Archive for the Articles Category

Our Triumphant Return

Posted in Articles with tags , on June 5, 2013 by Magadh

Things have been a little slow around the bunker for the last few weeks, at least so far as our media activities are concerned. Which is not to say that they have been slow in general. We’ve both been involved in a number projects related to our immediate survival, as well as projects of a more elective nature. The Captain seems to have taken a mate from among the tribes that wander the hoary northwestern forests. I don’t know what he had to pay as a bride price, but I did seem him collecting ears from his fallen enemies over the last couple of months, so maybe that had something to do with it. In any case, the two of them have been sequestered in some far pod of the complex for the last few weeks, involved I suspect in the performance of some sort of extensive blood ritual.

Be that as it may, we need to get back down to business. We have a whole bunch of stuff backlogged for review. I should start working through this tomorrow, but until then I thought I might lay out a little something for your edification.

Readers of my posts will know that I have an interest in black metal. This is more historical than anything else. It was in the early 1990s that I first heard Enslaved’s Hordane’s Land 12″ and the first releases by Emperor. I still remember my shock at hearing Darkthrone’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky after hearing Soulside Journey a year earlier. But as a long time devotee of the hardcore scene (with which I had been involved for ten years by that point), it seemed perfectly natural that the extreme metal scene would move in the direction of a more primitive approach. Back in those days the bands mostly seemed pretty apolitical, although as things went on their fascination with their “Viking heritage” often mutated into extreme nationalism of a particularly idiotic sort. It’s hard to think of any utterance less convincing than Fenriz’s claim that they didn’t intend any political implications by putting the phrase “Norsk Arisk Black Metal” on the back of the Transylvanian Hunger LP.

As time has gone on, I’ve found the emissions of the increasingly commercialized black metal industry decreasingly interesting. But as a historian, I am fascinated by the early history of the “movement” (if such it can be called). The available historical material is very uneven. The release of Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind’s Lords of Chaos in 1998 was exciting although somewhat blighted Moynihan’s underlying politico-social agenda. More recently, Until the Light Takes Us, a documentary film made by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, provided a lot of interesting material on the dynamic between two of the most important early figures in the Norwegian black metal scene: Kristian “Varg” Vikernes and Gilve “Fenriz” Nagell.

Now that a bit more time has passed since the seminal events surrounding the early history of black metal (the murder of Euronymous, the church burnings, the trial and imprisonment of Vikernes, etc) a bit more complex and nuanced historical account is increasingly coming into view. I’ve recently seen two documentaries produced in the last six years or so on the history of Mayhem, both of which feature several of the most important figures involved with the band (including Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud and Kjetil Manheim but not the nutty and self-promoting Vikernes) tell the tale of its earliest history. The testimony of Manheim, who left Mayhem after the release of the Deathcrush and now works in the noise scene, is particularly compelling. He seems to be one of the few people involved in that milieu who wasn’t a complete nutter, and his portraits of Euronymous, Per “Dead” Ohlin, and Vikernes illuminate the early history of the scene in important ways.

For those with an interest, here are the relevant links:

Once Upon a Time in Norway: The History of Mayhem (2007)

Pure Fucking Mayhem (2008)

For those wanting a broader perspective on black metal, this documentary has interviews with people from Naglfar, Gorgoroth, Bloodthorn, Dark Funeral, Rotting Christ, Enslaved, Ulver, and Impaled Nazarene, as well as some less interesting folks. Lots of good information and ruminations on the cultural meaning of the form, but the live footage is not all that super.

Black Metal – The Norwegian Legacy (2008)

Ok, that your lot for now. We’ll be back in the next day or two with stuff that doesn’t involve listening to a bunch of right wing asshats.


Slayer and Me

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2013 by Magadh

slayer3In the fall of 1985 I had some cash on hand. I had been corresponding with a girl who I’d met over the summer and I had been planning to try to go out and see her again over Christmas break. I had saved up a wad of cash with which to do this by the time she told me around the end of November that I shouldn’t bother. That was a hard knock to take, but I salved my wounded pride by going out on a bit of a spending spree. I only remember two of the things that I bought: a brand new Roskopp skateboard (and a set of OJ II wheels to go with) and a copy of Slayer’s Hell Awaits.

