VAN HALEN: Fair Warning

BEFORE THE CABARET: A DARKER TURN

Note: This review was started and left unfinished months ago, long before Eddie Van Halen left us. But the notes informed this EVH post and some of its sentiment will be repeated here. RIP EVH.

Why are we wrapped up in Fair Warning?

This time, it’s because of Music Blues. The suicidal filth scuzz guitar draaaaag Music Blues. The Van-tithesis Music Blues. How so? Well, by my amateur reckoning, the diabolical dirge crawling out the back end of Things Haven’t Gone Wellreviewed right here – just has to be a deranged warping of Van Halen’s strangest moment, and that moment happens to be on Fair Warning. Which means it’s Fair Warning replay time. Again.

Fair Warning: less cheer

Every time I play this 31-minute 17-second gem, bought more than a decade after my first Van Halen love-in (a summer ’91 purchase of I, II, Women and Children First, and the then-new F.U.C.K.) wore off, it’s a reminder of how much it caught me off guard. Still does. It’s Shock and Awe with a smile, as the best Van Halen always is, but with less sunshine. With Fair Warning, you get no cover versions. No ballads. No cheese. No synthy rock-lite breezers. Even the artwork tells you a different mood is lurking … how un-Halen is that painting on the cover? Absolutely nothing like the action band shots of before. Fair Warning is where Van Halen Gets Serious – well, as much as they ever could – by turning the VH attack into something a little tougher and meaner …

…which brings us to track 1. Mean Street.

Fading in fast on a cosmic fretboard wave, Eddie’s unaccompanied intro swoops and hangs for a second like a UFO beaming an unearthly rock entity into your brains. GAWP TIME. But the best comes next – a standalone riff, pure A.F., bridging to an almost-funk full-band VH groove that drives HARD. No indulgence, no hanging around. Just effortlessly dextrous interplay which shows that Eddie’s liquid rhythm is easily the equal of his virtuo-so-hot leads.

For a masterclass in how to use space in a rock song, check the breakdown at 3′ 20”. It’s one of their weapons: knowing when to break down, drop out and rebuild a song is a massive part of their explosive early vibe. It’s what separates Van Halen from itself, too – those first four albums are a stylistic block, distinct from what came later. There’s a precision around each instrument that’s ultra clean and cut-throat sharp, yet there’s no bleed.

And let’s not forget that, with Mean Street, Fair Warning has a track #1 that matches the insanely high bar set by Van Halen’s previous album-starters Running With the Devil, You’re No Good, and And the Cradle Will Rock. Heavy menace radiates from each.

From that colossal start, Fair Warning doesn’t falter. “Dirty Movies” rubs sliding riffy sleaze up against Michael Anthony’s totemic bass, Sinner’s Swing! shifts like a rough Hot for Teacher prototype, and the 2′ 44” breakdown in Hear About It Later is one of many Eddie Moments – check that rhythm play, just before the solo. Sweet. Every track brings its own moments, too many to go into, so let’s skip to the un-Halen ending for a minute.

So This Is Love? is the last track of lit-up harmonies before a two-part downer finale, starting with Sunday Afternoon in the Park – the one copped by Stephen Tanner in Music Blues, the electronic instrumental that’s part symph, part dying cyborg. Really? Yeah. You can see where 1984 (the track) came from, right here in this John Carpenter-ly chill. Then One Foot Out the Door fades in with a couple of verses and two Eddie solo flurries that absolutely burn before the fade to black. It’s as if they decided halfway through that they didn’t need a proper song so they ditched the lyrics and Eddie just played the shit out of what was left, calling it a wrap in under 32 minutes.

This is what makes Fair Warning a really great Van Halen record: the unresolved ending and the out-of-character electronics that sign off half an hour of hard-rock manna. Sure, there’s a lot more to peak Van Halen than just Eddie, especially the rhythm section and vocal harmonies, but the joy you get from hearing him play gives you a lift, even when you’re already flying. It’s fucking exciting. And you’re struck by how much he plays too, never stopping but never overplaying either. Room to shine? Absolutely. Out of control? Never. Look how short the running times for those early albums are. All virtuosity is within the structure of the song.

No-one’s pretending Van Halen are the band you’d take to your grave, even though many will. But if you haven’t heard Fair Warning, either because you just never got round to it or because Van Halen are a joke to your metal sensibilities, you’re missing out. It’s Van Halen with zero weaknesses – and not even the debut managed that (hello, Ice Cream Man). If it doesn’t convince, fair enough. But to me, Fair Warning is the strongest eruption from the white-hot years.

And if it’s good enough for Music Blues …

Van Halen: Fair Warning (Warner Bros, 1981)
Mean Street
“Dirty Movies”
Sinner’s Swing!
Hear About It Later
Unchained
Push Comes To Shove
So This Is Love?
Sunday Afternoon In The Park
One Foot Out The Door

MUSIC BLUES: Things Haven’t Gone Well

HARVEY MILK SOLO MAKES MUSIC FOR BREAKDOWNS

An absolute hulk of a slow-chord surge opens the album in short but wildly heroic style. 91771 is slow enough to be doom but nowhere near sombre enough as it pulls you into the euphorically funereal, if that makes any sense. Drone and sustain pumps your veins with noisy nutrients. Feels good.

