Roberta Bondar get darker with 'Caustic'

Photo by Andrew Carver

Photo by Andrew Carver

The dense, murky rock of Ottawa’s Roberta Bondar has gone even darker on their new record Caustic, reaching for the avant garde while retaining a grunge feel that would make them fit between the Cranberries and Smashing Pumkins on some ‘90s radio show.

Caustic was recorded mostly live off the floor in one day in December in St. Alban’s, one of the oldest churches in Ottawa. You can hear church organ throughout the record, adding another layer of dissonance to the harshest moments of Caustic.

It’s a different approach from their last two EPs, which were tracked separately in different living spaces and after-hours in a cafe they all worked at.

“Live off the floor creates more of a performance piece,” says singer / guitarist Lidija Rozitis. “The room itself plays a very important role in creating a tone for the album. The acoustics in that church were amazing and we all felt really comfortable even though we only had one day.”

As they worked through the Caustic material at St. Alban’s they could feel their late-night post-punk bouncing off the church’s walls around them, setting the tone for the record and providing lots of low end.  Lidija says you can especially hear the impact the space had on the slow-burning title track.

“A room can influence sound of the final product. Every show you perform is slightly different depending on the acoustics of the room, and who’s in the room, the reception of the audience,” she says.

While the band has some shared tastes in music, there are sounds flying in from all over, from the heavy to the meditative. Lidija says one of the things she loves about writing with Roberta Bondar is that each member sees the song from a different viewpoint.

“We all like to do things that are weird,” she says. “We’re not trying to emulate a certain sound, but trying to think about how to make new sounds.”

The band won’t be playing many shows for the rest of the year after POP Montreal and the Ottawa Implosion Weekend in October, and they’ll likely be thinking about tweaking their name too. Last week the band received a letter from representatives of Dr. Roberta Bondar, the Canadian scientist / astronaut the band is referencing, asking them to clarify they are not affiliated with the doctor.

When we speak it’s two days after the CBC, National Post and Ottawa Citizen have reported on the request from Dr. Bondar, which they found out about from a post on Lidija’s Facebook profile.

“At no point has anyone talked about the music at all. Especially with The National Post it was like we were just dumb kids trying to get more hits on our YouTube video,” says Lidija, adding there was never any conflict between the two parties.

For a band that sells their music on cassettes, she says it’s pretty obvious they’re not trying to profit off the doctor’s name. It’s just a tongue-in-cheek reference by an independent group.

“As a band I wouldn’t want to measure my success by being on the front page of a shitty conservative national newspaper because they realized a band has the same name as a relatively well-known Canadian icon,” says Lidija.

Roberta Bondar play O Patro Vys September 19 at 10 p.m.

Hardcore Heresy

The biggest difference between a black metal record and the latest from anthemic anti-Christian punk band Crusades is that only one compels you to sing along.

Perhaps You Deliver This Judgment With Greater Fear Than I Receive it, released last November, is a rallying cry for secular thought and a damnation of Catholic oligarchy—with its lyrics tracing back to the 16th century.

The record revolves around the writing of philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was executed in 1600 for refusing to denounce his theory that the Sun was just another star in an infinite universe. Every song title is a loose translation of Bruno’s Latin texts, and the record’s name was Bruno’s response to his death sentence.

“Bruno’s story actually came to me as a result of a lengthy obsession with Roman Polanski’s film The Ninth Gate and Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s novel The Club Dumas,” says Dave Williams, guitarist and singer of the Ottawa-based four-piece.

The Ninth Gate, based on Pérez-Reverte’s novel, centres around a fictional book by Aristide Torchia derived from a text by Satan himself. Torchia’s character is thought to be based on Bruno.

It’s the philosopher’s solemn, hooded face on the cover of Perhaps You Deliver…, an image taken from his dark, imposing statue in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori, where he was burned at the stake for heresy.

The atmosphere set by the record is the heaviest thing about it—a combination of the record’s theme, its cold, raw production and Williams’ almost academic approach to composition.

“I’m only really interested in writing single, cohesive pieces, both lyrically and musically,” says Williams, who has a degree in musicology from Carleton University.

“Creating a mood, an atmosphere, it needs room to ebb and flow, to breathe. Until we start writing 20-minute-plus songs, it’ll continue to take a full record to make that happen the way we want it to.”

The record is almost deceptively heavy; it’s easy to get caught in the vocal melody before realizing the underlying intensity—furious, metal leads and crushing, shape-shifting rhythm.

As they hone their sound, it continues to move beyond the more straightforward melodic punk heard on their first LP, 2011’s The Sun is Down and the Night is Riding in, be it the hymn-like vocal phrasing of “The Transport of Intrepid Souls” or the ‘80s metal shining through the second half of “The Art of Memory.”

It’s a product of the band branching out of their collective comfort zone.

"As we’ve grown closer as musicians and friends, we’ve gotten more comfortable with bringing our individual influences to the table and working to incorporate them into our sound,” says Williams, which for him meant pulling more from hardcore and metal.

The album was recorded, mixed and mastered in Ottawa by Mike Bond, who also worked the board for 2012’s Parables EP. There’s nothing pretty about Bond’s production style. It sounds the way punk should—dirty, booming and huge—while crafting an array of metal guitar tones.

“We grew up playing music with Mike, and as such, we share many sonic touchstones that I’ve asked him to strive for,” says Williams. “Whether it’s Cave In-esque tones or Barrit-style cleans, Mike knows exactly what I mean and that goes a long way toward achieving a specific vision.”

Crusades is a band all about composition. They have wives, “real” jobs and Williams is a father, but they’re already planning to work on their follow-up LP this summer, and aim to go on an East Coast U.S. tour in the fall.

They’re also now backed by Gainesville-based No Idea Records—a dream come true for Williams.

“No Idea has been my favourite label for many, many years, and to now call it home is surreal, humbling and crazy,” he says.

The feeling is mutual. No Idea signed Crusades after the label’s publicist, Tony Weinbender, was blown away by their set at The Fest, the annual punk festival in Florida he organizes.

And while this record is an immediately engaging performance of furious punk rock, the intent is far beyond just that.

“The hope is that, by combining an intense atmosphere, a passionate message and memorable songwriting, what’s being shouted back at us will have more behind it than just volume and melody,” says Williams. “It’ll have something that people can connect to, with lyrical and musical complexities that reveal themselves a little more with each listen.

“‘Whoas’ and ‘heys’ have their time and place—but doesn’t everyone prefer to sweatily scream something that just might give them chills as well?”

Originally published by The Link Newspaper.