I didn’t really know that much about Slayer at the time. All my information came from an article about speedmetal that I’d read in Maximum Rock n Roll. I was intrigued, but also kind of skeptical. I had been into the punk scene for a few years and in those days the punk/metal division was still taken quite seriously. I was serious about anarchism (or so I thought) and singing about Satan, or your dick, or whatever, seemed unacceptably decadent to me. Still, there was obviously something seriously transgressive about bands like Slayer and Celtic Frost. I lived in a small town with a lot of churches, where Christianity was jammed up my nose all the time. I wasn’t sure I approved of their aesthetic choices, but I sort of felt like we had something in common.

Although I lived the agricultural region of eastern Washington State, there was a pretty decent record store. It was run by a bunch of old ex-hippies and was also kind of a head shop. My mother warned me against going there, so of course that became the place where I spent a lot of my free time. It was a dark little place that shared a building with a beauty salon out in the neighborhoods away from downtown. There were banks of records and cassette cases in just about every inch of available space. They had a lot of interesting stuff, mostly from the 1960s and 70s, but for some reason they also got stocked some punk stuff in the early 1980s. I’d made some pretty awesome scores there already: the Bad Brains I and I Survive/Coptic Times 12”, the This is Boston not L.A. compilation, my first copy of Damaged, you get the idea.

So there I was on a dark day in early December with a pocket full of money, minutely examining every possible purchase. I was going through the “S” section, searching (as I recall) for a copy of the Sex Pistols Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle that a friend of mine claimed to have seen there. The records were separated alphabetically by artist, but within the individual letters there was no organization, so one had to spend a bit of time searching for any particular thing that one wanted to find. It was then that I stumbled upon Hell Awaits. The cover was striking, and the pictures on the back suggested real depravity. I bought it and took it home feeling like I was about to start chanting spells from the Necronomicon.

slayer1slayer2I went straight to my room without talking to my parents. They were pretty mellow people, but I still didn’t want to show them something like that. I opened the plastic, pulled out the vinyl, and set it on the player. Slowly the reverse recorded noise at the beginning came up and the hair rose on the back of my neck. Then the music kicked in and my jaw dropped. One minute and thirty-five seconds in, a new age dawned for me. Dave Lombardo’s thundering drums pushed forward one of the heavy passages of metal ever produced and it was January 1st in my apocalyptic Year Zero. I sat slack-jawed. I had simply never heard anything like this. Then they kicked it up into fourth gear and it seemed like the world dissolved. I was torn between utter astonishment at the music that I was hearing and sheer terror that one of my parents would walk in on the black mass that had suddenly broken out in my bedroom. I remember thinking, “If there really is a god, this kind of thing must really piss him off.”


In the fall of 1986, I was living in Portland, Oregon when I heard that Slayer had a new record coming out. Once again, I had read about it first in Maximum Rock n Roll, and once again the source of my information came with a bit of skepticism. I was reading an interview with some hardcore band from Europe (I don’t remember who) and their comment on Reign in Blood centered on the fact that the first song dealt with Josef Mengele. For that reason (and I think justifiably) I was dubious. By this time I had heard the rest of Slayer’s back catalog, their first LP Show No Mercy and the Haunting the Chapel 12″.  I thought “Chemical Warfare” was pretty impressive, but in general I didn’t feel like that stuff measured up to Hell Awaits. I’d also spend months living in Nottingham in the U.K., hanging around in the punk scene with a lot of really seriously politically aware types. These were the early days of what would come to be called grindcore, and my of the arguments about the relative merits of punk and metal (and possible combinations of the two) were all around. I had made the acquaintance of bands like Concrete Sox and Heresy, who were at the forefront of such combinations, but who also retained a definite political consciousness that seemed to make singing about Satan seem absurd. [People familiar with this period in the U.K. punk scene may remember degree of loathing inspired by Onslaught, partly for their Satanistic stylings, partly for the their idiotic racist comments. For an illustration of this one has only to listen to opening to the Stupids Peruvian Vacation LP (linked below)]

Around that time I renewed my acquaintance with a friend from high school who had moved to Estacada outside of Portland. He came into town to transact a little business with me. As it turned out, he was a couple of dollars short, but he happened to have a cassette of Reign in Blood, which I accepted in lieu of the full amount. My buddy and I went back to my dorm room (I was in college at the time), performed the appropriate spiritual ablutions, and slipped the cassette into my tape deck. This time things got going a bit more quickly. This time the blow fell more quickly: twenty seconds in Tom Araya unleashed a jet engine shriek, Lombardo’s double kick spun into action, and the whole band galloped off toward the black plains of Gehenna at hypersonic speed. Reign in Blood was a whole new level of brutality. By this time I’d heard everything Metallica had released up through Master of Puppets. I’d snaffled a copy of the demo version of Exodus Bonded by Blood, and even owned a Venom record or two. None of them came close to this. One after another, the cuts on Reign in Blood struck like bomb blasts in rapid succession, sucking the wind from one’s lungs. I think I managed to say something like, “Oh shit” before being pummeled into silence. I made it about through “Jesus Saves” before I had to hit stop. I couldn’t take it anymore. The sky had grown dark, and something cold brushed through the room on blackened wings. I thought I was going to have an attack of vertigo.