This is Music Blues, the solo project of Stephen Tanner, Harvey Milk bassist. 2014’s Things Haven’t Gone Well is his first, and so far only, solo record.

Shame. Things Haven’t Gone Well belongs in anyone’s sludge-noise collection, down at the squalid end where the fuck-ups and failures hang out, and Tanner trades on two strands of guitar-driven dronedoom: one is total pessimism, the kind that beats you down with airless oppression. The other is total pessimism piss-streaked with rock-ist uplift, like 91771 (Tanner’s birth date), and it’s those rock-acknowledging downers that make the record work, though you gotta be patient. Aside from those, a couple of short clips from the Tom Waits School of Freak keep the album broken and fragmented. There are no vocals.

Things Haven’t Gone Well … no shit

The autobiographical PREMATURE CAESAREAN REMOVAL DELIVERY follows straight on from 91771’s colossal awe, but the euphoric touch has evaporated to leave skeletal chords slamming. HOPELESSNESS AND WORTHLESSNESS and FAILURE’s Sunn O))) stylings lift the mood not one bit, and wedged between them is TRYING AND GIVING UP. Get through the defeated first drag and you’ll hear a guitar morph from death-slow one-chord reps to a rough-as-fuck blues lick drowning in diesel dregs. It’s the slowest, grimiest 12-bar you’ve never heard. ZZ Top on a dying battery.

Seven tracks in, you might feel there’s not much to grab hold of. You’d be right. 91771 and a mutant Texan blues tip is scant return.

But IT’S NOT GOING TO GET BETTER is where it picks up (relatively) after the ghostly DEATH MARCH interlude. Here we get guitar breaks and a real human touch instead of blackout basement isolation. Thick, sludgy beauty with light. It crushes, but it’s the crush of a communal gig pile-on.

Then the big one: TREMENDOUS MISERY SETS IN. Tremendous misery – nice. TMSI is final proof that, even on an album as depressed and damaged as this one seems, Stephen Tanner has a Propensity to Rock Out and here his Harvey Milk spilleth over in that Corrosion of Conformity-channelling-Thin Lizzy way, but inebriated, messy and mournful. ’tis majesty on a slow repeat. Then THE PRICE IS WRONG conquers all with a massive Rock ending, completing the album’s transformation from No Hope to Slight Hope.

The closing BONUS TRACK just has to be a Van Halen tribute – not Massive Hits Halen but Weirdo Least Halen, aka Sunday Afternoon in the Park from their toughest (best?) Fair Warning album.

Which means we’ve got a noise rock record that ploughs mental breakdown and dark autobiography, touches on ZZ Top and CSNY (Teach the Children) and ends with a Van Halen freakball …

… sounds about right. Things Haven’t Gone Well comes across as a journey through grief – it nails the slow, draining, disorienting feeling and physicality that grief brings, yet it’s distracted and sketchy too. Music Blues might be depression as expression, but in the end Tanner can’t restrain his need for primal oversized riffs. You can’t keep that down.

Things Haven’t Gone Well (2014, Thrill Jockey Records)
91771
Premature Caesarean Removal Delivery
Teach the Children
Hopelessness and Worthlessness
Trying and Giving Up
Great Depression
Failure
Death March
It’s Not Going to Get Better
Tremendous Misery Sets In
The Price is Wrong
Bonus Track

THE DAMAGE MANUAL: 1

INDUSTRIAL POST-PUNK LEGENDS FORM 2000 SUPER COLLIDER

When A Perfect Circle did When the Levee Breaks for their eMOTIVe album, they pulled off a smart reworking that stripped it of Zep’s defining feature – Bonham’s heavy authority – and completely rewired it. Instead of thunder, we got rain. Gentle, hypnotic, tinkling rain. It’s a classy, masterful take.

Damage Manual offer no such subtlety on SUNSET GUN, the opening shot from their 2000 EP, 1. The Levee lift is huge.

Which would rightly be condemned as a lack of imagination IF the band didn’t already have 20-plus years of experience, weren’t among the most influential musicians of the post-punk generation, and didn’t convert it into a super-amped contemporary crossover. But they do, they are and they did. A jittery cut-up intro unleashes a Headley Grange-sized beat while a swirling riff channels the Four Symbols Page drone.

Who’s behind this collision of tech-ness and beast rock?

Geordie Walker, Martin Atkins, Jah Wobble, Chris Connelly.

Killing Joke, Public Image Limited, Revolting Cocks.

Damage Manual.

Credentials or what?

The Damage Manual: 1

After that killer start, DAMAGE ADDICT pulls a big-time Wobble with some enormo-dub space bass that bottles the PiL spirit but, crucially, is less cold, less austere. Instead, it carries a real sampler’s vibe. Smell the RevCo.

And with those two tracks, you’re set for the rest of the EP. It does sound like component parts pulled together, but the result is far more organic and flowing than factory line assembly. It zips with fresh edge, psyche trips and beat-heavy production. Whether it was the vigour of the mid/late 90s crossover scenes that re-energised these 40-ish year-olds, I don’t know, but Damage Manual sounds free and vital. Definitely got a kick.

