Funeral Diner’s “The Underdark” is, in my opinion at least, the greatest American screamo record in existence (or more appropriately, that I’ve heard). I think the reason I favour it over the genres other classics is because it is the only one that manages to convey a tone that I believe perfectly encapsulates what screamo should be, darkly archaic and bleak. “Three Sides Dead” is therefore of great interest to me because it shows the band in their earlier, formative years, when they were still perfecting the sound they would later wield so masterfully on their final release, their magnum opus. It’s clear from “Three Sides Dead” that Funeral Diner’s approach to hardcore was leading them towards the sound of Underdark even from the offset, displaying tight use of melodic interplay and instrumental sections that would wind and build before erupting into emotional outbursts. Luckily in this case the journey is just as interesting as the destination as this compilation of Funeral Diner’s cuts from their many splits is solid in its own right, even if it is somewhat lacking in cohesion.
Funeral Diner differed from many of their peers in that they veered away from the chaotic outbursts of short, dissonant, emotive discord of bands like Orchid and Jeromes Dream in favour of crafting longer songs that went more into the realm of verse-chorus like structures and conveyed their message in slower, mid-paced terms. This is the post-rock influence that would later display itself much more fully on “The Underdark”, here being mainly resigned to solitary, lingering guitar notes and moments of silence that would swell up to fill in the gaps between emotional outburst and the hesitant melodies that would come in as refrain.
Not to say that they didn’t rely on post-hardcore’s most reliable tactic, the loud/quiet tactic, as most of these build ups and refrains would lead up to that brilliant moment where the *** hits the fan and Seth Babb screams his heart out over cacophonous cymbal crashes and messy guitar work. These moments are a lot less refined than they would come to be later on, having an extremely messy, almost amateurish feel at some points. The same can be said for the production, which is lacking in quality when compared to their later efforts but actually benefits these songs here as the rawer production suits the rawer nature of the songs.
“Three Sides Dead” also shows Funeral Diners weird penchant for inserting long, seemingly unconnected samples into their music, something they dropped later on. “Sleeping Boy The Paranoid” is one such example that features a long rambling sample from the film “Slacker”, in which a slacker drives around in a car with a megaphone and invites people to buy guns and knives while encouraging them to do awful things to each other (and declaring his desire to see such things happen). It adds a strangely ominous feel to the song and once the sample cuts out on a declarative “we’re gonna solve all these problems”, Funeral Diner burst back in at full energy as if spring boarding off the implied violence and sick mind of our disassociated narrator.
“Sleeping Boy The Paranoid” sticks out more than any other song here, although perhaps that’s because it’s the only song on here to appear not once, not twice, but three whole times, a finished product, an original and one with a different bassist. This may seem like overkill, because it is, as the “Sean on Bass” version is simply good enough to overshadow the other two leaving them somewhat redundant even if it is interesting to hear the songs development. In fact that’s the main issue with “Three Sides Dead”, some tracks feel redundant when thrown into a mix with others that basically display the same ideas but done better. This is to be somewhat expected with a compilation though, as is the muddled and inconsistent flow of the album itself that often comes off as quite unconnected and all over the place in terms of pacing. But while this compilation may have its share of misses the majority of the tracks here display Funeral Diner at their most youthful and raw stages, with their grasp for understated melodies shining through.