I know without having to look it up that the first time that I saw Slayer was 1 November 1986 at Pine Street Theater in Portland. I know this because it was the night after Holloween and I was still addled from an extremely ill-advised chemical cocktail that I had ingested the night before. Shows in Portland in those days could be really hairy. There was a big skinhead scene in town and even the ones who weren’t white power tended to be extremely aggressive. Pine Street was packed. I’d never seen it so full of people and it seemed like every skinhead in town was there, in addition to all the other lunatics in the area. I spent most of the night at the back of the pit trying to stand very still. I remember trying to find my way to the can and being in mortal fear that I was going to brush up against the wrong guy. I was kind of out of my head and I was pretty much convinced (not without justice) that practically everyone in the joint was itching for a fight. I spent a lot of nights in Portland in those days wondering when I was going to get my ass kicked, but that had to be just about the most paranoid I ever was at a show.

Overkill was opening for Slayer on that tour, which really seemed like a bad idea. Overkill weren’t bad, but pretty much every song they did sounded like the intro to a (much better) Anthrax song. The fact of the matter was that the crowd was simply not into what they had to offer. They soldiered on gamely through a torrent of abuse and death threats. When they left the stage we all sort of collectively noticed that there were gigantic banks of Marshall cabs on either side of the stage. The drums were on a riser that seemed to be about ten feet high. The air was electric with tension as we all waited for Slayer to come on. Smoke swirled on the stage. The lights when down. Four spectral figures moved into place in the dark. The kick drums thundered out, the lights came up, and without any further preamble a tidal wave of noise smashed into the audience. Chaos broke out; frantic moshing with no order or direction. Fights broke out, but the beefy and aggressive Pine Street bouncers seemed strangely (or wisely) reticent about wading into the pit to sort it out. I felt as if I had been transported to some different plane. This was, I am certain, the loudest noise that I had heard to that point in my life. I stood transfixed through their set, feeling like an interdimensional portal was about to open and swallow me up. I both wanted it never to end, and hoped that they would stop so I could make my escape. When their set was over, I headed out as quickly as possible, convinced that the darkness and aggression would leak outside and pursue me into the night.


Slayer was, for me, the quintessential band of the 1980s. I was fascinated by them. In the winter of 1989 I was in Scotland, up late, and watch whatever was on TV (which in those pre-cable days was not much). The last thing on at night turned out to be a show called Headbanger’s Heaven (or something like that), hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Night. It featured performance footage of various metal bands, and after showing about half and hour of Ozzy Osbourne, they did a segment on Slayer. In between bits of concert highlights, they played an interview with Tom Araya. The presenter asked him about their new material, noting that it was slower than their older stuff, to which Araya responded, “When you’ve already put out the perfect thrash record which keep trying to recreate that?” It sounded slightly arrogant, but he really had a point. I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve ever heard by Slayer, but nothing quite packs the punch for me of Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood. To a greater extent than any two other records I ever heard, they changed the way that I looked at music, at heaviness, at drumming, at aggression in art.

I am writing this two days after hearing of the death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman from liver failure. I suspect that it had something to do with the collateral effects of the spider bite that he suffered a couple of years ago, but I’m guessing that he didn’t live a particularly healthful lifestyle otherwise. Slayer has had some rocky times over years, and particularly recently. Dave Lombardo, probably the single most influential drummer in extreme metal, had been in and out of the band, but had recently been kicked out (apparently at the insistence of Kerry King) over some sort of contractual issue. And then there are the occasional news items in which Tom Araya claims to actually be a practicing Christian. Who knows what to believe. For me the death of Jeff Hanneman is the end of an era. As the predominant songwriter in the band, he created a sonic onslaught that left me reeling and from which I have yet to fully recover. If it is true that it is better the reign in hell than it is to serve in heavan, I say, long may he reign!