SCISSOR QUICKSTEP discharges mechanised punk over playful bass, while BLAME AND DEMAND is another bass and drum monster where Geordie’s guitar burns hard through early PiL-style rhythms. Possibly the EP’s defining track.

Wrapping up the session before a couple of remixes is LEAVE THE GROUND, an end-of-gig trashing where Connelly’s up-front falsetto falters like gutter Bowie while industrialised rhythms beat the melody down. “More human contact will just make you ill…” is Connelly’s fading refrain. Oddly apt for our COVID-19 days, two decades later. And Geordie is more unleashed here than you’ve ever heard him.

Anyway, that’s it: 1 by Damage Manual. All songs are credited equally to all four players. Sunset, Damage and Blame distil the PiL/RevCo/KJ spirits most obviously, while the other two – remixes excepted – bring the quirk and the range. But what really grabs when you listen to it again is the force of Geordie Walker’s guitar tone. He’s always been His Own Voice, but with Killing Joke on a continuing cycle of top grade albums, it’s easy to forget just how distinctive he is. Seeing KJ live is one way to keep your complacency in check. Hearing him somewhere else – like this – is another.

But I mention Geordie only because his is the parent band I’m most familiar with. Every player here is a full-on personality and you get it all. No-one dominates. No-one sits back. Vital stuff. Prepare to be sucked down a Killing Joke/PiL/Waxtrax sinkhole when you’ve played it.

Damage Manual: 1 (2000, Invisible Records)
Sunset Gun
Damage Addict
Scissor Quickstep
Blame and Demand
Leave the Ground
Bagman Damage
M60 Dub

Damage Manual put a self-titled album out the same year which is equally worth checking. The four remixes on the end dull the album’s impact a bit – perils of the CD age, they’d be better off on a separate disc but the core nine tracks are maximum Damage

 

MINISTRY: Dark Side of the Spoon

PLUNGING THE INDUSTRIAL QUAGMIRE
Chasing a high speed Ministry fix? Just press play – and then leave the building in three minutes. Dark Side of the Spoon is a trudge through a dead man’s blues.

Dark Side of the Spoon by Ministry

Not that you’d know that from the whipcracker opener Supermanic Soul. As insane and ridiculous a start as Ministry ever did, it packs the same dry yammer beat as The Land of Rape and Honey’s The Missing but is heavier, and then WAY heavier – just wait for the second guitar to drop its motherlode, it’s absolutely filthy. More a corroding quake than a riff, it’s one of those WAAAAA! moments on a shit-hot track where Al Jourgensen sounds insane throughout, cooking his voice into a bubbling garble to match the heroin reference of the album title.

Ministry then punch the decelerator for a minute or four. Whip and Chain broods gothic heaviosity on a two-chord crush – kinda like The Fall from Filth Pig – before Bad Blood flirts with a metronomic pace pick-up, which makes you think that Dark Side’s going to drop some some nippier Ministry morsels after Filth Pig’s murk

but no. That’s it, speed freaks, so unbuckle up and prepare to crawl. Eureka Pile slows the pulse with worm-shaker bass and space, loads of it, round a faltering riff, and this is the truth of where Ministry are/is on DSOTS. The music here isn’t the mechanised industrial metal attack of old. It’s flawed and damaged by fingertips with destructive prints. The mess-age is human, and Filth Pig was no aberration. It was a sign.

Mid-album oddball Step swings, literally, like an out-of-character gatecrasher before the album lurches back to Dark Side’s draggy mid-tempo type and sticks there. The slow-pick banjo and skidding sax on Nursing Home conjure hazy, vaguely middle Easternalia, while the freakish bass on Kaif – crumbled by distortion – is nothing less than monstrous. Definite high points, those two.

By the time we get to Vex & Siolence, we’re defeated. Lyrics reference ‘a fading memory’, and whatever those words actually refer to, they’re an apt descriptor for what the old-school Mind/Psalm-era Ministry has become – a memory. There’s little here to evoke their pre-Filth Pig firepower. Jourgensen’s flat intonation suggests a body that’s heavy, weary and about to give up. Life is leaking away. Maybe it just doesn’t care. Electrifying solo, though.

And this is the mood of the album, to me. It’s a band in the pits, resigned to the end-life, unable to stop yet still pulling out the quality – they’re just pulling it in a wildly different direction to many fans’ expectations. Is it down to peak substance abuse and the collapsing relationship between Jourgensen and Paul Barker? Yes. But it makes for a compelling album that’s far better than critical indifference that flops around it.

10/10 ends the album in 7/4 time with energy and optimism, or maybe it’s just relief. There are no vocals. Saxophone flurries take the voice’s place, as if the body (band?) died and now we’ve finally got some respite with crunching metallic loops for company.

We know that Neil Young recorded his ‘ditch trilogy’ in the 70s. Dark Side of the Spoon may well be the mid-point of Ministry’s own three-part ditch hell, completed by 2003’s Animositisomina. After that, from Houses of the Mole onwards, they opted for machine riffs, speed beats and megaphone sloganeering which set the direction, more or less, for Ministry from then till now – fast and metallic, more direct. Dark Side of the Spoon is messy, stumbling and adrift, not so much a downward spiral as a sunken one.

