Sleepless Nights, Plunderphonics, Heroin's Toll: Inside Sanction's Raging Hardcore | Revolver

Sleepless Nights, Plunderphonics, Heroin's Toll: Inside Sanction's Raging Hardcore

Rising Long Island band discusses dark, industrialized vision behind 'Broken in Refraction' LP
sanction_featured_credit_gabebecerra.jpg, Gabe Becerra
photograph by Gabe Becerra

Sanction guitarist Mike Marino isn't getting any sleep at night. Though he says he isn't suffering from insomnia — at least in a clinical sense — the Long Island, New York–born musician admits he's always pushing the physical limits of how long he can stay up. For instance, as the principle songwriter for noisy hardcore crew Sanction, his work is demoed out of his bedroom studio while the rest of his Suffolk County neighbors, not to mention his bandmates, are fast asleep.

When Revolver catches Marino on his cell phone, he's been up all night driving the band van from a tour stop in Austin, Texas, towards Tucson, Arizona. Even when he's not on tour, Marino reveals he's often cruising through his hometown between one and six a.m. There's a calmness and clarity that comes along with hitting the open road without another car in sight. Interestingly enough, avoiding traffic is somewhat of a recurring theme for the guitarist.

"Both of my parents are air traffic controllers — that's how they met," he reveals. "Pretty crazy job! They were trying to get me to do it for years. Because I'm the youngest of six boys, they were always like, None of them are following in our footsteps, so we've got to get him to do it. Last one. Last chance."

Marino talks in a brisk, animated manner, but he takes the briefest of pauses while relaying the story, almost as if he's reconsidering the career option. Instead, he declares with a confident chuckle: "Nah, sorry ... I'm doing the band thing."

And indeed, he should: Carving a path with Sanction has already pushed Marino and the rest of the quintet — vocalist David Blom, guitarist Andrew "Lumpy" Wojcik, bassist Ryan Stephenson and drummer Dillon Perino — to the bleeding edge of extreme music. All summer long, Sanction have been playing packed venues as part of the supremely stacked Pure Noise tour, a North American trek that brought the young bloods together with labelmates Terror, Stick to Your Guns, Year of the Knife and Counterparts. One week into the run, the band released Broken in Refraction, their gut-punching second full-length. At 11 songs in just under a half hour, it's a mesmerizing collection of steel-toed grooves, jagged guitar noise and delirium-inducing, sample-based soundscaping.

We've reached Sanction on a day off, temporarily stationed at a New Mexico Walmart. The van is getting an oil change; Marino's stocking up on fresh socks. As they refuel, the songwriter explains that he originally wanted to play bass — his main instrument at the time — in the band, but eventually gravitated towards guitar, which he hadn't really attempted to play since he was in the third grade.

While shaping the songs that would eventually appear on 2015's With Blood Left Uncleansed EP and 2017's The Infringement of God's Plan, he combed YouTube for tutorials on how to perfect ear-piercing pinch squeals — a metallic twitch he and Wojcik now use to punctuate particularly violent moshes like Broken in Refraction's "Paralysis." In addition to building up his guitar chops, Marino began incorporating various unsettling samples he found online or on old VHS cassettes into recordings, adding a touch of musique concrète to Sanction's hardcore assault.

"I like to do a thing called 'plunderphonics,' which is a term that my friend introduced me to. I'm fascinated by it!" he says. "It's pretty much compiling sounds with effects and layering them on top of each other. All the samples on the album are essentially my little noise project."

sanction_press_2019_credit_gabebecerra.jpg, Gabe Becerra
Sanction, (from left) Ryan Stephenson, David Blom, Mike Marino, Dillon Perino, and Andrew “Lumpy” Wojcik
photograph by Gabe Becerra

At its most hallucinogenic, Marino's audio piracy on Broken in Refraction is presented as a mixture of intentionally obfuscated speeches and uncomfortable human gurgling ("...An Empty Thought"). The steady blip of a heart monitor in the intro to first single "Paralysis," meanwhile, serves as a thrilling countdown to the upcoming chaos. On "Answers From a Syringe," just before the band throws down into one of the record's most savage stomps, the sound of someone screaming underwater bubbles out of the speakers. It's profoundly haunting to hear, even to its songwriter.

"The sound of that fucking girl drowning — honestly, it's our song but that part fucks me up," he says, explaining that the screech was pulled from an edgy "fake snuff film" that was passed his way. "I'm going to sound like a psychopath, but I have a bunch of collected footage on my computer that I'll rip audio from. Half of it I don't even know where I got it from, if I'm being honest."

While removed from its origin, the staged death cry on "Answers From a Syringe" acts as a metaphor for losing yourself in heroin addiction, Blom doubling down on the despair via lines like "Starving for something more/You don't exist anymore/The cure is within the syringe." While the singer wrote the bulk of Broken in Refraction's lyrics, Marino penned "Answers From a Syringe" for personal reasons. He's guarded on the details, but says of his intent: "It's right in the name. We live in Long Island, there's a heroin epidemic. It's very real. It's very close to me and my family."

Though Broken in Refraction's album title suggests a deep fracture, the record finds Sanction at their most united. For their earliest releases, Marino plotted out the majority of the riffs, beats and lyrics on his own, recording elaborate demos on his computer for the band to learn. For Broken in Refraction, the act took on their label's suggestion to work on the songs with Stick to Your Guns guitarist Chris Rawson up in Windsor, Ontario, before hitting the studio. Marino was apprehensive at first, having never met Rawson, but after some thought decided to go up to Canada for the pre-production sessions with an open mind.

Hitting it off immediately, the band and Rawson refined Marino's raw matter into Sanction's most devastating batch of songs yet. The other members became braver in adding their own flare to the music; Marino pushed Blom to write more lyrics. Galvanized, they returned to Long Island's Shellshock Audio to track Broken in Refraction with drummer Perino's older brother, Evan. The results are overwhelmingly heavy. Songs like "Radical Lacerations" are visceral, staccato stabs; Marino's sample work has become more eerie and fluid. Then there's "Conscious in a Coma," a standout that morphs from an atonal slam towards a surprisingly melancholy, if distortion-crunching, back end.

Marino used to shoulder the wheel when it came to songwriting — like he still does with those night drives — but he admits that opening the lines of artistic communication between himself and his bandmates made their Broken so much more complete.

"There was almost a sense of awkwardness when it came to writing," Marino recalls of the early days. "I'd mainly take the reins, you know? So putting us all in the room together, it helped us interact with how we wanted things to go. I'm not trying to be a control freak! I want everyone to give their two cents. At least, that's what pre-production introduced me to. Having that was really awesome. It helped us as a band."