Neurosis Redux

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by Magadh

Owing to technical difficulties,  as well as Washington’s cannabis laws, the footage and review of Neurosis/Tragedy/Blackbreath/Stoneburner from January 5th at Seattle’s Showbox is irretrievable. Suffice to say the line up was mind blowing and nobody feels worse about the loss than me. That said, I did want to address some of the nonsense directed a Neurosis from sections of the local chattering class.

Let me preface the rest of this piece by saying that nobody will accuse me of being  a shameless Neurosis fan boy. Prior to receiving a copy of Honor Found in Decay (an excellent record by the way) from a friend the last Neurosis album I purchased was Enemy of the Sun. I’ve found their more recent material to be most compelling live, so I haven’t made the effort to augment my collection. Still, they’ve always been a band I have tremendous respect for.

My respect for the band is why the misguided ramblings of a few local types can’t be allowed to go unanswered. Specifically, the notion that the band is “out of ideas”, “cashing in with this tour” and “not challenging audiences, just playing what people want”. Where to begin addressing this idiocy?

Firstly, Scott Kelly, Jason Roeder, Dave Edwardson and Noah Landis all spent time living in the New Method Warehouse located in Emeryville. New Method was dirty, bleak, tough, DIY and empowering. Neurosis has embodied those traits throughout its existence. The bands added to the bill for the Seattle Show, Black Breath, Tragedy and Stoneburner, certainly confirm the band remembers its roots. Kelly was quoted as saying that Neurosis is fundamentally based in Black Sabbath and Black Flag. The bands chosen to share the stage with them confirm they are not alone. Further, the evening’s lineup, and indeed the lineups throughout the tour, reflects a strong commitment to supporting the DIY community. In addition, if cashing in is reflected in an 8 show US tour, they seem to be doing things wrong.

Addressing the idea that the band is just, in essence, playing the hits I present the set list from January 5th.

  1. Eye
  2. My Heart for Deliverance
  3. At the End of the Road
  4. Times of Grace
  5. Distill
  6. At the Well
  7. Left to Wander
  8. We All Rage in Gold
  9. Bleeding the Pigs
  10. Given to the Rising
  11. Locust Star

A plurality of tracks were culled from Honor Found in Decay, with the rest drawn from The Eye of Every Storm, Through Silver in Blood, Given to the Rising and Times of Grace. This certainly doesn’t speak to a band pandering to its audience. Rather, the set list is well curated with each track flowing into the other as the band builds to the amazing “Locust Star”. 

Finally, the band’s willingness to part ways with Josh Graham and the visual experience is laudable. I’ve seen the band on the Word as Law, without visuals, as well as during the evolution of the projections from film to digital elements. The visual elements were extremely well selected, enhanced the live performance and became as exulated as the band’s music. This is why I find their decision to strip them away commendable. A band content with the status qua does not make that sort of decision

I’d like to leave you with footage from the show. The band is performing “At the Well” and the power of the performance does more to rebut the nattering of the perpetually discontent  than all of the preceding text.

– Captain of Games

2012 Top 10 List: Shawn Kock

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2012 by Magadh


Shawn Kock, of Absolute Monarchs and Mass Games, has been a great friend of mine since he was an alum of the infamous 1812 punk house in Seattle. I asked him to give us his top 10 records of 2012. He included 2 albums released in 2011 (not surprising really…Shawn doesn’t like your rules man!) so I allowed one to stand and took the liberty of inserting Absolute Monarchs in the #10 slot as it’s really a stand out record.

-Captain of Games

1) Constant Lovers True Romance“(yeah, it came out in 2011 but its two years good)
2) Santigold Master of my Make Believe
3) Nacho Picasso Exalted
4) Sandrider Sandrider
5) Naomi Punk The Feeling
6) Alaric / Atriarch split (Alaric side only)
7) Gaythiest Stealth Beats
8) The Intelligence Everybody’s Got it Easy But Me
9) A Place to Bury Strangers Worship
10) Absolute Monarchs 1

Solidarity With Pussy Riot

Posted in Articles, Heads Up with tags , , on October 12, 2012 by Magadh

One October 10th the 3 jailed members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot found themselves back in front of the Russian judges who first imprisoned them. Yekaterina Samutsevich was  released from prison after suspension of her sentence. However, the tribunal ruled Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina will be forced to serve out their 2 years sentences for hooliganism.

Shortly after her release from prison Christiane Amanpour interviewed Yekaterian Samutsevich. The short interview is well worth your time and is available here.