But if you’re open to that kind of mix, it’s one of their best – maybe also their most varied after Land of Rape and Honey – and a showcase for Jourgensen’s production, even if, as he says in Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, he can’t remember making it. Fathom THAT.

Ministry: Dark Side of the Moon (Warner Bros, 1999)
Supermanic Soul
Whip and Chain
Bad Blood
Eureka Pile
Step
Nursing Home
Kaif
Vex & Siolence
10/10
+ hidden track

ONE DAY AS A LION: One Day As A Lion

DISTORTED AGITATION FROM DE LA ROCHA AND QOTSA DRUMMER
Given that the world has been spiralling to shit, you might have found yourself reaching for angrier music more often. I have. Music that’s got the gravitas, the provocation and the intellect to somehow document and deal with the insane wrong-ness of dumbfuck cops killing black people, and dumber-fuck ‘cenotaph protectors’ destroying Black Lives Matter protests in the false name of monument-al preservation. Dipshits and hackle raisers. No wonder Terrace Martin’s Pig Feet, wrapped and dropped within days of George Floyd’s killing, hits so hard. Pig Feet does not flinch.

Neither does Zack de la Rocha. His full-tilt delivery always captures these moments and even now, aged 50, he’s got the fury – check the explosive verse in Run The Jewels’ JU$T for evidence of that. His voice is the sound of a fight. But with Rage Against the Machine, it battles with another wild voice – Tom Morello’s guitar – and winds up less prominent in the rock orthodoxy of the RATM set up.

Maybe this is why he’s been such a serial collaborator since RATM last put a record out. Those guest slots put his voice up front, give it room, give it oxygen. They make his words flammable.

This is also true of the short-lived 2008 project with Jon Theodore, One Day As A Lion. As a primal drum-bass effort where the voice gets a 5-track vent, it’s way less Rock than Rage – got a raw urgency and a just-produced-enough attitude that’s clammy with rehearsal-room heat. Nothing arena-sized, no anthemic hooks, no guitar, just a very live-sounding gig stripped back to stiff rhythms and hard words. And with Theodore, ex Mars Volta and now Queens of the Stone Age, behind the kit, you know the drums are solid. His beats aren’t minimal, but neither are they fussy. They are, somehow, hip-hop friendly.

One Day As A Lion EP

Life beyond Rage

Wild International‘s petro-fumed groove is the mid-tempo starter that smoulders rather than explodes, like it’s on cruise control looking for a target. Downtuned bass riffs swell for the chorus, thick and sticky not liquid slick, and this track sets the vibe for the whole EP. The tempo (agitation?) picks up for Ocean View, Last Letter and One Day As A Lion, while If You Fear Dying locks onto the same spacious groove as Wild International. Other than that, you know roughly what you’ll get, track to track – unlike, say, Saul Williams’s self-titled conflict-zone masterpiece of hip hop, poetry, electronic, industrial and spoken word from 2004 (where Zack winds the tension on Act III Scene 2 [Shakespeare]).

One Day As A Lion don’t do genre hops and mood shifts. Their force is rough-edged, avant-ish primal rock with urban backbone and no, it wouldn’t hold your attention musically for a full album. But as an EP, as a righteous blast, it works ‘coz you get 20 uninterrupted minutes of de la Rocha flow, and this is the key point. As we know, he’s got that gift for making you BELIEVE – absolute conviction and persuasion every time, and right now we need that voice even if we didn’t know it. JU$T is the 2020 reminder. One Day As A Lion might be more curio than must-have, but as a non-Rage de la Rocha fix, it’s pure. The message remains the same

but now it’s 2020. FFS.

‘Time is coming
rising like the dawn of a red sun
If you fear dying
then you’re already dead’
(If You Fear Dying)

One Day as a Lion EP (ANTI-RECORDS, 2008)
Wild International
Ocean View
Last Letter
If You Fear Dying
One Day as a Lion

ACRIMONY: Tumuli Shroomaroom

OPULENT CULT STONER FROM SOUTH WALES

ACRIMONY. You can imagine the word being written in some barbed, indecipherable death/black metal logo, an intimidating front for some nihilistic attack. But they’re nowt like that. With Tumuli Shroomaroom, Acrimony turned out a great lost heavy stoner album of the 90s, and even if it’s not lost then it’s surely not much found either. Forgotten? Maybe. And where did they go after this mushroom-baiting opus from 1997? The answer’s probably out there in a galaxy far, far away – Google – but let’s ignore the pull for info and feel some heavy groove instead.

Acrimony - Tumuli Shroomaroom

Acrimony: not death metal

Given that Acrimony hail from Wales, you’d be right not to expect sunburn and skateboards, but it’s not topped with cloud piss and pessimism either. Tumuli Shroomaroom sits with and distinct from sonic titans like Electric Wizard and Cathedral by bringing an earthy homegrown bent – something of the land, the Isles – to their stone-ur.

