Dead In the Dirt: Lost in 'The Pit'

The Blind Hole taps into a brutal, more vulnerable sound

As an industrial mining term, a "blind hole" is what remains after a drill probes deep into the earth, grinding through material of undetermined depth. A threshold exists somewhere below the surface, but the drill never quite taps into the deeper substance that lies beneath. As the title for Atlanta trio Dead in the Dirt's debut full-length for the Los Angeles-based Southern Lord Records, The Blind Hole is a rich metaphor, with layers of social, psychological, and political connotation, marking a nebulous jumping-off point for the group.

"Bo Orr and I have had many discussions on what the album's title means to us, lyrically and thematically, and we have different, but also somewhat similar, takes on it," singer and guitarist Blake Connally explains. "You never know the depth of yourself. You're constantly changing, problems are always different, and you're continually trying to figure out solutions to who you are, and where you fit in. But you'll never fully grasp it because every year brings new problems and changes. You could drill forever but you would never find the end."

The imperfect symmetry of a hand-drawn illustration on the album's cover begs for closer inspection. While the deep, dark chasm offers an intriguing look into the abyss, it's also a character study of a band whose members are growing and changing as mush as the music they create.

The dynamic created by Connally, alongside fellow Dead in the Dirt songwriter, bassist, and vocalist Orr, and drummer Hank Pratt, is volatile, with roots planted in the gray areas that separate metal, grindcore, and hardcore's telltale inflections. On its two prior releases — including an EP titled Void and a four-song 7-inch titled Fear (Southern Lord) — the group's bold adherence to veganism and straightedge lifestyles gave a particular credence to its lacerating riffs, packing teeth-gnashing blasts of energy into rapid-fire songs that barely skim past the one-minute mark.

The same energy keeps The Blind Hole thundering along. Throughout such brutally jarring numbers as "Swelling," "Strength Through Restraints," and "No Chain," Connally's low-end growl countered by Orr's high-end screams come across forcefully, delivering a heady level of existential horror and release. In the past, making the group's politics known was a chief concern for Dead in the Dirt. And although the group still practices what it's been preaching, The Blind Hole transcends these barriers to reveal a more universal appeal. "It's almost a coincidence that we're a vegan, straightedge band," Connally says. "It's important that people are aware that that's where we're coming from, but everyone experiences the same things in life, more or less. With this album, we wanted to convey feelings and write songs and lyrics that most people can connect with on a personal and more vulnerable level."

From the opening blasts of "Suffer" and "The Blaring Eye," the tone is one of purification through brutality. Each song builds with a constant and punishing drive that demands a visceral reaction. Fluctuations in tempo give rise to powerful tension that evokes feelings of elation and real-time catharsis. And although the group's sound lies at the crossroads of metal and hardcore, The Blind Hole settles into its own space, while steering clear of any and all of the musical clichés of these genres.

When poet Jim Harrison reads from his poem "Barking" in "Cop"/"No Chain," offering, "I was a dog on a short, short chain. Now there is no chain," the haunting, and sedate tone of his voice resonates with dramatic and life-affirming resentment toward the outside world. But as the second song from the album to leak onto the Internet, after "The Blaring Eye," "The Pit of Me" takes shape as the harshest moment on The Blind Hole. It also encapsulates the theme at the core of the music. "It's a song about how you're never truly in control of who you are to other people," Connally says. And when he sings, "Everything locked, stuck inside this body, I'm awake again/Broken teeth, bleeding white wall, look at me again," the sentiment becomes clear even though nothing is resolved.

If anything is revealed, The Blind Hole is a brutal work of ecstatic depth, transcendence, and angst that encompasses the entire Dead in the Dirt experience. Not only does it echo with the aesthetics the group has been pushing all along, it moves beyond them into deeper, darker, and more vulnerable frontiers.