In solidarity with Pussy Riot, Tobi Vail (ex-Bikini Kill and Frumpies) released a song entitled Free Pussy Riot. The song was inspired by Free John Sinclair by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It’s a great tune and Vail encourages listeners to spread it far and wide as a message of support for the jailed members of Pussy Riot. Check it out here and then pass it on!

Free Pussy Riot!

– Captain of Games

Tattooing Legends: George Burchett and Amund Dietzel

Posted in Articles with tags , , , on October 10, 2012 by Magadh

King of Tattooists: The Life and Work of George Burchett

These Old Blue Arms: The Life and Work of Amund Dietzel Vols. I, II

Solid State Publishing

Long time readers of this blog will have, by now, concluded Mags and I can be a bit obsessive. Perhaps it’s the monotony of the bunker, perhaps it’s some form of intellectual monomania we both share. In either regard, it’s fair to say when we latch onto something we really latch onto it. My obsession with the history of tattooing owes a great deal to the fine folks at Solid State Publishing and their sumptuous histories of George Burchett and Amund Dietzel.

Both Burchett and Dietzel came to tattooing through their early careers as sailors. In the case of Burchett, I may have things reversed. He was forced to join the Royal Navy at age 13 as we as expelled from school at age 12 for tattooing his classmates. Both men would begin to hone their craft on their sea faring colleagues and both would take up tattooing when their sailing days were over (Burchett absconded from the navy, the Norwegian Dietzel nearly drowned in a merchant marine ship wreck).

Burchett would settle into an apprenticeship before opening his famous studios on Mile End Road and 72 Waterloo Road. His career would see him draw upon the rich history of tattooing, often incorporating elements of South East Asian, African and Japanese tradition into his work. Before his death in 1953, he would tattoo European kings and pioneer cosmetic tattooing. His autobiography, Memories of a Tattooist, is a brilliant read and fetches a handsome price from collectors.

Dietzel, following the previously mentioned shipwreck, found himself in Connecticut where he met British ex-pat tattooist William Grimshaw. They would fully tattoo each other before hitting the carnival circuit in order to draw income by exhibiting themselves. In 1914, Dietzel ended up in Wisconsin and began to put down roots. He continued to perfect his craft with two world wars providing a steady stream of soldiers and sailors from the nearby Great Lakes Naval Station eager for his attentions. Milwaukee banned tattoo parlors in 1967 with Dietzel commenting, “At least it took the city fifty-one years to find out it doesn’t want me. Milwaukee used to be a very nice town.” Seven years later, Dietzel passed away.

The amazing lives of these tattooing pioneers are presented in exquisite detail by Solid State Publishing. The historical photos and flash are worth the price alone. If you’re a fan of tattoos and tattooing history you owe it to yourself to pick these books up.

-Captain of Games

Leatherface: A Love Story

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , on September 26, 2012 by Magadh

Part 1.

I’d been fascinated with Leatherface ever since I’d been turned on to them in 1991 or so. I’d listened to my first copy of Mush until the CD delaminated. When I heard they’d broken up a couple of years later it sent me into a real funk. I collected their records fanatically, even the stuff that former members did outside the band like Pope and Fatty Jones and Doctor Bison. Most of it was just ok, but it was hard for me to listen to it without feeling an intense sense of loss. Frank Stubbs and Dickie Hammond were both very good, but together they were much more than the sum of the parts.

In 1999, when I heard Leatherface had gotten back together and were touring the US. I was extremely excited. Ok, Dickie Hammond wasn’t in the lineup, and they were touring with Hot Water Music (for whom I do not really care), still it was like a dream come true. They played at the old Mississippi St. house in north Portland. The day of the gig I was really amped. As it got toward evening, I realized that I hadn’t told my wife that I was going to need our car, and it only dawned upon me that it might be a problem long after it was too late to undertake the epic bus ride from where I lived in southeast up to the peninsula. By the time my wife arrived at about 8:00, I was pretty sure my chance had gone, but she convinced me to give it a shot anyway. I drove like a psychopath up 99E, blowing about every other light. Of course, when I got there I found out that they wouldn’t be playing for another hour or more.

