literature for lyrical inspiration. William Butler Yeats' poem "The Death of Cuchulain" was a major influence ("The way it's written is very morbid, because he's really examining and coming up against his own death," she explains. "So that was a huge one for me!"), as was Émile Zola's 1885 novel Germinal, which is referenced in the Succumb song "Cold Dark Earth." "It has this scene where [the characters are] stuck in [a coal mine] after it's collapsed — I can't even get into it, but basically it's super fucked-up," Musrasrik says. "So I wanted to write a little song about that, and also it's kind of a subtle nod to [Sodom frontman] Tom Angelripper — he's one of my heroes, and he used to work in a coal mine!"
Whether pulling classic literature into metal or pulling metal into pop fashion, the members of Succumb embrace the idea of open borders between genres, mediums and scenes, and the hope that creative cross-pollination can help open people's minds. For his part, Cantwell is optimistic that the trendy crossover between the extreme-metal aesthetic and the fashion world will turn new fans onto heavy music. "I don't know if it's naïve to think that anyone on the fashion side is actually going to check these bands out," he says, "but even if a few people do because of it, I think that's cool."