How so? Maybe it’s the Celt-ish licks and progressions that fleck the record. Maybe it’s the nature-world essence of words like stone, path, firedance and motherslug (eh?) that pepper the track titles. Maybe they just had too many trips to the Brecon Beacons as kids, I dunno.

But I do know this: there are five humongous reasons to nail Tumuli Shroomaroom to your Stoner Recommendeds board, and they are the first five tracks on the album. Let’s do this.

#1: HYMNS TO THE STONE opens the gates with a slow-moving pull into Acrimony’s mega-riff temple and whatever variations emerge through the album, they all come from this colossal bastard root. It’s a slow ‘n low cruiser loaded with anticipation and inner swagger, one of those fuck-yeah grinners with semi-lead over the rhythm – very Corrosion of Conformity but lusher, thicker, fatter. Buried vocals push the guitar up front, making it feel like an instrumental. This is what you call an opener. It’s 9 minutes. THIS IS ACRIMONY.

#2: MILLION YEAR SUMMER pushes that first dose of the homeland – the mountains, the valleys, the rugged – with a Celtic flourish nicked from Thin Lizzy’s Emerald notebook, so of course it’s bloody anthemic and a-rousing as only Celt metal can be.

#3: TURN THE PAGE. Whassis, a short acoustic interlude already? Yep. With a Tea Party-like Zep-ness it makes you wonder whether, given the name, it’s a tribute to Jimmy and his Bron Y non-electrics, but even if not, it’s got that four-seasons vibe and is as dry, bucolic, wet or barren as you want.

#4 VY. A doom-sinister wah kick-off says you’ve woken up in Electric Wizard’s airless fug of a basement bog, but where the Wizard might stick with that doomed tempo and repeat repeat repeat, Acrimony break out and wind it up for a bit, a contrast that makes the return-to-crawl all the more potent. And the solos? Squashed against the wall, sir.

#5 FIND THE PATH. If ever there was meant to be a single from this album, Find the Path with its all-conquering Pepper-era Corrosion riff is mos’ definitely it. Lyrics morph from “We pay the price for thinking” to “Give me some valium” by the track’s end and Acrimony’s path-finding riff heroics are rocking as fuck.

So, there are your five prime cuts but we’re only a third of the way through. What’s left?

Glad you asked. The only thing stopping Tumuli Shroomaroom being 100% proof are a couple of average mid-way moments, like THE BUD SONG’s underwhelming Cathedral yeahs and MOTHERSLUG (THE MOTHER OF ALL SLUGS)’s overlong quest for Epicus Metallicus status. Live, this 11-minute slugathon could well have been an infinite pulveriser, but here it sucks the energy a bit, especially after The Bud Song’s semi dip.

So thank feck for the cod ancient-ness of HEAVY FEATHER – “I was born one million years ago” – whose swinging intro and tingling riffs hurl us right back to Acrimony’s best, and album closer FIREDANCE which flaps around in flare-wearing Cathedral-isms (good ones) before cranking a heavier urgency for the rest of its 13 minutes. Would you sell my soul? WOULD YOU SELL MY SOUL?” Er … yes. Sorry. But yes, absolutely. This euphoric spacer finale is too good not to.

Acrimony’s second album is a fully-realised 65-minute mass of surging riffs and flowing easy-rider grooves. Why they stopped at this record, I don’t know, but maybe they couldn’t have taken it much further anyway. If you look at Sleep’s Holy Mountain, it’s less consistent than Tumuli Shroomaroom and more blatantly influenced (by Sabbath), yet you pick traces of greatness – or project greatness onto it – because of the bloody-minded genre-shifting yawp that came next: Jerusalem/Dopesmoker. But if Sleep had bailed early, would Holy Mountain be revered as genius-in-waiting? Not so much. It’d be low profile and cult – like Shroomaroom is now. Go dig.

THOUGHT INDUSTRY: mOds carve the pig

ABSURDIST PRE-MATHCORE FROM SURREALIST BRAINIACS

For some reason, the late 80s felt like a time when bands of riotous technicolour ruled the rock soundscapes, or were at least allowed to explode and shower the place briefly. Some of them were no-bounce fad balls, some were screwball goof-clowns, and some were genre-colliding pioneer heads. Some were just ‘mad, I am’ knobheads.

But whatever they were, dull wasn’t it. You can’t put po-faced monochrome on albums like Introduce Yourself, Freaky Styley, Time’s Up and Nothing’s Shocking, and the bands who took the best of that crossover wave and rode it into the early 90s – some of them dubbed funk metal, some not – ended up as victims of timing. Colourful came to be the enemy. After all, Poison were colourful. Flamboyance was out, so was irreverence. It’s no coincidence that Anthrax, before Persistence of Time, were seen as the least credible of the big four. Why? Bermuda shorts, cartoons and I’m the Man raps. Grunge – and Metallica’s Black Album – killed that frippery right off.

By the time Thought Industry‘s second album, Mods Carve the Pig, appeared in 1993, the US North West had gone so viral that Kurt Cobain was staring the brink of his own end-time. Through no fault of its own, Seattle stole our eyes off some quality balls, and this album was one of them.