Their set that night was not all that great. The mic kept giving out and their second guitarist didn’t seem to have a very good grip on the songs. Worse yet, there was a really large, sweaty guy in the pit who insisted on both taking his shirt off and moshing all over the diminutive woman standing next to me, all the while shouting at the band like they were some bunch of frat boys covering “Tequila.” This was really beginning to bum me out. I was mulling over the probable consequences of punching him when the woman, sick of getting slathered in this guys bodily fluids, turned to him between songs and said, “If you barge into me one more time I’m gonna knock your fucking teeth out.” She couldn’t have weighed more than 95 pounds, but I had no doubt that she was serious. And neither did the sweaty moshing guy, who settled right down.

I spent the show in a state of extreme nervous excitement. Leatherface was certainly my favorite band in those days, and I expected that actually getting to see them would be cathartic. But it wasn’t. I kept waiting for the mic to cut out again, or for the sound to die completely, or for some other bad thing to happen. I suppose it was because I assumed that this was going to be a complete one off. By the time they finished, I was about ready to have a seizure. I went out on the sidewalk in front of the storefront where the bands played and smoked a cigarette, trying to calm down. I stood by, watching the band load their gear out of the door. Finally, I worked up the courage to go over to them. They were sitting in the side door of their van. I walked up to Frank Stubbs, grabbed his hand, and shook it, saying, “That was great. It was really fucking great.” Then, without so much as waiting for a response, I turned around and headed to my car. Even in that moment, the prospect that the image might be shattered was too much for me to bear.

The next year, I was living Chapel Hill, North Carolina when I heard that Leatherface was touring again (with Samiam). This time I wasn’t quite as psyched out about the whole thing. I lived within a short walk of the Cat’s Cradle, where they were playing and, more importantly, I’d already seen them before so I was a little more relaxed about it.

I got to the club just as the opening band was finishing up, got a drink, and positioned myself about three feet back from the center of the stage. Leatherface came on after a short changeover and played a couple of songs off of Horsebox, their most recent record at that point. This was ok. They were playing well, even though that stuff wasn’t my favorite material. Then they stopped. Frank Stubbs looked down at me and said, “This next one goes out to the guy in the Arsenal jersey. That is what that is, right?”

I think I managed a stunned, “Yeah.”

“We beat you guys,” he said, meaning Sunderland, their hometown football club. “We got beat by Ipswich, but we beat you lot.” I was right on the verge of having a stroke. Then they broke into “Not Superstitious,” my favorite of their songs. This was, quite possibly, the best thing that’s ever happened to me at a show. They went on to do a whole bunch of other songs from Mush, and generally played an absolutely raging set.

When they were done, I resolved that I was going to actually talk to Frank Stubbs. The backstage at the Cat’s Cradle was a tiny area off to the right of the stage, shielded from the rest of the room by a curtain. Veteran ligger that I was, I decided to just walk in there and see what was going on. Stubbs was sitting on a stack of gear, talking to a girl who I gathered from the conversation was doing a zine. I waited until she was done and then introduced myself. To my intense relief, he turned out to be very pleasant. He offered me a beer from the open case next him, and we talked about football and music. I got the chance to ask him a lot of questions that had been buzzing around in my head for years, like about what writing process of their songs was like, and why Dickie Hammond wasn’t in the band anymore. He told me that their relationship had kind of soured when Leatherface got well known because Hammond felt like Stubbs got too much attention. He also claimed that he wrote most of the songs and minimized Hammond’s contribution to the writing. I took this all with a grain of salt, since people will say a lot of things when they are angry at each other. He did say that both he and Hammond really respected one another, and I’m sure he meant it (especially since Hammond subsequently rejoined the band).

We sat around for half an hour or so, drinking beer and chatting. Then he said he had to get something from their van. I followed him out into the parking lot, shook his hand again, and told him I had to split. He asked why I wasn’t sticking around for Samiam. I told him they were from the US and I would have plenty of opportunities to see them. In fact, I was so stoked from the conversation that I wanted to get out of the area quickly before something happened to tamp down my euphoria.

Part 2.
I’m not going to talk about every single thing that they have released, just the ones that have had particular significance to me.

