Most of the heavy music I listen to is escapist, which goes back to my days as an ostracized and traumatized teenager. I’d go home, turn on some Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, Priest, anything to drown out all the bad things that happened that day. And bad things happened a lot, every single day during those years. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was instinctive self-preservation: by blasting heavy metal as loud as I could, I was melting the real world away, at least until the next morning when the torture would start all over again. The music was aggressive but it was always rooted in fantasy, and anything that did touch on more personal subject matter, like “Fade to Black” or “Beyond the Realms of Death”, relied on storytelling to keep the listener at an arm’s length. I didn’t want to confront my pain head-on. Instead, I muted it, ran away from it. Escaped. At least for a few hours.
I still approach extreme music the same way, looking to metal for that similar escape, and I still cringe at the angry-white-boy sentiment of such ‘90s outfits as Korn, Slipknot, and the multitudes of other confessional bands that arose in their wake. That said, every now and then a band will come along with some angry, confrontational, highly personal music and completely blow me away. I might not listen to it a lot, but I constantly marvel at it.
Such a band is Couch Slut, who are probably the angriest band I have ever come across. Led by vocalist and lyricist Megan Osztrosits, their 2014 debut My Life as a Woman was shocking in its bluntness, and as unhinged and harrowing as Megan’s screamed lyrics were, the rest of the band matched her step for step with their feedback-laden mix of metal, noise, and hardcore. Couch Slut is never an easy listen, but Therein lies the whole point of it all. Osztrosits might touch on sensitive, triggering topics, but they are all subjects that must be confronted: trauma, domestic abuse, misogyny, drug abuse, mental illness. Third album Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll is the band’s finest work yet, an unflinching deep dive into Osztrosits’ psyche, and whether fictional, true, or autobiographical, it is a brutal listen in every sense of the word. “The Mouthwash Years”, “Topless and Bottomless”, and “I’m 14” all possess extraordinary power, but nothing can prepare the listener for “Someplace Cheap”, a disturbing and terrifying account of something that happened to the band years ago. Musically it’s the most adventurous piece the band has ever recorded, half-Slint, half-Oxbow, but it’s Megan’s lyrics that command your attention. You wouldn’t expect a sentence mentioning LensCrafters to feel like a knife in your gut, but that’s just what the final moments of this song does.
If this was bad music, like any angry American teen metal that Sirius XM plays, it would be even more depressing than the subject matter. However, Couch Slut are so good at what they do that instead of feeling beaten down or hopeless, you feel empowered, like you can punch through a brick wall. We all have to deal with our own trauma, and the visceral power of Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll taps into all those complicated feelings and distills it into something beatable, something nowhere near as invincible as you thought it was. You might feel raw, but you also feel a little bit better about yourself.