On Second Thought
Brutal Juice - Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult

for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

One symptom that often accompanies collecting records is owning that one album that you think is an unrecognized gem—one that would surely break large upon the collective critical shore if only the right ears were reached. Not to say that everyone else is dense (thinking so is, sadly, often an accompanying symptom). It's just that... er, some extra proselytizing is required. And today's tedious homily is about Brutal Juice.

I came to Stylus with a clutch of opinions, stock albums, formative physical encounters: all the shortcuts to forming an Internet Personality. Three weeks of actually reading every article each day, as well as the infamous balance of the comments window, plus the music blogs that wax coy, plus the reviews of all the pre-release leaks everyone's awaiting... well, I went into septic shock. Readers and writers alike really knew their stuff. I found myself driven to an old favorite. Those who've heard it testify: it's a musical lodestone, a stiff shot. Something inviolate.

But before anything else, there was the warning on my lost, lamented Audiogalaxy. In fact, what I'm writing (save the heartfelt Stylus ass-kissings) might as well be a tribute to "David M," who got scared by a record before I knew albums inspired anything other than singalongs.

I can't pretend to know where our readers fall on the subjects of either metal or punk. Brutal Juice (named for a line Arnold Palmer said to OJ Simpson in a Hertz commercial) was a little of both, a heady mash of psych-punk, thrash metal, and technical hardcore. Anchoring the whole mess (as opposed to t'other way around) was the band's vocals, at once melodic and lung-rending. "Nationwide" finds the group nailing some blue-eyed 60s three-part harmonization, while buzzy punk-perfect "The Vaginals" (retitled "Ugly on the Inside" in a pitiable attempt to get some rock radio love) is two-parted for the entire song, over shifting time signatures, and in between a couple of tuneful-riff breakdowns. "You're not so pretty on the inside / Where it counts / Yes it's true," goes the po'-faced chorus. "Whorehouse of Screams"—which I'll get into later—starts off with a lost jangle-pop riff.

But I don't really want to make the case for the band's melodic appeal, cos that'd be a poor Trojan horse. The viscera of this record is its almost palpable menace. We're not talking the cartoony-amazing Misfits. We're not even talking the squishy, anatomical predilections of yr average grindcore band. No, this is an album of personal threat and corruption. For an hour, you could probably rattle off bands that traffic in horrors in order to transcend the baseness in all of us. Let's see... the Cows? Pain Teens, Xiu Xiu? Anyway. Put us together, we know a bunch. Some of 'em succeed.

Brutal Juice, man, they're just pure flagellation, a five-man tribunal combating evil with more evil. "Curb Job" finds the band knocking out a sick hardcore waltz. "In the face / Ringing bells / White out / Burning in hell / An understanding / We had / Is dead now / The blood is red...," they harmonically growl, later taunting "Are you justified?" "Not in my eyes," rejoins lead singer Craig Welch, as mixer Sylvia Massey, whose credits at this point included the Geto Boys, Exodus, and Kylie Minogue, pulls his voice into the atmosphere, briefly hovering over the earth before returning to do some serious damage via a crossfade into the lumbering "Humus Tahini." "They don't call me 'Taxi Driver' for nothing, you know," Welch snarls, "They don't call me 'Taxi Driver' at all". A couple of vicious hardcore punk transitions follow before Gordon Gibson unleashes the unholiest solo solo of the album.

I doubled "solo" there because "Character Assassination Attempt," the following track, includes the devastating trick of a twin-guitar attack separating into two vicious solos. "You spit on your relations / You goddamn whore / You got no imagination," Welch screams, repeating "no imagination" until you realize they might as well be indicting all their musical peers.