Cherry Knowle (1989) Meantime Records
Fill Your Boots (1990) Roughneck Records
I bought these two records on the same day in 1993. At the time I thought that Fill Your Boots came earlier, and you could almost believe it given the way that the two records sound. Although the song structures are pretty comparable on both, the guitar mix on Fill Your Boots is muddier, which gives songs like “New York State” and “Peasant in Paradise” a sort of whooshy, distant sound. The crisper guitars on Cherry Knowle make it seem a bit more advanced, and you could argue that the lyrics are a bit more direct, in the way that they would be on Mush. Of the two, Fill Your Boots the one that I like better overall, but I think Cherry Knowle has that better individual songs. “Discipline” will always be one of my favorite songs, particularly because it is an early illustration of Frank Stubbs’s capacity to understand human character. “Cabbage Case” takes on the theme of drug abuse, one to which the band would return repeatedly, particularly in the powerfully moving “Little White God” released five years later. “Smile (You’re In a Free and Pleasant Land)” has a powerful melody and allows Stubbs to flash his culture, which from the lyrics of their songs is clearly extensive. Still, it is Fill Your Boots to which I listen more often. It has a darker, more depressive quality than Cherry Knowle, one that I find particularly appealing. Fill Your Boots also shows flashes of another of Leatherface’s great skills: the cover song. They reprise the cover of Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto” that featured on Cherry Knowle (which is not one of my absolute favorites) and add a version of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” (which is).

Mush (1991) Roughneck
I got the version that came out on Seed in North America, but that’s a minor point. In my opinion, this is about as close to a flawless punk record as I have ever heard. The songs are powerful and well-arranged and there isn’t one filler cut in the bunch. The thing that really struck me the first time (and the first hundred times) that I listened to Mush was the excellence of Frank Stubbs’s lyrics. He writes songs for adults, songs that deal with things in ways that are complex and nuanced. From the desire to be more than one is (“I Want the Moon”), to the complexities of belief (“Not Superstitious”), and the stories that we tell ourselves to live (“Baked Potato”), Stubbs creates lyrics that either turn clichés on their heads, or dispense with them completely. The song that really stand out for me is “The Scheme of Things”. There, Stubbs returns to the theme, first approached in “Discipline” of people’s search for something to give their lives meaning. Stubbs focuses on people involved in religious movements, but rather than just calling them stupid or implying that they are simply deluded, he tries to address the underlying loneliness that motivates believers. As the lyric finishes, Stubbs moves from compassion to anger at the people promulgating these systems, “Show me a savior, after all, that’s what you’re selling.” For me, this is a cut above the standard fare.

Dreaming b/w Eagle 7” (1992)
I can still remember buying this in record store near South Street in Philadelphia. “Dreaming” is an ok cut, but “Eagle” is arguably the best cover tune they ever did, all the more so because it’s originally by ABBA.

Minx (1993) Roughneck

This was the first Leatherface album that I got after Mush. I bought it when it came out in 1993 and I was a bit disappointed. The songs are a bit longer than on Mush, sometimes surpassing the quality of the licks on which they are based. Also, if you listen to Mush and Minx back to back you will notice that Frank Stubbs’s voice becomes rather huskier between the two records. His singing was (and is) always gritty, but it sounds to me like he is singing in a bit higher register on the earlier records and this gives them a directness that Minx sort of lacks. That said, Minx really grew on me, especially when I read in a fanzine that Leatherface had broken up. I figured that this was the last thing that I would ever hear by them, so I decided that I would do my best to understand what they were trying to do. There are some really beautiful tunes on Minx, particularly “Books,” “Do the Right Thing,” and “Pale Moonlight” which I think rank as classics in the Leatherface catalog. I think my favorite song is probably “Fat, Earthy, Flirt,” both because it’s melody is a great example of Stubbs and Hammond combining chords with ringing individual strings, and because I really have no idea how the title relates to the rest of the song.

The Last (1994) Domino Records
Buying The Last was, for me, a little like receiving a letter from a dead friend. The band was gone, forever for all I knew. It has the feeling of a last will and testament, but it also seemed like a fragment. It contains some of the band’s finest work. “Little White God” is a compelling melody paired with a very moving lyric about drug addiction, one which I found particularly compelling as I heard it around the time that a friend of mine died from a heroin overdose. “Daylight Comes” flashes a harder rocking side that wouldn’t have been out of place on Mush, while the Snuff cover “Winsome, Losesome” is more rollicking and upbeat than a lot of their other material. Then there are cuts like “Shipyards” and “Ba Ba Ba Ba Boo” which really seem like filler to me.

