The people of Greece certainly have had a lot to be angry about in the past little while. Everyone knows about the country’s debt crisis and the sputtering economy, and, according to one article I found on the Web, that was enough to get the Greek punk rock band Barb Wire Dolls out of the country, which the group seems to backhandedly acknowledge on the song “Your Escape” with its chorus: “You better get out, get out, get out, get out, get out / Before it’s too late ... / This is your escape.” But dodging an economic bullet is probably only half the story for the group. The four-piece wound up relocating to Los Angeles after being e-mailed by legendary radio personality Rodney Bingenheimer, who was instrumental in breaking punk and new wave bands of the ‘70s such as the Sex Pistols and Blondie, who wanted to play part of the band’s first EP, Punk The Fussies!, on his show. So, the prospect of breaking big in America and the presumed lack of opportunity in Greece had some sort of effect on the Barb Wire Dolls, which they also pretty much admit on the first track of Slit, their debut album, on a song called “Revolution”: “Who paid taxes every day? / Whatever happened to democracy? / We’re living in a fool hypocrisy / ‘Cause I want to start a revolution!” It’s seemingly a bracing piss-and-vinegar on the state of affairs in their country which also boasts the album’s most memorable line in “Kill your idols with your mind!” However, it’s hard to be exactly sure that their songs are personal, even as the group gets just as political elsewhere: “Governments can collapse when the people stand up / Rise against and make it count.” In any event, if you thought Greek music began and ended with the nice, easy listening sounds of Nana Mouskouri, you’ve got a lot to learn, as Barb Wire Dolls are out to prove.
The name of the band would imply that this is an all-girl group of stockings-ripped punks, but there’s actually just one woman here: lead singer Queen Isis, who straddles between sounding like a feminine Johnny Rotten and Canada’s own metal queen, Lee Aaron. And while you might think this is a band with a particularly feminist point-of-view, I’m not quite so sure. The band name is similarly close to a 1975 women-in-prison, sexploitation flick called Barbed Wire Dolls, and there’s a song on the album called “Shut Up Slut”. And then there’s the cover art featuring presumably Isis with a microphone shoved between her legs: a vaginis? While the band does share a bracing sound that is reminiscent of ‘90s girl groups – L7, in particular, comes to mind – there’s a variation in their music, too, in that some of the songs actually feature acoustic guitars, which is pretty commendable as this is a record that is meant to be played loud and proud. “Walking Dead”, perhaps a nod to the hit TV show of the same name, also boasts some interesting tempo changes. Still, Barb Wire Dolls is essentially a fiery, raging punk band with hints of ‘80s metal and thrash flourishes, so it’s not so surprising that they’d go down well in the California music scene, to which the band returns the favour here by titling a song “L.A.” While the stereotypical Greek image is one of breaking plates and yelling “opa!”, Barb Wire Dolls appear to have a much larger agenda: they are out to smash the state and bring down the system. But why? It’s hard to say after listening to this, which is disappointing. The band puts the listener at arm’s length by depersonalizing the lyrics. Barb Wire Dolls have a story to tell, but we don’t get to hear it in all of their bombast.
So, as rocking and rollicking that Slit is, it is almost equal amounts “yeh!” and “meh!” The band raised a little more than $10,000 on Kickstarter to record this album over the course of a couple of days at indie God producer Steve Albini’s Chicago studio (whatever the band didn’t use to record wound up going into fixing their tour van), and the effect is noticeable as well as disabling. While this is an album of punchy, in your face riffs and shredding, it does suffer a bit from the Albini effect. Clearly, the band, from this document, is still developing its sound and is a bit anonymous, which Albini appears to have jumped all over. He infuses the record with the same crunchy guitar sound and cavernous drums that he brought to records for the Pixies and Nirvana, and Slit ultimately becomes a bit compatible with work that he’s done in the past. There’s nothing new about the sound of Slit and, this may be a coincidence or not, the song “Devil’s Full Moon” borrows the same soft verses, loud choruses effect of many an Albini production job, not to mention the fact that the chord progressions of the verses sound remarkably similar to Nirvana’s “In Bloom”. I know that Albini didn’t produce Nevermind, but listening to “Devil’s Full Moon” is like listening to a producer who wished he had and jumped at the chance when he heard a song that sort of sounded the same. “Devil’s Full Moon”, then, comes off as being as after-the-fact wish fulfillment.
Despite that, there’s a rawness and directness to Slit that gives it some power and heft, and makes it hard to ignore. While it may also be somewhat interchangeable with any punk record that’s gone down in the last 35 years or so, which makes the record a tad boring at times, it’s just a mark that the band certainly could use a bit more development of its sound so it can break apart from the pack of other punkers – more acoustic and quieter songs? That could be one direction to go in. But, as something you can throw on the hi-fi and crank up real loud, the album is successful on that front – and you have to admire Queen Isis’s chutzpah and verve, as she brings a great deal of swagger to the material. It’d be interesting to see how this all translates live, and what kind of stage presence the band has, but I can imagine Isis doing scissor kicks and leaping off amplifiers to pretty much all of this material. Similarly, Slit is a record, despite its political overtures and calls to action, that you can mindlessly jump around to and create a mosh pit in your own home or apartment too. Barb Wire Dolls are certainly one pissed off band, and that anger certainly translates into something big and crunchy. It’d just be a bit better if we all knew for sure what they’re so ticked about, because, as it stands, Slit works best as just another mad punk record with tossed off, generic political sentiments. Barb Wire Dolls seem to have an interesting backstory in escaping a land that has had its share of political and economic strife; they now just need to translate that story with a clearer focus to their next record.