Since my arrival in Central Pa. four years ago, I have been hunting for signs of musical life. I attempted to buy records locally, hoping I would stumble across a local section in a record store. Much to my chagrin, Barnes and Noble isn't big on supporting local music. I tried attending national act shows at area clubs, thinking local bands would likely open for the big boys. No dice. I even resorted to scouring club listings, which almost had me on the phone with Mayflower Transit. And just when I think there's no sign of life, just when I'm about to abandon hope, along comes Harrisburg's Weapons for Peace.
Two-guitar blitz careening over a pounding rhythm section topped off with powerfully emotive vocals. Low-end sludge and a plodding pace allowing for plenty of dynamic shifts. Brooklyn post-hardcore combining with a pronounced metal edge and vocals that are sung, not screamed. Ahhhh. Now that's more like it.
These fine young men bring the rock, post-hardcore style. If you like Handsome, Quicksand, or any of the knuckle-dragging offshoots of these bands' family tree, I urge you to spin Weapons for Peace's debut full-length, Individual Revolution. You won't be disappointed. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce Weapons for Peace. Harrisburg native Jimmy Bedorf mans the skins. Tony LaMonaca, South Jersey's finest, provides the low end. The charismatic Rick Reardon of beautiful Lancaster holds the mic. And the secret weapons, so to speak: guitarists Phil Williams (he's Australian) and bayou-bred Louisiana native Jason Callais.
On stage and album alike, Weapons for Peace clearly strives to turn the listener inside-out. Wrenching vocals and oppressively heavy guitars make emo seem like a good idea, replacing the sad sack whining of that much-maligned genre with actual straightforward emotion. (Are you paying attention, Dashboard Confessional?) Songs like "No Sound" and "Strapped" remind me of what I always liked about heavy guitar rock: the visceral thrill of volume and emotion colliding in mid-air, exploding out of your speakers and grabbing you by the throat.
The guitar interplay of Callais and Williams truly defines the sound of Weapons for Peace. Intertwining riffs, sludgy power chords topped by squiggly lead runs, harmonics grating dissonantly against jazzy chords; these guys do it all. The ability of Callais and Williams to create tension and the subsequent release opens the songs for Reardon's powerful voice, complementing and reinforcing his expressive delivery. Meanwhile, LaMonaca's bass lines snake resiliently through the mix, allowing Bedorf's drums to pound mercilessly at the bedrock.
I recently had the chance to discuss Individual Revolution with the band in the friendly confines of Bedorf's Linglestown basement, where Weapons for Peace has recently installed their own home recording studio. These guys had plenty to say about the new album, the local scene, and music in general.
The bond between the band members is immediately apparent when sitting down with Weapons for Peace. These guys seem to be great friends, united by the common purpose of providing an intense musical experience to listeners. LaMonaca describes their mission: "We want to provide that song that changes you. That song that turns you inside out and allows you to see within yourself, to reach an epiphany." With Individual Revolution, Weapons for Peace makes a powerful thrust in that direction.
A formidable awareness of musical history and a diverse set of backgrounds clearly shape the band's songwriting. For LaMonaca, coming of age in 1980s New Jersey meant listening to shred metal - until Jane's Addiction released Nothing's Shocking and turned his world on its ear. "That album blew my mind: heavy music with intelligence and meaning was something new to me," he gushes. Bedorf weaned himself on the mid-'80s hardcore coming out of D.C. and New York. Bands like Agnostic Front, Scream, and Minor Threat provided a relevant alternative to the new wave pop dominating the radio. "For me, seeing Government Issue live when I was 14, that's what did it. After that, I wanted to make music," says Bedorf. The commitment to honest, independent music displayed by Weapons for Peace has deep roots. "I remember [my band] opening for [seminal D.C. art-punks] Shudder to Think in, like, middle school," remembers Bedorf. "I was so impressed, because they were a band a lot like us. I knew then that a good, original band could exist."
The D.C.-punk ethos is evident when listening to Individual Revolution. Weapons for Peace forges ahead, playing intelligent, original music in an area seemingly oblivious to anything resembling a challenging listen. But however tough the local scene may be, the band members' faith in their music and in Harrisburg as a central location is what keeps Weapons for Peace in Central Pa.
"Not only can we reach most major Northeastern cities in just a couple of hours' drive," reasons Bedorf, "we're a different fish in a different pond here." If that pond is the Central Pa. rock scene, then Weapons for Peace can only be compared to a killer whale, playfully tossing local pretenders into the air before devouring them whole.
"It's like competing with strippers," says Williams of the glut of cover bands currently gigging around the region. "It's not even the same scene." As a result of the poor reception most tavern crowds give original music, Weapons for Peace often opts to play all-ages shows in their hometown, eschewing the bar scene for a more grass roots approach to building a fan base. As Bedorf says, "We want to give the kids what I had growing up: the opportunity to [experience] live, independent music."
Of course, the American Legion/Knight's of Columbus scene isn't without its pitfalls, either. The January 3rd show the band had scheduled in Lebanon was canceled about 20 hours before the doors opened, due to the promoter's inability to secure a venue. This mistake cost five bands and countless kids a local show. More troubling, however, is the frequency with which these mistakes occur. Nevertheless, Weapons for Peace has garnered a bit of national attention lately. Their 2001 EP, Version 1.0, charted on XM radio, prompting the D.C.-based satellite broadcasters to air a live, in-studio performance. In addition, the band was selected to perform at ESPN2's Mobile Skatepark Series, attended by 5,500-plus patrons; Weapons for Peace's music can still be heard as background for programs on the ESPN2 network.
The surging post-hardcore rock documented on the EP, Version 1.0, and the debut full-length, Individual Revolution, could be the tonic that the local music scene needs. With a vital, invigorating sound and killer musicianship, this band is poised to prove to the world that Central Pa. has more to offer than horse-and-buggies and amusement parks.