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Missed Connections: Overlooked Anniversaries

sarcophago

I intended to introduce this piece with a treatise on our preoccupation with anniversaries that end in a five or zero but grew weary at the thought. It seems that every journalist today feels the need to conflate minutia for self-importance, and I’d prefer to focus objectively on the music. Besides, Patton Oswalt said it best: “‘I’m 26!’ Great, go to work. Who gives a shit?”

We covered many albums worth celebrating last year, but no staff can reasonably tackle the breadth of options. The albums I’ve highlighted either had a direct impact on my musical upbringing, or I’ve come to recognize their influence in hindsight; additionally, some are minor works by important artists whom we should laud at every opportunity. As always, this list does not embody every album of note but only those of which I could comfortably report. Feel free to include any that you deem worthy.

— Aaron Maltz

1977

Chrome — Alien Soundtracks

At 40 years old, Alien Soundtracks now needs a good stretch in the morning to limber up for the day. It likes its coffee cheap, scowls at self-confident youth, and dislikes jarring sensory. Basically, it would hate Chrome around the time they released their second album. Alien Soundtracks plays like a series of small experiments unintended to form a cohesive whole, preferring scattered late night conversations with The Stooges, The Residents, and Frank Zappa than traditional rock structure. Song titles and track lengths become increasingly arbitrary as the album progresses, and if you listened to this on vinyl in 1977, you would think you purchased a defective copy. It’s strange and becomes increasingly stranger around the halfway point with the Moroccan influenced “Nova Feedback” and African funk of “ST 37.” Music buffs point to Chrome as pioneers of industrial music, and their collage approach to composition supports the theory. As the final notes fade, you have to wonder whether the drugs were just that much better in the 1970s.

1982

Meat Puppets — Meat Puppets

The information age doesn’t provide much room for credible spontaneity, but looking back at a time when artists had more free reign, you have to wonder who gave Meat Puppets the go-ahead for their self-titled debut. Lead vocalist and guitarist Curt Kirkwood described it as “our LSD record” over a three-day binge, and celebrated music critic Robert Christgau labeled it as “doomy noise songs that sound like DNA meeting the Marx Brothers.” Essentially, it’s the hardcore album that many were too uptight to make, with Curt’s gnarly vocals poking the balloon of dementia throughout. A solid batch of songs lie underneath all the rough edges, and their incorporation of country covers by Doc Watson and Bob Nolan would later go on to help define cowpunk. By their next album, they had tired of and moved on from the hardcore badge, but for a brief moment, they trumped the humorless.

1987

Ruins — Ruins II

No one has accused Ruins of prepping for radio rock, but Ruins II sounds like it was recorded in a basement full of drunk microphones. Drummer and driving force Tatsuya Yoshida sketches a near-indecipherable vision of progressive and noise rock heavily influenced by Magma, with David Byrne on vocals if he went legitimately nuts (Mike Patton most certainly borrowed from this delivery). Despite having a strong lineage to other experimental acts, the music feels like a piece of ancient bacteria traveling on a meteorite that happened to land in Japan. Ruins II is far from their best piece of work but an important step in their evolution.

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Sarcofago — I.N.R.I.

Consider Terrorizer magazine’s claim that “…it is sobering to think of what wouldn’t have happened had I.N.R.I. not been released,” and then contemplate Euronymous’ obsession with Sarcofago’s appearance and that “he wanted every band to be like this.” If I.N.R.I. established black metal’s style, is that praiseworthy or unfortunate? Would someone else have figured out the corpse paint and bullet belt combo or would, say, masks have become the standard? Is it odd that a scene figurehead, himself obsessed with notoriety, wanted to replicate a unique appearance en masse? Thirty years after its release and the debate persists, which, of course, entirely overlooks the music. I.N.R.I. goes for the throat, and when “Satanic Lust” dawns, your pleasure center dropkicks macro questions of an existential nature. Bitter from his split with Sepultura, vocalist Wagner Lamounier decimates cuddly teddy bears and rainbows with his acid reflux delivery, and drummer D.D. Crazy shows us both how to (and how not to) blast. For 30 minutes, they religiously stick to a vision of debauchery that mocks fluffy terms like “personal growth” and would prefer if you adopt hedonism as a lifestyle brand. The title, Allmusic informs me, is “named after the inscription supposedly written by Pontius Pilate over the head of Jesus Christ on the cross (meaning ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’)…”

[Editor’s Note: and remember, “if you are a false, don’t entry or you will be burned and died!”]