Grunge it ain’t. What happens when you press play?

Mods Carve the Pig by Thought Industry

Thought Industry: not regular

First, a warning: BE READY. Don’t expect to have a minute to kick back or scratch arse while the album warms up because there is no warm-up. There is no room to be a casual motherfucker. Track #1 HORSEPOWERED fires off a hyper assault from the very first scream, a full-on synapse scraper – but give it a minute and they’ll chop out a jazz prog intercept.

Not for long though. They’ll revert to frenzy then forge a full metal bridge. After that, what? A Primus funk blowout?

Yep. What is this shit? Mathcore?

Probably not – it’s too wayward, and anyway mathcore wasn’t even A Thing back then (was it?), but Thought Industry are/were hard core musos for sure. They play a lot, they play a lot fast, they switch at warp speed, they fry, and that’s just the opening track but there’s no chest-beater machismo or brow-scrunching hardman angst here – the aggression is musical: scalpel precise, yet free-wheeling. Mr Bungle’s attention-deficit splatter would be an influence if Bungle had been older, but looking at the dates, they were contemporaries. Bungle’s big number 2, Disco Volante, was still two years unborn at this point.

But we mention Mr Bungle because Mods Carve the Pig is also hyperactive and overstimulated, and this is why the saturated-colour hybrid funked-thrash and crossover metal of the late 80s feels like a factor in their sound. Death Angel mixed it up on the brilliant Act III. The Beyond got busy and tinny on Crawl. Primus and Fishbone’s goof-off masked big-time muso talents. Steve Vai crammed a career’s worth of ideas into Passion & Warfare, a masterpiece of colour and theatrics.

Thought Industry orbits this kinda mutoid prog space, hardcore style.

NO SKIN

Anyway, back to Mods. After HORSEPOWERED’s blistering flay and DATERAPE COOKBOOK’s low-life beat-writer lens, we get GELATIN’s wicked, fast-sliding intro riff and outlaw-tough bass under a grinding little groove that’s upended by a what-the-feck waltz of a lull (for a minute) and a volte-face to a lacerating chorus (NO … SKIN). Then repeat. Sort of. Chaotic to the end.

And this is how it goes throughout the album. WHITFIELD is hardcore funk but no jollies. BOIL cools the temperature with a fearsome rhythm that revels in quiet creep till shattered by a blast beat. As for MICHIGAN JESUS …. how do you fancy Minor Threat loaded with thrashers’ proficiency and a la-la-la chorus? Demented, speed-punk catchy and the hookiest track of the album for sure.

Then, maybe, the peak: SMIRK THE GODBLENDER rams clipped thrash riffs into clean-pick arpeggios, a Helmet semi groove and a ton of other touches that demand ears not words, and that’s typical of this untypical record: it IS groove metal, of sorts, though it’s not always obvious. The fluidity is astonishing.

And even if the gentlest offering, the acoustic PATIENTLY WAITING FOR SUMMER, doesn’t always convince – it’s like the vocal melody can’t find a way in to the music – so what? It still bores awkwardly into your head. Cool instrumental exit, too.

HALCYON PRICK ABSINTHE LOADED

While you’re trying to catch up to the music, open out the artwork and decipher the lyrics you missed – just don’t expect it to make sense. Not literally. Halcyon prick absinthe loaded are the first four words. Thought Industry’s aesthetic is its own World, like those Dead Kennedy inner sleeves, except TI’s storytelling is much more oblique, surreal, gonzo, beat, squalid, conceptual. And with Salvador Dali’s ‘Apotheosis of Homere’ on the cover, the artwork’s an art work. Check the typography cap-O quirk too.

But the last track has none of those literary elements. TO BUILD A BETTER BULLDOZER drops the vocals and winds up the pace with a fiendish rhythm-riff intro and some Discipline-ery King Crimson guitar interplay. Shit, man. Stripped of word and voice, a fearsome prog band is revealed.

FRIED

Would you listen to this album every day?

Perhaps not, unless frazzle fry is a state you’re striving for. Then again, in the years since this album came out, mathcore became real and System of a Down reached millions, so maybe Mods Carve the Pig’s hyperactivity doesn’t sound like that much of a big deal to new ears. I don’t have that perspective. I got it when it came out and it sounded so unlike anything else that it shocked, but it compelled too and it stands up now because it’s aggressive, colourful, hyperactive, musical and unbound by genre codes. Free and visionary. An obscene talent.

So if Mr Bungle, Dillinger Escape Plan, Faith No More, Primus, Galactic Cowboys, Infectious Grooves, System of a Down, Voivod, Devin Townsend and any of their restless genre-crossing ilk are twitching among your grooves, yet Thought Industry passed you by, check this album. Every track explodes.

And if you’re hooked, here’s a tip: album #3, Outer Space is a Martini Away, is at least as good.

