Three Penny Opera, named after a Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill musical, were the band which formed directly after the demise of the Canadian hardcore/emo group Shotmaker. Shotmaker, whose split with Maximillian Colby I have posted here (and referenced several times already), are one of the loudest and most uncompromising of all the 90's emo bands. Their signature sound - of playing "rocked-out emo like they were pissed as hell and wanted desperately to play fast but somehow couldn't", as Fourfa puts it - is very much continued in Three Penny Opera, with perhaps some better songwriting skills. Four songs, ten minutes, and one rather odd title.
Kicking off with a low hiss and a barrage of drumming, ‘New Kids Gang’ is nothing if not a raging, full-on electrical storm. While not quite as terrifyingly heavy as some of Shotmaker’s stuff, Three Penny Opera aren’t far off. In other words, they don’t mess with the formula much. ‘1,000 Miles’ adds in a few more characteristic breakdowns while the singer yells “It’s funny things just change” ("I remember smiling, laughing… and I remember, screaming"). ‘Separate Directions’ takes similar steps, bringing the guitar line down to throbbing, ponderous depths in a way which kind of remind me of the Swing Kids’ '43 Seconds’. Finally, ‘Observation’ takes off into frantic, high-pitched guitar riffs which puncture the wall of noise, periodically, like the calls of Sirens.
Shotmaker/Three Penny Opera are emo in the way that is a little bit different from, and a little bit similar to, a lot of the usual bands. Radin’s description still stands for Three Penny Opera – whether they are more or less pissed-off in their new Brechtian guise is for you, the audience, to decide. It’s the infuriating, explosive tension between blistering speed and achingly slow rhythm which defines these two bands. It is in that conflict that their art emerges; in the moment of poise between loud and fast, there’s a certain immanent beauty to be found. It’s not quite Zen Enlightenment, that propelling balance, but rather an instantaneous Quality of hardcore. Spiritual, no; mystical, perhaps; intangible, probably; musical, definitely.
The whole sonic aesthetic is so brutalised, battered and twisted in all of these songs that they clearly belong in the hardcore emo end of things, with bands like Mohinder, Swing Kids and, indeed, Max Colby. But Shotmaker, and even more so in the case of Three Penny Opera, are neither so fast nor so sparse as such bands. Shotmaker’s wall of noise was always something else; on this Three Penny Opera recording it seems the guitars are so loud and high that they become continuously lost in static, formless and unrecognizable. Maybe this band desperately wanted to play shoegaze, yet could never leave the hardcore sound: maybe they were just a band lost in a punk haze.