After hearing The Last, I really felt at sea. And then there followed a weird period when the main creative forces in the band released projects with other bands. Frank Stubbs did two bands that I knew of: Jesse and Pope. I never heard the Jesse 7”s, but I bought Pope’s Johnpaulgeorgeringo when it came out. I wanted very much to like it. It featured the familiar powerful melodies and thoughtful lyrics, but it seemed somehow empty. Perhaps it was an effect of there only being one guitar, but it made me think that the songwriting team of Stubbs and Hammond were more than the sum of their parts. Hammond had formed Doctor Bison with former members of the Welsh band The Abs. Their two records, The Bloated Vegas Years and Dewhursts – The Musical, we decent, but they had a different flavor from Leatherface. Baz Oldfield is a talented songwriter and lyricist, but he operates in a much different creative space than Frank Stubbs. The melodic overlays that Dickie Hammond added to their songs sounded like the dying echoes of what had gone before. Hammond went on to form Fatty Jones (later just The Jones), and although I don’t know for sure I suspect that it had something to do with the fact that Newport is a long way from Sunderland, which must have made getting Doctor Bison together kind of a hassle. The Fatty Jones EP is actually not bad. In particular, “Ashebrook” is an enjoyable cut, but it was once again the sort of thing that made one wish that Leatherface would get back together. Gravity Blues, the album that they released once they became simply The Jones is not bad, but it is really uneven and, once again, illustrates the degree to which Hammond and Stubbs writing together were better than they were apart.

Horsebox (2000) BYO Records
I’m passing over the split album that they released in 1999 with Hot Water Music, mostly because it’s greatest importance was that it let people outside the UK know that Leatherface were back together again. Still, it contained the sorrowfully beautiful “Andy,” a tribute to their bassist Andy Crighton who had committed suicide in 1998, and it showed that the band had lost none of its fierceness. I have trouble listening to Horsebox these days, the reason being that I bought it about a week before I moved to North Carolina to do a degree program that necessitated a) living apart from my wife for 22 months, and b) leaving all but about ten or twenty of my records on the west coast. I listened to Horsebox obsessively in those days, and it became suffused with my loneliness. Now, hearing songs like “Sour Grapes” and “Choice” has the power to put me into a funk that can last for days.

Dog Disco (2004) BYO Records
I think that the day that I bought Dog Disco at Singles Going Steady in Seattle was one of the worst of my life. This is one of the few things that Frank Stubbs ever did that I really don’t like at all. In fact, it is the only one of Leatherface’s full LPs of which I do not actually own a copy. It was as if Stubbs had distilled all of the mistakes in his songwriting into one large mistake. I mean, it’s not quite Bad Religion Into the Unknown, but it is not up to the band’s normal standard. Hearing this record was like a punch in the gut. It was like the breakup all over again, but worse since there seemed to be every prospect that they would continue to release bad records. It took me months to get over it.

The Stormy Petrel (2010) No Idea
Given the intense disappointment that I’d experienced after buying Dog Disco, I was really hesitant to shell out the cash for another round. But then a friend of mine told me that Dickie Hammond was playing with the band again, and that piqued my interest. I bought the actual disc at a store in Cambridge and walked home in a state of expectation strongly tinged with fear. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The Stormy Petrel is a titanic return to form. Where the songs on Dog Disco seem to lack direction, those on The Stormy Petrel are punchy and compelling. As noted above, Frank Stubbs once discounted to me the degree to which collaboration with Dickie Hammond had on his songwriting. I have to say that, on the basis of the available evidence, it is clear to me that Leatherface produce much better music when Stubbs and Hammond are in close proximity. From the opening cut, The Stormy Petrel brings forth music that is at least as good as than on Horsebox, and if it is the case that they don’t reach the heights achieved on Mush, it is also worth noting that the vast majority of bands have never written anything nearly that good. While Frank Stubbs’s lyrics have been consistently excellent, on The Stormy Petrel they are once again paired with breathtaking Leatherface hooks from the old school. “God is Dead” is a good, rocking opener, while “Never Say Goodbye” is an outstanding illustration of Stubbs’s persistent ability to plumb the human condition. Perhaps the album should have ended with “Isn’t Life Just Sweet,” especially since this is a cut that they often use to open their set, but tacking the lower key “Hope” onto the end of the record creates one of those attractive nuances that make Leatherface records so appealing.

Of course even this gargantuan post really only scratches the surface. There are lots of other things that could be talked about in this connection, such as Dickie Hammond’s pre-Leatherface band HDQ (whose awesomeness is too often forgotten), or the live records that Leatherface has released, or Frank Stubbs work producing other bands, or even the short lived band Stokoe that Dickie Hammond played in while in exile. The fact of the matter is that, for me, Leatherface is a practically inexhaustible vein of compelling music. I thought that writing this piece might be a way of working through this, but in the end I find that I am more fascinated with them than ever.