Botch released their first new music in 20 years last August. “One Twenty Two” was originally written during COVID lockdown by guitarist David Knudson intended for his debut solo LP. Speaking with the magazine Creem, Knudson stated, ‘I ended up wanting to write something heavy to get some ideas out, and then I’m thinking of collaborators on the song and the first person I think of to do vocals was Dave Verellen… Once he recorded the part, it just felt like I needed to call the other guys because it felt right. It was totally natural. I think the fact that we did this during COVID probably was a bit of a happy accident.’
Looking for a vocalist Knudson sought out the best hardcore singer ever to do it. While working with Dave Verellen on the song it became clear this was a Botch song. Bassist Brian Cook reflected in an interview with The Stranger:
‘I think that’s what made it fun… I think if there had been like a ‘Let’s write a Botch song!’ it would have been like, ‘Why? Why are we trying to get this thing going?’ But he had this thing already mapped out and it sounded good to Dave singing on it. And then he was like, ‘Wanna play bass on it?’ ‘Sure.’ Then it’s like, ‘Why aren’t we having Tim drum on this?’ Then it’s just like, ‘Oh, we just wrote a Botch song by accident. Okay.’’
After adding the new song to a vinyl reissue of We Are the Romans, rumors began to circulate of a possible reunion. A week after a brief performance at a private party, Botch announced two shows in Seattle which sold out instantly. Shocked by the response, a hometown show in Tacoma was also announced and quickly sold out. At this point the momentum building was undeniable and it wasn’t long before a full US tour was announced. Tickets for the tour went on sale on Friday, February 17th. A few days later, after watching the SoCal shows sell out, I bought my ticket for December 12th in San Francisco. Buying tickets in February for a show in December is a special kind of torture. But I’d waited almost twenty years never thinking I’d ever get the chance to see them at all, so what was a few more months? The SF and most other shows would be sold out by the end of March. Three shows in Europe and three in Japan were announced. Now an extended Europe/UK tour is coming in 2024. None of this was supposed to happen. All of this snowballed from a single track. But that single spark of creativity from the band met with the powder keg of a fanbase’s undying loyalty and the rest is history.
Going back not quite twenty years to my own personal history with Botch takes us to the year 2004. They say that no music will ever sound as good as the music you listened to as a teenager. And there’s some truth to that, the music you listen to in those formative years has a way of sticking with you. In 2004, I was a Freshman in high school full of piss and vinegar coming out of grade school having just discovered Slipknot and been sent down the Slayer and Cannibal Corpse rabbit hole. I was listening to anything and everything heavy I could get my hands on. Along came The Dillinger Escape Plan’s release of that same year, Miss Machine. Now at this point in my musical journey I hadn’t yet heard of metalcore. As I Lay Dying’s masterpiece Shadows Are Security wouldn’t come out until the next year. I certainly hadn’t heard of something called mathcore. Dillinger changed all that. I quickly devoured their debut album, but that wasn’t enough. I was on the hunt now.
I soon found local shows were being held at an attached room off the side of a local church of all places, Mount Zion. The crowds were always pretty divided and the bills were mixed. So the hardcore kids would hang out together and the punks would be on the far side of the parking lot drinking and smoking, and on the rare events that had a metal band playing the metalheads would be in yet another grouping, but there just wasn’t much intermixing. I was always a bit of an anxious social outcast never really feeling at home in any particular place. I walked between worlds. As I floated aimlessly picking up bits of wisdom from these varied gatherings I developed my own interests pulling from a wide range of what was considered the best music coming out.
In those days band names were whispered in hushed tones in deference to the musical titans’ power. ‘You haven’t heard of Botch?‘ P2P music sharing was in its infancy and ubiquitous streaming was years away. The best way to find out about music was talking to people before and after shows. When I first listened to Botch I thought there was a typo in the metatags. There was just NO WAY these albums came out in the late 90’s. How was that even possible for something so chaotic and insane to have come out at that time? How had I missed them? When will their next album come out?!? There is a certain kind of sorrow in finding out about something just a little bit too late. It’s the bummer of arriving at the party only after it’s already broken up.
Botch started as a garage band in Tacoma, Washington in 1993. They released two studio albums before breaking up in 2002. Other than a posthumous EP released later that year and a live album documenting their final show, that was it. For such a relatively short time being active, the impact Botch made was disproportionately huge. Their influence can be heard on many of the now classic metal and hardcore records of the early 00’s all the way up to today’s modern metalcore and grindcore acts. Along with Converge and Dillinger, it’s difficult to even imagine mathcore existing at all without Botch.
