Quicksand's "Manic Compression" Turns 25: Geoff Rickly and More Reflect on Album's Influence
No respectable debate over the greatest bands from the 1990s would be complete without at least some discussion about the contributions of New York post-hardcore primogenitors Quicksand—one of the more influential groups casual music fans have never heard of. Though they only released two full-length records in that decade and wouldn’t release their third LP for another 22 years, Quicksand’s profound influence on both their contemporaries as well as groups that emerged during the 2000s and 2010s cannot be understated.
Featuring a who’s who of hardcore, with defectors from Gorilla Biscuits, Bold, Youth of Today, Collapse, and Beyond, Quicksand released their groundbreaking, self-titled 7-inch in 1990, following that up in 1993 with their fierce, passionate, melodic debut masterpiece, Slip—a watershed record that dropped at the height of the grunge movement.
In 1995, Quicksand—powered by guitarist and vocalist Walter Schreifels, with bassist Sergio Vega (also a member of the Deftones), Tom Capone on guitars, and Alan Cage behind the kit—released Manic Compression, a tense, much tighter and more complex album that caught many fans off guard, only because it was more vitriolic, more radical sound. Nevertheless, Manic Compression remains a staggering and important collection of potent songs that hold up in 2020—from a band that was way ahead of their time.
In recognition of the album’s release 25 years ago today, we got a hold of several musicians, including a few artists who’d acknowledge they owe more than a small debt to Quicksand and got their take on the majesty of Manic Compression. All of the following reflections on Quicksand and their landmark sophomore LP are in their own words.
Lead singer for Thursday, United Nations, and No Devotion
When Quicksand’s first record, Slip, came out in 1993, I wasn’t sure if it was the sound of New York City, but I knew it was the sound of everything I wanted New York to be. There was a certain mid-tempo noir ambiance, wrapped around a hardcore subway screech that differentiated them from the noisy assaults of their New York hardcore peers. It sounded like an alley you shouldn’t walk down. It sounded like sneaking over the 20-foot fence behind CBGBs on a hot summer night.
By the time Manic Compression came out, my friends and I were all spending our nights in the East Village, buying fake IDs and hanging at Coney Island High. We found Quicksand’s second record shocking. It was so fast! It seemed so sleek at the time (though, that sounds laughable now). “Backwards,” “Divorce,” “Thorn in My Side”—these songs peeled out of the gates at a blistering pace, rather than working up to brutal release like the earlier tracks, “Dine Alone” or “Head to Wall.” But still moments of absolute slow burn transcendence were everywhere on the record: the last minutes of “Delusional,” the uncontrollable eruptions of “Skinny (It’s Overflowing)” and the classic Quicksand groove of “Brown Gargantuan.” These were the songs that assured me that Quicksand was at the top of their game and that I should spend more time with the record.
Then I heard “Landmine Spring,” the song that would change what I believed was possible in hardcore. Everything about that track floored me: the Helmet stop-start rhythms over a subtle, gorgeous guitar line. The beautiful vocal melody and the lyrics expressing the longing that the band captured so perfectly. It was otherworldly. That song singlehandedly transformed ‘90s post-hardcore and Thursday would never have sounded like we did without it.
Strangely, it wasn’t until the following year that I fully understood the faster songs on Manic Compression. I was running an errand on the Lower East Side with a guy I worked for. He stopped his car, jumped out and got in another car. When he pulled up next to me, he said, “Follow me, in my car—don’t let anyone else get between us.” I was 16 and hadn’t learned to drive yet. He didn’t care. “Just keep up,” he said. “That one’s the brake, that one’s the gas.” Manic Compression flipped over in his tape deck and “Backwards” blasted out of the speakers as we raced through the narrow city streets. I thought, “Ohhhhh, now I get it.”
Frontman for Cave In, Mutoid Man; bassist for Old Man Gloom
My introduction to Quicksand happened in the summer of 1993 at Newbury Comics in Salem, New Hampshire. That’s where I spent hours browsing cassette spines and print publications while listening to what was “Now Playing”—with said album usually on display near the store’s registers. Got a vivid memory of experiencing side two of Slip that day—the song “Baphomet,” in particular. Pretty sure the cash I’d made from working as a paperboy was quickly spent on a cassette copy right there and then.
