WHAT AN IMPACT: We Are The Romans

Another feature we have introduced in the magazine is to have a look at the impact an influential artist or album has had on the current music scene, and how it has helped shape modern alternative music.

The first of these features which appeared in issue one of An Insight Magazine focused on Botch’s iconic record We Are The Romans.

GROWING up listening to alternative music I was heavily influenced by a lot of what my older brother was listening to.

But when I heard him playing, We Are The Romans by Botch my fragile little ears could not quite comprehend what they were hearing.

This was a young lad who up until this point was all about System of a Down and Spineshank, and here is this chaotic, abrasive noise coming at me.

What was even more poignant was the fact this was a few years after the record had been released, and I couldn’t believe something could be this pummelling.

Now, 20 years after its release the impact of We Are The Romans can still be heard and seen sprinkled throughout heavy music.

Released via Hydra Head Records, the record was recorded at Litho Studios and the band only had roughly around a week to track what would be their follow up to American Nervoso.

We Are The Romans arrived in peoples ears in 1999, the same year as Dillinger Escape Plan’s Calculating Infinity and Coalesce’s 0:12 Revolution In Just Listening, making for a triplet of like-minded records that did plenty to hack away at the conventions of hardcore and Frankenstein them back together.

Botch’s music was a major early influence on the mathcore and metalcore styles, and We Are the Romans is specifically cited as a highly influential album on bands that were to follow in their wake like Poison the Well, Indecision and more recently Cult Leader.

I think it is safe to say that there is not a single hardcore or punk band today specialising in awkward time signatures and stupidly long song titles that doesn’t owe this album a huge debt.

Botch’s approach – to combine brain-numbing complexity with a lyric sheet full of red herrings and offbeat poetry – was simply too studious to warrant mass consumption.

There was an artfulness to how Botch navigated the expectations of heavy music on We Are The Romans.

The behemoth closer “Man The Ramparts,” is a prime example, with nearly three minutes of ominous chanting that is clearly leading to a blindsiding eruption—but it’s impossible to predict when.

This just sums up what Botch were all about, throwing things off kilter, but somehow still producing pounding brutal music.

The impact the band and the album had is one which has lasted decades and has influenced a range of different heavy bands.

Vocalist of post-punk band Horseflies, Joe Watson, explains: “My introduction to this record would’ve been a good year and a half after its release, my friend Paul Bradley ran a fanzine and always had the latest noise, most notably Initial records releases.

“Paul gave me a stack of CD’s including an Initial sampler which had ‘John Woo’ by Botch on it. I was currently deep into the first wave of American emo, which would eventually lead me to bands like Botch and Converge through label association.

“It all sounded a little rough round the edges for me compared to slick, produced Get Up Kids records, but I’d stick those samplers on while cleaning toilets in the local punk bar and I guess after two or three months or repeated listening and exposure to some unlicensed cleaning products, the dots started to connect.

“For some reason the first track I heard from ‘We Are The Romans’ was ‘Transitions From Persona to Object’… the intro threw me, but it had the polished sound I’d been after and thirty seconds I was thrown into a whirlpool!

“I’d started playing in a band, some of the guys had the same hunger for this stuff and whilst it never really crept into our sound, I think we carried everything we saw and heard from Botch through into our live gigs.”

And it is the spirit of We Are The Romans that many fans and musicians carry with them.

For Darran Nolan, vocalist of UK Screamo band Charlotte Light and Dark, it was the fact that the record scratch so many itches in his taste of heavy music which was the appeal and has meant it sticking with he.

“I first heard We Are the Romans at college. A heavy diet of Converge, DEP, Cave-in and Drowningman made their discovery inevitable really, as did the number of bands coming through my local scene that were shamelessly ripping them off,” Darran tells An Insight.

“Picking a favourite track is an almost impossible task ‘Transitions From Persona to Object’ is an absurdly anxious yet muscular jam, ‘To Our Friends in the Great White North’ is obviously iconic. However, ‘C Thomas Howell as the “Soul Man” carries all their vital energy off a cliff edge in a crescendo that just can’t be beat.

“In terms of its influence on me, it really showed the value of finding an elegant solution even when writing something heavy and weird.

“Listening to Botch you are subjected to all kinds of left turns and odd musical ideas but they feel like they make perfect sense every time due to the elegance of their songwriting.”

Even though originally released in 1999 the record had new life put into it when it was remastered are reissued in 2007, opening up the band to a whole new audience once more.

And it was this second wave this influenced yet another wave of musicians, like Monsters Attack guitarist Philippe Khalilian.

He said: “I first discovered we are the Romans and Botch around 2007.

“This is when I switched from listening a lot of punk rock / emo to a a lot of post hardcore (along with cult of Luna converge etc) for someone who did not grew up listening to a lot of metal that album really got me has they have more metal influences than punk.

“Their influences on my music came later, at the time I played in a post rock band (Lost in Kiev) where I couldn’t really played botch alike riffs.

“This album made the way I play guitar in monsters attack.”

Even now in 2020 We Are the Romans lives on as one of the most influential “hardcore” records of the last decade, its jagged grace and terminal discord revered by the likes of future noise-mongers Norma Jean, the Used and Every Time I Die—which is ironic when one considers that the album essentially called bullshit on the prevailing hardcore aesthetics of its time.

“Listening to Botch you are subjected to all kinds of left turns and odd musical ideas but they feel like they make perfect sense every time due to the elegance of their songwriting.”

Darran Nolan, Charlotte Light and Dark

The album’s influence is still clear to see on both sides of the Atlantic, with some bands even taking reference points from the 1999 album to name their own bands, albums or songs.

Helpless and Tendrils guitarist Dan Couch remembers back to being introduced to the record from the old Myspace days searching through some of his favourite bands Top 8’s.

He said: “Me and my friend Josh would scour Myspace top 8’s for new bands and we’d trade our findings, he usually found more than me though.

“Botch came up fairly early in our searches and ‘We Are The Romans’ was on repeat a lot back then.

“They were more ‘musical’ than a lot of the mathcore bands I was specifically looking for back then. For me it was generally the nastier and weirder, the better. Botch had plenty of that.

“On reflection I think this album must have been a Segway for me to getting into some more of the post-hardcore/post-metal and more experimental stuff I enjoy now. Tracks like “Transitions FromPersona to Object” showed the depth of their songwriting abilities, not being just another mathcore band that relied on the hectic aspects of the genre – though excelling at that also. .

“Botch were one of the main bands I attributed to Tendrils when I first heard them (2012 maybe?) and I very quickly made friends with the guys, recording their first two EPs; long before I joined the band.

“We have been experimenting with some more dynamic elements in new songs, musically and vocally, and Botch come up a lot in that respect.

“There’s a strong element of nostalgia attached to making this sort of music for me and being that there are no other mathcore type bands in the South West (that I’m aware of), I have been honoured to have had some part in this band’s journey.

“We Are The Romans’ is now 20 years old, but it hasn’t aged a day.”

And I could not agree, this is a record that is on regular rotation and will influence many more bands in the future.