But it ain't all nihilism with the boys. Mutilation... is a bitingly funny record in spots, but it always comes with a cost. The lunacy of naming the poppiest track on the album "The Vaginals" while injecting it with the silliest lines on the record ("I don't want your hugs / I don't want your drugs" is a typical couplet) is positively inspired. The four-on-the-floor acid-punk "Doorman" recasts Genesis, with Brutal Juice as Adam, receiving cautionary advice from the serpent, who tells them not to bother eating the apple ("it doesn't takes the way it looks / He says 'Repent'!"). And "Kathy Rigby" is possibly the lustiest and most possessed song about marital bliss ever recorded—if that's even what the Juice was going for. With a breakneck tempo, and slap bass (!), words like these tumble in hell-growls:
She explodes, singing, “Jesus, Jesus”
Jesus can't help you now
Jesus is a busboy making $3.50 an hour cleaning shit up
Gung ho for Mexico
Doing what no one else could do
...Guess you could say he's my personal savior.
On Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult, the band forsakes pure twisted revel for transcendence on two occasions, and whether it's the contrast or the content, they're the ones I've rocked the most in transit. "Galaxy" unfurls a salvo of tension-building drums and high-end axe stabs. Over a driving guitar, Welch lets his guard down a bit, railing against an ex's betrayal while one-string slides whizz by like lucky bullets. As always, the guitar layering is peerless, expertly deployed and tasteful in its grandiosity.

The other marvel comes in the last track, "Whorehouse of Screams," which, despite its Rob Zombie-cum-Initium title, is a truly stunning achievement that, at my most drunk, is tagged "the 'Marquee Moon' of the Nineties". The aforementioned jangle-riff kicks off the affair. Alone on the verses save for malevolent, echoing whispers, Welch uses clean vox to narrate two vignettes: the first, a disorienting encounter with re-animated roadkill (silly on paper, but much more portentous aurally). "We will get you in your dreams," he sings with a touch of agony and the hint of a gorgeous melody, "the whorehouse of screams..." The second verse ups the ante of regret, as he remembers an incident with a dead man found in a sleeping bag. "It haunts me to this day / The smell and the taste / The look on his face / The dead man's face..."

After retreating to their corners for a few bars to let everything sink in, the band comes back with perhaps the most brutal passage of the entire disc. Bassist Sam McCall drops a nasty lead-in, and as Wood screams the recriminating phrase "hide behind your word"—holding "word" for an impossibly long time—everyone joins in with pure chaos, metal turnarounds popping out of tornados, drumfill upon drumfill, wicked Jerry Lee-style keyboard bashing. Not in your lifetime will the lion lie with the lamb in quite the same manner. The maelstrom subsides, and for five minutes, as a tape of chants is pinned to the background, and revenant organ sets the tone, the men slowly build everything back from the ground up for one last frenzy. Ben Burt forsakes his toms for the ride cymbal. The two main guitarists (Gibson and Ted Wood) gradually pick up in volume, layering on a lilting guitar line and enraged slashes of wah-guitar. The band rears, sizes up its goal... and just dissolves, leaving behind the merest mewls of feedback.

And that's the record.

What you must know about "Whorehouse" is that it's largely true. While recording the album (tentatively titled Everything's Coming Up Toilets), the band discovered a corpse in the woods behind the studio. "Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult" headlined the local paper, and the phrase stuck.

Backward-maskings aside, no album is truly threatening. It's vinyl, it's plastic, it's inert. Turn it down, turn it off. But this is the closest I've ever come to being scared by a packaged set of waves. Provocation without pandering, nihilism without pride; guns turned on everyone including one's self. Scooped up by Interscope on the basis of a few singles and a killer live document, Brutal Juice churned out an hour of challenging, accessible, bracing music. Released in 1995, grunge's twilight year, the record had no commercial impact, and the band was dropped. A couple years later, the band split up, only to re-form every year or so for a few triumphal live shows around their native Denton, Texas. I was at Dallas' Gypsy Tea Room in 2004, and I bear witness that if you prize this record, the band can still summon the fearsome energy that birthed it.

What we have is something inviolate.

By: Brad Shoup
Published on: 2005-09-13
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