The greatness of Manic Compression might be that it boldly mirrors a particular era of punk and hardcore—one that championed obtuse melodies performed ferociously and urgently, usually captured with sonically feral production. The album artwork also bears a close resemblance to imagery associated with underground music around that time. It’s certainly a classic example of a band successfully reinforcing its roots while pushing itself forward musically.
The well-executed melodic noise of Manic Compression is an integral part of the soundtrack to a time when punk and hardcore was both new and exciting for me. If Slip is Quicksand’s Nevermind, then Manic Compression is their In Utero.
Lead singer for Grade
Quicksand itself was sort of a happy accident for me, where a guitar player from Chokehold gave me the first 7-inch they did on Revelation Records. He’d just gotten it and said, “Here—you’ll probably dig this.” And I did. I had known about Gorilla Biscuits before, but that was my first exposure to Quicksand; I was probably 18 at the time.
You can see the transition of the band from that 7-inch to Slip to Manic Compression and it is totally different. Every one of those recordings is very different. When I first heard Manic Compression, I remember I was like, “Whoa—what happened here?” Production-wise, it was very different from Slip, but the songs were there. It almost felt like a different band and to me, it was incredible. I knew people who avoided it at first, and it was because the production was so different.
Walter is really great at doing that—he’s quite the chameleon, and he always keeps moving forward and doing different things and that was just sort of part of his process. Now, 25 years later, you look back on what he’s done, and you can appreciate it more. Back in 1995, it was a little shocking for some people after hearing Slip.
For me, Manic Compression was a more raw-sounding record. It had this rawness to it, whereas Slip was really slick and big sounding. To follow Slip with that record, it just wasn’t what I expected but it was still really cool.
When I listen to albums, I try not to isolate songs. I like to listen to them all the way through, so the songs that stick out to me are usually the duds, where I’m like, “Ah shit, I don’t like that song” and I pushed it to the side. Manic Compression doesn’t really have any of those. To me, it’s a perfect album. Even the artwork is incredible on it. That alone is attractive, right? That’s perfect. You put the record on, and it’s very reflective and very aggressive sounding, but there are no songs that are, like, the “hit songs.” It’s an all-encompassing record best appreciated as a whole.
These four guys with incredible pedigrees—coming from bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Beyond, Burn—and when they came together, it was like perfection. It was really the perfect storm with those guys.
Bassist for Candiria
Quicksand were a super important band, I think, to the development of Candiria, even if it isn’t obvious. A lot of times, people will ask what heavy bands were crucial to the development of the Candiria sound, and a lot of people expect to hear more progressive rock bands or jazz bands, but also heavier bands, because when we first formed, we were a death metal band. Somewhere around the time when Manic Compression came out, our old guitarist, Eric Matthews, started really getting into hardcore, and his influences were like Helmet, Refused, and Quicksand and two years later, Beyond Reasonable Doubt came out.
Years down the line, Quicksand is the type of band, for me, that’s in a time capsule. I liken them to Failure, in that way, where they had a brief moment in the ‘90s where people who were into them said, “This band is going to be huge,” and they made their artistic statement and they were done. And then a decade-and-a-half later, they decided, “Let’s do it again.”
For me, Quicksand had a metallic sound without being metal. It was heavy, more so than hardcore, but at the same time, it wasn’t metal at all. I think metal may have influenced their sound, but they were not a metal band. That’s why they were so unique and burned out so fast—they were too fast for the indie scene and not fast enough for the metalheads. And that’s what attracted me and my friends to them so much.
I heard Sergio Vega’s bass tone on Manic Compression, and it was like, “Holy crap!” It sounded like a machine.
A lot of people live and die by Slip, and when Manic Compression came out, I remember some people slept on it a little bit. They were slow to embrace it. But Manic Compression, to me, is a perfect record. This is a brand new, whole new collection of perfect songs, and there’s just not a bad song on the record—not even a lull or a dull moment. It’s kind of the pinnacle of what a true honest artistic expression of the time can be when done right. And when music is done right, it is a time machine. When I listen to Manic Compression, I’m right back in that time, when I was in my 20s, living in New York City.