1992

Disharmonic Orchestra — Not To Be Undimensionally Conscious

I bought Not To Be Undimensionally Conscious after reading a Metal Maniacs review that both praised and questioned its intent and instantly took to its weirdness. Disharmonic Orchestra’s first album Expositionsprophylaxe stuck to a intriguing yet forgettable grind/death blend that sounds miles away from their more technical and adventurous approach just a few years later. Harmonically, they embrace the unusual and find meaning in what one can perceive as random notes throughout “Addicted Seas With Missing Pleasures”; structurally, they push themselves into borderline prog and post-rock territory on tracks like “Time Frame”; playfully, they infamously enter the hip-hop realm during “Return of the Living Beat” with mixed to brilliant results, depending on your sense of humor. In between the particularly ambitious moments, the Austrian trio craft excellent death metal that volleys between the unique and the visceral with lyrics that read like Dada crossed with Ren and Stimpy (e.g. “Following a biscuit / To its empire / With heard of goofy gnus of groove / And make up peculiar names in trance”). While perhaps not for everyone, their attempt to create something different deserves a round of applause.

diSEMBOWELMENT — Dusk

With only one EP and full-length to their credit, diSEMBOWELMENT left a substantial mark in the death/doom genre. Dusk, their debut EP, summons Black Sabbath when the serotonin has run particularly low and guttural death metal crushes all posers. The extraordinary production, both bright and raw, allows every instrument to pop, and the vocals channel pure constipation. Considering the extent of their influence, it’s miraculous the group broke up without ever having performed live. Two members would later rekindle the campfire with the excellent Inverloch.

PainKiller ‎– Buried Secrets

Metalheads seek out the harshest of sounds, but a few minutes of PainKiller quickly escalates into a plea for refrain. Combining free jazz and avant-garde grindcore didn’t exactly pay the bills in 1992 (nor does it in 2017), but add in some dub elements and assistance from Godflesh and you have willingly ostracized yourself to an esoteric fanbase. John Zorn, who murders more than operates the saxophone, runs the show along with Bill Laswell on bass and former Napalm Death drummer Mitch Harris, who himself shows considerable range binding the shrapnel. Sounds most definitely occur for 27 minutes, but their sum remains mysterious; considering the personnel, comprehension requires contemplation. Both sides of the coin lurk behind every noise, as beauty is soon replaced by the voice of human sacrifice. Even after 25 years, Buried Secrets awaits its understanding.

1997

Discordance Axis ‎– Jouhou

PainKiller may have intellectualized grindcore, but Discordance Axis took it to art school. Since their time, bands grind increasingly harder, but few capture “ragingly pissed” as accurately than the New Jersey trio. Jon Cheng screams like his life depends on it, and Dave Witte… Dave-Wittes. Chunks of Jouhou fly by like spittle in a street fight with little certainty whether or not you’re throwing punches or just standing by innocently, and for 18 minutes you are a plaything. Jon Cheng’s obsession with perfection, whatever that means, nearly drove the band apart during the recording, and that tension translates in the performance. Twenty years later, few bands have caught up to that ambition. Doug Moore’s interview with Jon Cheng from 2014 deserves a first (or second) read.

2002

As The Sun Sets — 7744

For a few brief months in 2002, I triumphantly penned the sole Amazon review for 7744, the magnum opus from pre-Daughters outfit As The Sun Sets. Rather than touch up the language, I’ll release my 23-year-old jubilation from the leash:

This is perhaps the most chaotic, technical metal album in history. It’s short (only 14 minutes), but the songs are so off the wall and stream-of-consciousness, it redifines [sic] the grindcore genre. Imagine the complexity of a Dillinger Escape Plan and all its accomidations [sic] shrunk down to 45 seconds per track, and that’s “7744.”

Despite the need for a spell check, my enthusiasm stands. Even when pitted against modern albums carrying similar levels of intensity (What Passes For Survival, for example), 7744 sounds remarkably contemporary and, in many ways, unsurpassed. In retrospect, I hear more Don Caballero and Ruins influence in their style, along with the aforementioned grind anniversaries, and I remember every note despite the delirious presentation. Their association with a hipster audience hindered their acceptance in the metal community, but an objective listen after 15 years will hopefully wag a few tails.

Hella — Hold Your Horse Is

The lineage from Ruins to Hella becomes obvious in this anniversary recap, but their admirers lack resemblance. Whereas Ruins appealed mainly to music nerds accustomed to solo record store outings and tape trades, Hella found an audience amongst fashionable youth clamoring for exclusive taste; the arcane had become en vogue between the two releases. Hold Your Horse Is, the California duo’s debut, captures the zeitgeist of punk, but unlike punk, it asks only those talented enough to participate. Guitarist Spencer Seim does all sorts of taps and tremolos that sound mighty impressive, while drummer Zach Hill opts for a “more is more” approach. No listener questions their musicianship, and the compositions are thankfully quite nice to experience. A set of boss tracks flow underneath a battery of construction work, and the abandon holds up over time.

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