- Chaotic Neutral's Micah Jenkins rides a Sinking Ship crowd in late May. Photo by Stacy Kagiwada.
Joining a hardcore band can be a little like taking vows in a medieval monastery. The hardcore musician and monk alike commit to spending umpteen hours alongside smelly, bearded dudes in dark, dank spaces, effectively forgoing the pleasures of this world while consumed in an esoteric discipline.
As if on a medieval pilgrimage, I trek out to the Eastside home of Jon Coleman, guitarist for local hardcore super-group Chaotic Neutral. As I approach his house, my eyes adjust to the darkness, and I start to make out four figures on the lightless porch. They acknowledge me with calm, energy-conserving greetings, having just concluded a practice in the sweaty confines of Coleman's basement.
Their shadowed faces read like a hall-of-fame for Indianapolis hardcore. I first eye Coleman and fellow guitarist Ian Phillips, who have collaborated together for years - in local thrash act Wasteland D.C., hardcore band Slow Motion Enslavement and, most recently, What Lurks, a pop-punk turned hardcore band.
In another corner of the porch sits vocalist Micha Jenkins, who once played with Chaotic Neutral bassist Bake Henry (absent from the porch tonight) in the fast and heavy Critical Response Team. Drummer James Lyter, who put in time in Bolth and Waxeater, reclines nearby.
About a year ago, all these guys were out of a gig. Fatherly duties forced Phillips to leave What Lurks, which went on hiatus upon his departure. Critical Response Team suffered a drawn-up demise, leaving Jenkins without a band and Henry pursuing side projects without success. And both Bolth and Waxeater came to an abrupt end within six months of the other, leaving Lyter looking for a new project.
With each member in free agency, it was only a matter of time before Chaotic Neutral started to congeal. Coleman and Philips, always the collaborators, teamed up with Jenkins and Henry and enlisted drummer Josh "Chubbs" Shronz. Shronz, who had served with distinction behind the kit in Slow Motion Enslavement, was known throughout the city as the go-to drummer for local metal. But Shronz was only briefly with Chaotic Neutral before departing to focus on his othernew band, Coffinworm.
Hardcore drummer Skyler Rowe filled in briefly, but the band was on the lookout for a permanent replacement. "Then we realized that James, who we knew from Bolth and Waxeater, had moved back to Indianapolis and wasn't playing with anyone," Coleman says. "It worked out perfectly," Phillips adds. "We couldn't believe that he wasn't playing in any bands."
- Chaotic Neutral — from left, James Lyter, Ian Phillips, Bake Henry, Micah Jenkins, Jon Coleman — hold still for a sec following their Sinking Ship gig. Photo by Stacy Kagiwada.
Lyter jumped into the band headfirst, creating new drum parts for the songs they had written with Rowe and Shronz. With the line-up complete, the band got to work, each band member building and expanding on previous experiences.
"We're more straightforward hardcore than any of our other bands," Phillips says. "But at the same time, we cover a lot more territory than we've done before."
"We initially just wanted to sound like [semi-legendary hardcore punk band] Blitz," Coleman says. "But we developed with a lot more diversity. I'm glad we didn't just end up being a rip-off band. We include everything from rock 'n' roll to crust and '90s hardcore riffs."
"We're all really open with each other when it comes to incorporating different styles," Lyter says. "We're not really trying to create any specific sound."
To all but the most trained ears, most hardcore bands can sound indistinguishable from each other - chugging guitars, throbbing bass, volcanic drumming and incomprehensible vocals are all fairly standard. Chaotic Neutral manages to add a certain unknown je ne sais quoi to the mix. It has something to do with their talent, for sure; this is undoubtedly the most experienced band on active duty in the hardcore scene. And as their live show demonstrates, they not only play well, but do so with an infectious energy.
Not that the guys in Chaotic Neutral are taking anything for granted. Over the past two years, each member has seen at least one band fall apart.
"We're a bunch of different people, and we're all leading different lives," Phillips says. "Anything could happen, but we're not going to waste the time that we have. We want to be as productive as possible with each other."
Chaotic Neutral has stayed true to that doctrine of productivity by playing (seemingly) every local hardcore show in the past year. They are also gearing up for some new releases, in addition to a demo already for available for purchase at shows. A seven-inch is due this summer, as well as a split seven-inch with Bloomington crust/hardcore act Ratstorm.
Hardcore bands in this city come and go so quickly that it can be difficult to keep track. Some break up before working up a demo. The members of Chaotic Neutral, however, are poised enough to buck that trend. The guys in the band, all true believers, are more mature and dedicated to hardcore than most laymen on the scene.