Walter was saying the things on that record that were on my mind. The sound was familiar yet fresh. It’s a testament to these songs, how well it has held up. Some things, you go back and listen to, and say, “This was cool when I was 14, but I don’t connect to it the same way.” I put on Manic Compression and it’s like not one day has passed. It’s still as important and meaningful to me and proves Walter is the greatest songwriter to ever come out of the New York hardcore scene.
Guitarist for Drug Church
As a person who was born in 1991 and wasn’t a conscious absorber of really anything until the early 2000s at the earliest, I hardly feel qualified to talk in any official way about records of the 1990s. But Quicksand and their 1995 record Manic Compression is something I have really early memories of, and I think it played a big part in opening the door for me to punk music.
To me, Manic Compression was the record with the cool-ass artwork that my neighbor bought after seeing a music video—I’m guessing it was the “Thorn in My Side” video, where they’re riding go-karts around New York City—on Headbangers Ball. And although I have no recollection of listening to it back then, the cover art and the fact that my cool neighbor thought it was rad stuck with me until I rediscovered it years later. Fast forward a bunch of years and that neighbor moves away and leaves me a bunch of CDs. Straight up, hardly any of the cases had the actual CDs in them, with the exception of a CD called In-Flight Program, with a picture of someone doing a frontside air on the cover. Turned out it was a compilation CD from Revelation Records. I didn’t recognize any of the bands on it really with the exception of Quicksand, and if I hadn’t heard of them prior, I probably wouldn’t have put so much trust into this CD.
But I had and I did so this was the only CD I listened to for that entire summer. Although the Quicksand song that is on this compilation is “Omission” off of Slip, when I went on Limewire to download more from the band, the artwork for Manic Compression is what I recognized, so I went with that. Compared to “Omission,” sonically, the songs on Manic Compression sounded more to me like the songs in the skate videos that I liked. My favorite song was “Landmine Spring.”
Although this wasn’t clear to me until years later, I think it’s worth mentioning that the timeline of Quicksand—discography-wise—is just about the most relatable and logical as it pertains to human response. First, you do the record that everyone likes, and then you do the record that you like. The Slip record sounds polished with a massive drum sound and smooth guitars. The songs are catchy and sound like they could be on the radio. Manic Compression makes you work for it a little more and because of that, the songs have a “real” feel to them. Rough and abrasive and kind of like the Unwound records of the time. The songs aren’t as obviously hooky, yet I find myself coming back to the latter more often. This return-to-form follow up record template was also pretty influential to me in and of itself. So, in this very large and multi-decade spanning circle of events, Quicksand/Manic Compression and the Revelation comp my neighbor left for me opened my eyes to many of the bands that I would still be listening to obsessively 15 to 20 years later.
Bassist for Title Fight; everything for Glitterer
There’s something difficult about getting into bands from a previous generation. Understanding the context, both at the macro-level of the scene and micro level of a discography, is something that can be difficult to discern at first. I don’t know how I got into Quicksand—probably through my older brother, I assume. But by the time I was listening to them, their entire output was available to listen to at once, with little to no explanation.
Yeah, I knew who was in the band and could figure out how this differed from their other projects, but I didn’t have to wait for the jump from the Rev 7-inch to Slip to Manic Compression in real-time. I didn’t have to analyze how the band changed, how they grew and experimented and differed from their peers. I just listened to it all at once. Manic Compression stood out to me. It was similar to the other records I had heard from Quicksand in that it had an aggressive groove and odd melodic sensibilities, but this was a more patient record—its resolutions, hard-earned. It was hard and catchy and weird.
Once I grasped the context of Quicksand, I would learn that the songs on Manic were the logical extension of the band’s earliest work—simultaneously their hardest and catchiest, but the reason why I gravitated towards it, why it’s still my favorite Quicksand record, is because these songs are surprising and memorable at once, even after years and years of listening.