Fast forward to last month in December and I’m at the glorious Regency Ballroom in the heart of San Francisco. I usually don’t show up right when the doors open, but I always get there in time to see the opener. If I’m being honest I hadn’t heard of Kowloon Walled City before, but after checking out some of their albums and asking around I had some assurances they were pretty good. Botch did an excellent job of pulling some local and lesser known artists for this tour. The venue was already crowded as I made my way up to the front and center, my preferred spot right on the edge of where the mosh pit will inevitably break out.
KWC play a thunderous style of sludge metal blended with noise rock. To my ear they sounded like a slowed down and fuzzed out Mastodon. After stoically playing a few songs the sonic barrage relented as the lead singer proclaimed ‘Shout out to our friends in fucking Botch! Who sent us the best e-mail I got all year.’ The crowd went wild as the bassist joked that he had to sell his ticket! After playing a few more songs fairly seriously without much banter, KWC departed. Musically KWC and Botch are quite divergent, but the opening act with their slow and heavy sound managed to set the stage for the frenetic assault to come. A calm before the storm.
The crowd began to murmur with anticipation as the house lights came back on. Roadies, band members, and sound techs scurried about in the normal between act frenzy of carting equipment, setting up instruments, and mic checks. At smaller shows you can usually find the opener working their merch table after they play. At bigger shows you’ll likely never see them again after they step off the stage. So it was heartwarming to look up into the balcony and see the members of KWC alongside their friends and family looking forward to seeing Botch. There’s something special about performers that are also fans. It wasn’t long before the lights dimmed and Botch took the stage. The place went completely insane.
With the biggest shit-eating grin on his face, vocalist Dave Verellen grabs the mic and says, ‘Sorry we’re a little late… It only took us about 20 years to get back here. Let’s have fun tonight. We’re Botch from Tacoma, Washington.‘ And with that, I was launched into over an hour of getting slammed around physically by the packed crowd all around me and aurally by a sonic assault that has not dulled with time; if anything Botch are sharper. After a few songs Dave asks, ‘Who saw us 20 years ago?’ After a round of applause he goes on, ‘I’m assuming you remember that the shows were not like this. Like, they would be in a garage or a VFW or something like that.’ Botch have grown with their audience over time even in their absence.
Botch managed to toe the line between an impersonal arena show and an intimate house or church basement show. Throughout the night the mosh pit raged on behind me, crowd surfers flew by overhead, and at least one stage diver actually made it onto the stage to slam dance across before quickly jumping back into the audience, an impressive feat given the setup. Dave was constantly climbing up over the barricade shoving the mic into the audience’s face as we all screamed along, at one point joking, ‘We’re gonna do the rock thing where we play some songs and then go sit in the corner in time out before we come out and play more songs.’ During “Hutton’s Great Heat Engine” right before the promised encore break, Dave threw the mic out into the audience as we all chanted along ‘It’s so quiet here.‘
Towards the end of the show Botch performed an extended version of “Afghamistam”, one of the songs off their posthumous EP An Anthology of Dead Ends. The song is notable for being a major departure from the rest of the band’s work, featuring a somber piano melody and spoken word overdubs. While the band was playing, Dave left the stage and came down into the audience to personally hug every single person in the front row, thanking us for coming out and getting slammed against the cattle guards all night. As he graciously listened to effusive thanks and fond memories of seeing the band back in the day he was all smiles. For all the stage persona of a gruff hardcore bro, he was in those moments as humble and kind a front man as there has ever been. My personal favorite moment of the entire show however was during “Transitions From Persona To Object” when guitarist Dave Knudson set his guitar against his amp and kneeled down working the pedal board like a supplicant at the altar of noise (see timestamp 42:50 in the video above).
The band closed out the night by thanking friends, family, and crew for what I had somehow forgotten was the last show of the tour. They all gathered on stage bathed in applause to take a few photos with the crowd. Drumsticks and guitar picks were thrown into the crowd as Dave handed set lists to a couple lucky fans. With these precious mementos cast off into the audience, the band finally departed. Hopefully not for another 20 years… but if this really is to be a swan song and not a reformation, Botch are certainly riding off into the sunset in style.
Knudson said in the same interview with The Stranger as above:
‘We don’t want to like, half-ass it, right?… And we want to be fucking tight as we ever were, if not tighter. We want to have the energy, know the songs to be able to create this experience that we used to create back 20-plus years ago. We don’t want it to pale in comparison and ruin someone’s memory if they did see us. On the other hand, we don’t want to disappoint a fan that’s never seen us live. So, you know, it’s all in or nothing.’
Orchid are playing a handful of East Coast shows for the first time in over two decades. Glassjaw is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a run of shows. Dillinger is playing for the first time in seven years performing their debut masterpiece Calculating Infinity with original vocalist Dmitri Minakakis just in time for its 25th anniversary. Let this resurgence continue to swell and overflow the bounds of time.
Header image of band by Lisa Hagen Glynn