Escuela Grind are here to school you — in more ways than one.
With their new sophomore album Memory Theater, the New England-based band (whose name literally translates to "school" grind) first and foremost present a masterclass in punishing, invigorating grindcore. They break out of the boundary's norms, crafting longer, more dynamic songs, which they infuse with elements of powerviolence and death metal.
But even beyond the sonics, this is a fascinatingly intellectual take on the genre. Vocalist Katerina Economou, 31, is an architect by trade and drew on their interest in philosophy and history for the album's concepts — hitting the books researching deep thinkers such as Michel Foucault, John Locke and Plato to fuel their lyrics on politics, identity and trauma.
"If I could be in school forever I probably would — I love learning, I love reading, I love researching," they tell Revolver, sitting alongside Escuela Grind's 34-year-old drummer Jesse Fuentes. "In anything I do, be it an architecture project or an art project, I think it's important to gather all the influences and know as much as you can about something that interests you."
While this all might sound impenetrable, Escuela Grind filter these academic concepts through absolutely wild, pit-whipping sounds. For proof look no further than their live shows: chaotic, fun, inclusive affairs that regularly include audience members cartwheeling, sweeping the floor with each other, and even twerking. "People are dancing however the fuck they feel like it," Fuentes says proudly. "We've always been really proud of the energy we bring live, and that went on to be translated to the album," says Economou.
The band made waves with their ferocious 2020 debut Indoctrination; with Memory Theater, Escuela Grind step up their sound, incorporating inspiration from diverse sources including Slipknot and EDM, while reframing their lyrical themes to have a more potent personal impact. It's their first album for MNRK Heavy (High on Fire, Crowbar), and the first time they've worked with iconic producer and Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. They've also recently wrapped up a mammoth five-month touring run across the U.S. and Europe, which featured a spot at Psycho Las Vegas Festival alongside Suicidal Tendencies and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. It's obvious the hard-working band is on the rise, and Memory Theater is an exciting step on that journey.
Fuentes grew up in Dallas, where their dad taught them guitar and introduced them to metal. They were a troublemaker; but once they fell in love with music, they changed direction. "There's a lot of aggression where I grew up," they say. "You either become a gangster and go to jail or die, or you do something cool with your life." Meanwhile, Economou was the opposite, a quiet and shy kid from small-town Massachusetts. "I didn't have a lot of kids my age to hang around with. So that yearning for a community [drew me to metal]."
Economou and Fuentes met through mutual friends in Dallas, then moved together to Ithaca, New York. It was in that "pretty small college town [with] lots of hippies" where they formed Escuela Grind — Economou's first ever band — simply for something fun to do. Kris Morash would later join on guitar, and Tom Sifuentes on bass. They started gigging in 2016 and dropped Indoctrination four years later. While writing Memory Theater over the pandemic, Economou, Fuentes and Morash all moved into a house together in Economou's hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
"There's just nothing to do — we have to drive two and a half hours to go to shows," says Fuentes. "So a lot of the energy that's not going into being out and being social was going into playing our music. We would write riffs, we'd talk shop, and it was literally Escuela Grind all the time."
After an extended writing process involving constant editing and rewriting, the band went on to record with Ballou. "I grew up in Massachusetts in the Nineties, so Converge was the biggest thing ever — so already the pressure was on," says Economou. Yet Escuela Grind were determined to keep their own identity alive, which Ballou was game for. "Jesse was recording to a metronome, and it just wasn't sounding like us. So Jesse ditched it and we did the more true approach to how we play, and it came out a lot better. And Kurt was into it too. … It was really daunting, but also extremely chill."
Lyrically, Economou felt compelled to explore their most personal material yet. Where Indoctrination's songs tackled "some big political and philosophical ideas," Economou explains that for Memory Theater they "really wanted to narrow it in, bring it down to a level of how those things affect you … It's cool to write about the anxieties of the world, but I can only really see that through my narrow lens."
On "All Is Forgiven" they write about the process of growing through trauma, and on "Cliffhanger" they address the fight to maintain their own opinion and point of view. "The Feed" unpacks their unease with social media and technology, while on "Endowed With Windows," a track about looking beyond stereotypes, they bark: "Access my mind through all its windows/Not through my hormones, nor through my skin tone."
The political unrest of the United States throughout the pandemic was also a major influence on the album, directly fueling the rage and frustration heard on "Faulty Blueprints" and "Forced Collective Introspection." "The more you consume in the research that I was doing, and the more you try to understand why people act the way they do or why injustice is happening, the more angry and jaded it makes you," says Economou.
"People are angry right now, and this album is a communicative tool for progress," Fuentes adds. "It's like, get me the fuck out of home right now, I need to tour the world and talk with people. Everywhere we go, the fans have that angst, as well. Everyone's got stress and something to let off on you. And to me it's relatable, so I always listen."
Escuela Grind are aware of their growing platform and the power it affords them, and they take the opportunity to make their shows an inclusive, safe space. "Before we end our set we always make sure to give a really big shout-out to the girls, the gays, the theys, people of color, trans friends," says Economou. "You might feel like that's not necessary to say in a place like Brooklyn or Philly. But we played in Omaha, and someone came up to me and told me about how they had rocks thrown at them not that long ago. So yeah, it bears repeating still, and we're never gonna stop that."
"I feel grateful that we're able to make people in our community feel comfortable to be themselves," adds Fuentes. The band emphasize playing with artists from all styles of music, from punk to hip-hop to any of the varying metal subgenres. Their mission is to break down any and all walls in the heavy-music world.
"Not to say that we're the bastions of a genre or anything, but when people from other scenes come to our show, we do have to represent for our genre," says Economou. "We are fun people to be around, we are saying something important, and we're here to support you too — so have a good time."