But that’s for another day.

mOds carve the pig: assassins, tOads and gOd’s flesh

Dustin Donaldson – drums and percussion
Brent Oberlin – vocals and bass
Christopher Lee – guitars left
Paul Enzio – guitars right

Released 1993 on Metal Blade

Thought Industry - the band

Thought leaders

PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS: Feed the Rats

PIGSX7 OXFORD GIG APRIL 10, 2019. HERE’S WARM-UP REVIEW #2

  1. Psychopomp 15.06
  2. Sweet Relief 4.39
  3. Icon 17.00

Look at those numbers. Look at the bloody LENGTH of it. Exciting, eh? Especially when you’ve already capitulated to Pigsx7’s debut release The Wizard and the Seven Swines, which is itself a 22-minute purge of damaged psyche and slamming riffs.

Debut full album Feed the Rats looks like it does a similar thing, even before you play it. This is a Good Sign because Wizard’s stretched-out scorch was a win win win win win win win. Can Rats match it?

Pigsx7 Feed the Rats CD cover

Feed the Rats: ugly thrills

With Psychopomp, you don’t have time to think about that – straight in with a no messing, bam-bam-bam riff and Baty in immediate full vocal hurl. It’s an abrupt, Pigsx7-style wake-up that picks up exactly where The Wizard and The Seven Swines disintegrated.

Thing is, your head tells you it’ll calm into a purer Sabbath-influenced groove

no chance. Psychopomp shakes that kind of lame-o conditioning right out, and Pigsx7 aren’t Sabbath knock-offs anyway, are they? Too rough, too jam-based, too psyche/d. You sense that, like it is for many of us, Year Zero for direct heavy influences is somewhere in the 90s at the noisier, more ragged end of the desert/psyche/drone scenes.

Psychopomp rams all that stuff together in a quart-hour charge: early Desert Sessions twists (flickers of Fatso Jetson?), Heads-like space-rock afterburn, Kong-sized mega riffs (six minutes in, ‘kin HELL) and brief Boris-worshipping ponderosa are all there, shoved in a bag and dragged without care up a northern peak. Bruising. By the time you reach pomp’s end you’ve had four minutes of squalling heavy charge and galactic wah. Fucking magic.

Did that meet expectations?

‘course it did. We know what we’re getting by now. Sweet Relief does what it says, but it’s relief in length only. Rammed with tarmac-splitting bounce, it shoves you through to a storm-force battering from all sides.

The beyond-massive Icon starts with a riff classick, Baty gets buried by guitar leads, the rhythm’s uber-tight and we’re caked in Pigs glory all over again – an over-amplified shitstorm you don’t wanna leave. The last five minutes is pained repeat and jarring battery:

HOLD ME ….

ICON ….. FESS”

Meaning? Dunno. But the lyrical fragments that come through match the music’s exhale, and even without knowing the words, Baty’s delivery gushes existential.

In a 2018 round-up, buzzed by the enormity of King of Cowards, I wrote that Feed the Rats perhaps didn’t quite match The Wizard and the Seven Swines. Wrong. The Wizard crash landed from nowhere and had surprise on its side. Feed the Rats had summat to live up to and it went for the Full Ugly: gut-busting endurance with a soul-cleansing pay-off.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Worth repeating: it’s physical.

.

  • File next to Gnod, Sleep, The Heads, Part Chimp, Drore, Rollins Band, early daze Monster Magnet
  • Feed the Rats: released 2017 on Rocket Recordings, get it on Bandcamp
  • No time for a King of Cowards review before the gig, so we’ll see you on the other side. Unless Shockmaster bulldozers us into oblivion (pleeease). Pigsx7 live review here

PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS: The Wizard and the Seven Swines

PIGSX7 PLAY OXFORD THIS WEEK. HERE’S THE FIRST OF A COUPLE OF REVIEWS TO GET US WARMED UP

Nothing says WE’VE ARRIVED quite like sticking a 20-foot monolith outside your house on the day you move in, and this track is very much on those making-a-statement lines – an immovable, rough-edged pasting of fried motorik, asteroidal burnout and howling catharsis. Punk Sabbath for the post-Sleep generation? Welcome to the first shot from Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs.

But if you got here by GNT or some other radio darling from album #2 King of Cowards, strap in and gear up for something far less concise.

This little brutey clocks in at 22 minutes. All one track of it.

the-wizard-and-the-seven-swines

Prog? No. Primal? Shit yeah. The opening riff is coiled, up on the balls of its feet and ready to shift, like rock-ist Oneida launching one of their head-fucking long-forms but, as you’d expect, much rougher in its horizon-bound momentum.

Then comes Baty. Matt Baty. The Voice. Less a vocal than a hurl into the Spent Zone, he forces total lung capacity into every word and is vein-bulger hoarse before he even gets going, yet it’s not a macho metal hard-fest scream or anything contrived like that. His is an all-too-human bellow and is a massive part of what makes this band the way it is. No-one else sounds like them.

So, after the opening repetitions and moto rhythmics, what happens in 22 minutes of TWATSS?

(after two years with this track, I literally only just noticed that acronym when I typed it here. An accident? Maybe. But then again, these guys also have/had a band called Khunnt, so who knows?)

5 minutes: RIFF DROP. Floor-opening bottom end, a hulking motherfucker bulked by four-string filth, lifted by post-rock arcs and then fully grooved by insistent badass bass.

