The Madison hardcore band’s current lineup comes together powerfully on “Internal Bleeding.”
Madison hardcore band No Question set its parameters nearly five years ago and hasn’t budged. Screams, filth-caked riffs, each song a furious battering of 90 seconds, give or take. Listening to a No Question track is like ripping off a full-body bandage, crusted scabs and all.
“This band has always been very limited sonically, and we keep it that way as a unique homage to ’80s hardcore,” says drummer Anders Totten. “Historically, it’s worked best when someone can provide a completed or partially completed song and show it to everyone for editing or elaboration.”
Still, No Question has found variety within those boundaries, and pushes its songs through plenty of queasy slowdowns on its second release, the new Internal Bleeding. This is also the band’s first recording with guitarist Mike Berte and bassist Maggie Denman. Previous lineups of the band wrote four of the songs on the record, but Internal Bleeding still captures No Question’s solidification as a unit, after a few years of rotating membership around Totten and vocalist Lauden Nute.
If not exactly a departure from No Question’s 2017’s self-titled debut 7-inch, Internal Bleeding does feel noticeably darker and scuzzier.
“I think it has a lot more slow parts for sure—I don’t know if I’d say sludge, but just a few more breakdown/mid-tempo parts than I’d say from the last one,” Nute says. “To me it’s a pretty straightforward way of getting anxiety and hatred across.”
The elements that come to the fore on the new release have always been in the mix, if a little less prominent. “Some of the tracks in the first 7-inch attempt to execute this sparingly, but the new album we dares a little bigger,” Totten says. “Lauden’s vocals are also more guttural, and Mike’s guitar tone has a heavier feel to it than [former guitarist Zack Stafford’s] did.” This also creates healthy challenges for Totten as a drummer. “Tempo can be a tricky thing for me in this band. Oftentimes we intend a part to be slower than I’ll end up driving it in the recording,” he says. “But since it’s always organic, it’s usually just called ‘good enough for hardcore,’ and we let it slide.”
This approach keeps the songs just as brief and immediate as ever, but grinds everything in a little deeper. Internal Bleeding‘s opening track, “No Question,” crawls through an intro passage of piercing feedback and pick slides, as Denman and Totten start piecing together the song’s structure with terse phrases. “Options” switches between lumbering mid-tempo moments and high-speed thrashing. Berte uses a jaggedly executed guitar riff to push back against the rest of the band’s hard-charging attack on “Inside Voices.” And with all this tension, of course, comes plenty of intense subject matter.
“‘Inside Voices’ is about a spiraling manic episode I had. It’s about guilt and self-blame, self-punishment,” Nute says. “‘Options’ is about having no options in life, with work, love, the option to be alive. Being put here with no option just to suffer in this society. The lyrics I write are typically leaning on a dystopian self-hatred mindset.” (Nute and Denman have both done illustration and design work for Tone Madison.)
The band has always had a collaborative writing process, one that Denman and Berte shape on most of the tracks here. “Someone brings some riffs and then we all play with them, alter them, and arrange them until everyone is stoked on the song,” Berte says. “We definitely work great as a unit. Each of us bring a unique set of influences and styles to the table, and I feel like that gives us our own unique sound.”
“Mike’s riffs have quite unorthodox phrasing, which has been really fun to work with,” Totten adds.
Amid the unfiltered rage of the music, No Question’s four members have also developed a playful camaraderie. While group-chatting with me from the road for this piece, they talked a lot about the importance of snacks in the band. “Tortilla chips, cigarettes, and coffee. Oh and Juuling,” Denman says.
No Question celebrated the digital and cassette release of Internal Bleeding with a show this past Sunday at Mickey’s Tavern. The band also plans to release it on vinyl soon. There aren’t any local No Question shows on the books at the moment, but hopefully Madison will get more of the band’s explosive live sets soon.