“For South Koreans haan is as amorphous a notion as love or hate: intensely personal, yet carried around collectively, a national torch, a badge of suffering tempered by a sense of resiliency.” – John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, Jan 5th 2011
Hailing from New York, HAAN provide a gripping, aggressive and direct sound, hard-rock that resonates with the twang of American death metal groove. The quadruplet, comprised of drummer Andrew Gottlieb, guitarist Jordan Melkin, vocalist Chuck Berret and bassist Dave Maffei, have one EP (Sing Praises, May 2014), a recently released full-length (By The Grace Of Blood And Guts, August 2018) and a nationwide tour of the United States with Finnish noise-rockers Throat under their belts.
With a tempered malcontent aesthetic that really embodies the name HAAN, their work is the unambiguous music of resistance and struggle – from the harsh, abrupt industrial punctuation of the drums and bass to the thrash-like vocal growls and rhythm guitar riffs that generate a snarling energy. Then there’s the rolling, Pantera-esque groove that cuts the tension. Cathartic, in the splashing symbol hits, thudding kicks, the depth of the bass tone and the steely resonance of the guitar.
Despite HAAN’s straightforward style of songwriting and uncompromising theme, there still persists a diverse and intriguing medley of metal influences. Their aforementioned connection to southern death metal groove is often compounded with elements of noise, a clever use of feedback that warps and sustains the climax of the groove (‘The Woke’), or morose doomy verses, with slow marching basslines that denote a slower more enduring journey to the inevitable cataclysmic breakdown (‘Zero Day’). HAAN provide music right on the cutting edge of hard rock; groovy, combative, militant and direct, yet diverse and innovative with their influences, allowing them to amplify the most engrossing aspects of their music through elements of doom, heavy metal, noise and thrash. It’s a demanding and captivating listen.
We caught up with frontman Chuck Berrett to find out more.
How would you describe HAAN, what themes do you seek to convey with your music?
HAAN is a four-piece rock band. I guess we fit within the ‘noise rock’ genre, but that was never our intention. The band was formed years ago with some different members and a different name. Once I joined the band, we started writing in a new way, and entertaining ideas that hadn’t been explored before. After we recorded our first EP Sing Praises, we re-evaluated everything and changed the name of the band.
As far as themes we explore in our music; it’s not a particular theme, but there are a lot of common threads. I write the lyrics intentionally vague – because I want people to be able to choose their own adventures. There’s a lot of sardonic and irreverent content, and many themes like addiction, depression and violence. However, we aren’t a political band, nor a religious band. We just follow a basic punk rock ethos of telling a story through life experience and constant scepticism.
From listening to By The Grace Of Blood And Guts it’s clear there are a few different stylistic influences; are there any key ones, and how did you manage to incorporate the variety while still maintaining such a focused and direct feel to the LP?
I mean, it’s a pretty simple formula. Being a one guitar, bass, drummer and a singer band; we don’t get too conceptual or tricky. We like meat-and-potatoes drumming, guitars tuned in drop C, and using a lot of feedback and dissonance etc. By the time we recorded the album with Tom Tierney at Spaceman Sound, we had a pretty good idea of how we wanted the record to sound. Tom really sat back and let us steer the ship in many ways, but I feel like he ended up capturing the sound that I feel like I hear in our practice space when we are in the pocket.
Where does this merging of genres originate from, is it a coming together of the band members’ various influences?
Every member of the band has such different backgrounds in music that our sound had a lot of wiggle room. Metal was unchartered territory prior to me joining the band, but everyone seemed very interested in it, and although we aren’t a metal band, I think our progression from post-hardcore into what we sound like now was paved by experimenting with metal. The predominant bands which I think influenced our sound were Swans, Melvins, Eyehategod, Jesus Lizard, early Led Zepplin and early ‘Sabbath. But I’m sure there are thousands if you combine the minds of the members.
Your press release notes that exciting musicians need to “obliterate the lines between genres”, which is arguably what the most progressive artists of our generation have done. Do you feel the notion of genre becoming increasingly redundant in 2018?
I think genres are pretty ridiculous at this point. From the time I got into hardcore in the late ’80s until I graduated high school in the mid-’90s, it wasn’t even the same thing. And here we are in 2018 and there are still hardcore bands. Black metal was a style that existed in the period of less than a decade, yet there are “black metal” bands abound now who sound nothing like early Mayhem. I hate having to define HAAN as noise rock because I don’t feel like we are trying to sound like an AmRep band, and I don’t think the great music those bands made should be diluted by throwing a blanket over it. I think genres are painfully limiting, and music progresses, it’s not stagnant. If something is constantly evolving, can it still be called the same thing it started as?
What brings By The Grace Of Blood And Guts into this world? Was there anything that really inspired its conception?
I can only speak for myself, but all art is reactionary and I was definitely reacting to a number of things while writing these songs. I had a violent death among my loved ones when we began writing this album. And as a result of that, my entire living situation was turned upside down for a few years. This also coincided with the lead up to the most recent election and all of the polarisation which came along with that. So, with all of that being the backdrop, the songs do have a great deal of negative energy – but it’s also difficult to not slip into negativity when you really hold a magnifying glass up to the planet.
Your previous and first release Sing Praises was compiled of four tracks, is By the Grace of Blood and Guts an expansion on the first release or did you feel it needed to express something of its own?
By The Grace Of Blood And Guts is definitely its own thing. I think Sing Praises had some moments of our true selves in it, however, it was written and recorded very soon after I had joined the band and we were still experimenting. I don’t think we had fully realised who we were as a band yet when we recorded that EP, but I’m happy with how it turned out.
You guys recently toured the US with the Finnish Noise band Throat, will you be bringing HAAN to European shores?
Touring with Throat was amazing. I feel so lucky to be the first US band to take them out into our strange country. We have always wanted to do extensive touring, but after spending time with those guys, we really feel like it needs to happen. Like all things, it will depend on everyone’s lives and money – but we spoke with Throat about touring there once we had to part ways because we weren’t ready for it to be over.
What’s next for HAAN, and how do you see the band progressing from here?
I personally feel like we have a lot of unexplored music to make. I would love to start writing again, but right now I think it’s time to find opportunities to take it on the road as much as we can.
By the Grace of Blood And Guts is out now on Aqualamb Records. Purchase here.
Words: Omur Sowar