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Road Rage

Milemarker is known as Chicago's premier purveyor of microchip-addled post-hardcore and brainy political lyricism. But the group, formed in North Carolina in 1997, has had its share of detours. After a string of theatrically conceived tours and innovative, influential albums culminating in 2002's Satanic Versus, Milemarker went into stasis, with singer/guitarists Al Burian and Dave Laney forming the stripped-down Challenger. October, though, saw the release of Ominosity, Milemarker's first release in three years, a sprawling disc rich in theme and texture that sees the band making up for lost time -- and challenging its fans and own identity along the way.

Westword: When you started combining synthesizers and electro beats with hardcore, it was relatively unheard of. Why did you choose that particular direction?

Dave Laney: In all honestly, if we tried to pick up a banjo or a flute, we'd fail miserably. We did the only thing that was in our ability range: playing keyboards like chimpanzees and sampling other peoples' dance beats. We were just trying to play bad. Uniquely bad.

I'm assuming you guys were listening to stuff like Gang of Four before a lot of other people caught on.

It's funny that people have just rediscovered that whole dance-punk thing from the '80s. Those bands were on and off our radar when we started. But I would compare us more to a bastardization of early Talking Heads and Born Against.

Your website states that your early shows solidified your reputation as "pretentious art fags." Do you still try to be conceptual and confrontational with your audience?

I think so, just not in the same way. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is a really utopian, non-confrontational town. People would be like, "Holy shit, I can't remember what that band sounded like, but they were the ones who played behind curtains and cut off their legs." But now it's not necessarily about trying to piss people off.

Did you ever feel that Milemarker lapsed into a gimmick or a formula?

Not really. I feel like we've always consciously changed things around. People were probably expecting our new album to be synth pop or whatever, but there's only one synth-pop song on it, and it's actually really old. We figured we'd record it, kill it and then do some nine-minute jams.

Like your old albums, Ominosity touches on a lot of socially conscious ideas. As the years go by, does singing about politics ever seem futile?

You just have to realize that you're not going to change anything with a song. The most you can hope for, realistically, is to inspire somebody, give them a little bit of fuel. If you can turn a song into a metaphor or a story, everyone can relate to it better. We want to give people the option to read into things themselves.