By now, Pigsx7 are beginning to sound apocalyptic. We’re in a transition to somewhere – or steeling ourselves for something.

8 minutes: ANOTHER RIFF DROP. Heavy as – ah shit, it’s gone again. Is this the bridge? As if. But change is a coming, you can smell it.

10 minutes: PSYCH’S OUT. Spacier, less dense, almost krautrocking were it not for Baty’s clipped yelps and barks.

12 minutes: SLEEP. The slowdown. The beating. A one-chord pounding, straight outta Dopesmoker and (we now know) the sound of Pigs to come.

18 minutes: FALSE ENDER. One last gasp in this endless end and we’re almost back to that Oneida trance thing, but by now everything looks and feels different.

We’ve been through the mill. And so have Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. It’s like they came of age during the track, starting out lithe but ending it burned, hardened, scarred, thicker set, complete. They’ve been somewhere and taken us with ’em, but no-one quite knows where. It’s all about the journey, man – and the sheer bloody force of it all: a turbulent, never-ending blast. Whatever it is that’s driving Pigsx7, it’s made a merry hell of a first release.

How can they follow it? Feed the Rats review this way

The Wizard and the Seven Swines: released in 2013, get it on Bandcamp

Cover image taken from my download from Pigsx7 bandcamp site

OM: Conference of the Birds

MATT PIKE GOT HIGH ON FIRE. SLEEP’S OTHER TWO WENT OM

When Sleep shed the literal Sabbath-isms of Holy Mountain and truly came into Being on Dopesmoker (nee Jerusalem), they revealed more than a so-deep-it’s-molten devotion to the transcendental power of repetition – they revealed a canny knack for bending time itself.

On paper, not much happens in Sleep’s then-final one-track statement: minor variations on a riff, stacks of same-chord bludgeon, scattered solos, spread over an hour and a bit and all at a seemingly sloth-like tempo. Yet somehow, that hour never ever drags. I don’t know why. Sloth is a misnomer because that shit’s a real eye opener, pointing out some sort of Way whether you want it or not, warping your perception as it does so. Things ain’t as slow as you think you think.

Sleep’s rhythm keepers, bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, create exactly the same time-distortion thing with Om. When the trio dissolved, Sleep’s evolutionary end point was Om’s beginning, a beginning which freed them to go for the cosmic jugular with long, meditative excursions laced with heavy reps. Dopesmoker is Om’s template, but with one massive difference:

No Guitars.

Yep, the band that made one of THE most definitive, uncompromising Heavy Rock statements of all time birthed a duo who don’t even put guitars on their records. Question is, does it matter? Nope. This band’s on a trajectory all of its own and that means it demands to be judged on different terms. There’s still a ton of weight in Om’s records, but the difference is more in the way we listen – the lack of axe, the arch metal instrument, compels us to drop any preconceptions about what Om/ex-Sleep should sound like… stoner/drone/doom-lite, none of it makes sense. Om aren’t metal and they’re barely even rock, certainly not on the surface, but with Hakius’s tumbling rhythms and Cisneros’s propulsive distorto bass thickness, they definitely flow. Om’s musical currency is m-Omentum, pure and simple.

OM album cover Conference of the Birds

Atop that glutinous drum ‘n bass brew, the cleaned-up vocals give Om their third defining element. Now even more of a monotone than it was on Dopesmoker, Al’s voice just sort of hangs there, a soft human drone levelling out any musical peaks and dips underneath. Crucially, this emotional void – in delivery, not literal content – is precisely what makes Om Om. That detachment accentuates the music’s repetition, brings a mantra-like calm to the tracks and threads a Constant through every track, and whether it’s achieved through design, vocal limitation or both, his style works as an effect and breathes a mesmeric calm to the records.

With such an unwavering sense of self and purpose, it’s no surprise that Conference of the Birds offers no real variation on Variations on a Theme, the Om debut. It has two tracks, both around the 16–18-minute mark, but if there’s one argument for picking up a record that’s pretty much the debut continued, it’s this: At Giza.

Lean, clean and taut, and maybe even a tad delicate for the hardheaded Sleep/Om devotee, side 1’s At Giza marks an evolution of the Om blueprint.

Floydian in its Set the Controls galactic ambience, dramatic in its pace and tension, At Giza is quiet and spacious, maybe even nimble … unlike the ultra evenflow of other Om tracks, this track actually builds to something. After slowing to a stalker’s near-silence halfway through, soft drums – the warmest, closest drums you ever heard – signal a colossal surge and climax and sure enough, we get one of those Moments. Flip the record over and Flight of the Eagle is Sleep-heavy by comparison, a dense-from-the-off work of low-end bass action that trundles Om-ward with glue on its wheels, true to the debut: the hypnotic pull is complete. Put it on heavy rotation and let it sink … in. Deep.

Released 2006 on Holy Mountain
Tracklist:
At Giza (15:55)
Flight of the Eagle (17:27)

This review was first posted on Julian Cope’s Head Heritage site back in 2010, and I’ve revised it very slightly so it makes sense in a post-Om/reactivated-Sleep world. For a Cope-ian reading of Om’s debut album, gorge on his Album of the Month review of Variations on a Theme.