A sense of self-preservation was a prerequisite for those attending a show by Stu Brundy’s seminal band Folsom, which waved the Vegas hardcore flag around the world during the early 2000s.
The ability to dodge spinkicks and backfists in venue-encompassing mosh pits will continue to be vital when Brundy’s new project, SpiritWorld, begins playing live more regularly, but that’s only the start of the checklist. Revelers will also require loose neck muscles to headbang freely to the black-metal blast beats and death-metal riffs, air guitars for the cocksure classic-rock swagger and, perhaps most importantly, Stetson hats and boots to match the lyrical content.
That accounts for part of the territory explored on SpiritWorld’s debut full-length album, Pagan Rhythms, recently released on Bandcamp and streaming services, with physical copies expected later in the year.
“I wrote a series of short horror Westerns, so this whole record is a bunch of stories that exist in that same world, with cowboys fighting at the gates of hell,” Brundy explains
SpiritWorld takes its name from a line of dialogue in 1988 Billy the Kid-based blockbuster film Young Guns, and the Western influence pervades the material. Early demos and singles were more steeped in country-punk, but Brundy reined in that sound and steered towards his love of extreme metal on Pagan Rhythms.
The likes of Waylon Jennings and George Jones also remained major influences, but more for their songwriting brevity and storytelling style. The back half of Pagan Rhythms is particularly country indebted (see: the murder balladry of “Armageddon Honkytonk & Saloon” and revenge fantasy of “Comancheria”). There’s a theatricality present throughout the 32-minute total run time that feels several night-rides away from the bare-bones beatdown of Folsom.
“This is my wheelhouse,” Brundy says. “I knew if I could expand on a concept record that’s not some political hardcore record that kind of sticks you in a box, I could go insane with it. It was liberating, because I just didn’t care. I’m not tied to any sort of success about what this does.”
Don’t underestimate the release’s prospects for success, however, given its sonic warmth. Pagan Rhythms is more inviting than many albums in a similar vein, thanks to crisp production job from Sam Pura, more known for work with pop-punk acts like The Story So Far and Basement.
Brundy wrote everything on the record but brought a small army of collaborators into the studio. SpiritWorld has played three just shows, but Brundy has a new live lineup ready, featuring local scene veterans Matt Schrum (guitar), Justin Fornof (bass) and Jeremy Johnson (drums). The only spot left to fill: someone to play samples, of which there are many on Pagan Rhythms. The album employs everything from field recordings of thunderstorms to lines from a variety of films.
“If I get a cease-and-desist and get sued, it’s whatever,” Brundy says. “You make something, and the odds of it penetrating the noise and people picking it up is so rare anyway. I figured I’d just make exactly what I think is cool as sh*t and figure out the rest later.”
The songs might be bleak, but Brundy is buoyant. He recalls a time when local hardcore shows would draw “a group of 10 kids who knew each other by name on a weekend,” and contrasts that with how, pre-coronavirus, 200 could show up on a weeknight.
He’s looking forward to getting SpiritWorld on more bills and bringing his reputation for live intensity to a new generation. “I hope some kid in high school gets into death metal and hardcore through this, and it’s a gateway to the abyss,” Brundy says.