For 45 Grave, it's all grave-y.
When 45 Grave first came along, it wasn’t just another act seeking to join the Gothic rock bandwagon. Instead, it was very much like a lot of other LA punk rock acts at the time, such as the Germs and the Bags. Only it was colored with a distinctly Gothic, black tinge.
This CD is a reissue of the act’s 1988 concert release, where the group was caught during one of its sporadic reunion gigs. This particular show took place at Raji’s, which is as much of a historic Los Angeles landmark as the band is. Over the years, that tiny club played host to such heavyweights as Guns ‘N Roses, Jane’s Addiction, and Nirvana. Although 45 Grave never had a chance in hell, so to speak, of reaching the commercial success attained by these luminaries, it nevertheless influenced and inspired many of the black-clad acts that came after it.
For a band so closely associated with raw and simplistic punk rock, 45 Grave comes off here as a surprisingly agile instrumental unit. Guitarist Paul B. Cutler is especially notable, and he shines during “Take Five”, which doesn’t sound anything like it did when jazzer Dave Brubeck originally introduced it. Punk rock’s original ideals may have stood against such embellishments as guitar solos, but apparently Cutler never received that memo because he stretches out beautifully here.
This group’s driving force, however, is vocalist Dinah Cancer. Besides having one of those pseudonyms that ought to make you fall in love with punk rock all over again, Cancer is also an angry and spooky singer. She can sound like the sarcastic Elvira one moment, then morph into a wailing banshee the next. There are also moments, such as during “Take Five”, where she utilizes a spoken word approach to the lyrics.
In the same way that many horror movies are not intended for the squeamish or the kiddies, this music is certainly not for everybody. Song titles like “Sorceress”, “Death March”, “Evil” and “Black Cross” should give you more than enough information on what 45 Grave is all about. Then there’s “Fucked by the Devil”, which gives a whole new meaning to the expression, “The devil made me do it.”
The band titles its songs this way partly for shock value, and partly for humor. Nevertheless, it also has a serious side, too. “Journey’s End” for instance, is a kind of anti- drug song that deals specifically with hippies and their acid trips.
This group may hold a special place in LA rock lore, but it’s not surprising that it never truly broke through nationally. This 16-song set roars through listeners’ psyche in a kind of drunken blur. This is loud and fast music, but it’s also not too memorable, either. Newcomers, in fact, might come away with the impression that Cancer is only preaching to the converted. The fans gathered at this club all sound like they’re having a darkly wonderful time, but unless you’re in with this in crowd, it may just come off like a big, creepy mystery.
With all of its reunions over the years, 45 Grave is one act that absolutely refuses to die permanently… I know, that’s an obvious oxymoron. It rises from the dead so often, in fact, Dinah Cancer may just want to change her name to Dinah In Remission. The band’s longevity might also make you question the wisdom in calling an album Only the Good Die Young. But then again, part of horror art’s appeal is the whole idea of the living dead. Dinah Cancer and gang may not have attained eternal youth, but these musicians have sure survived a long time, whereas many of their contemporaries have not been quite so fortunate.
It’s a truism that only the good die young, but in some cases, the good just don’t ever seem to pass away. Such must be the case with 45 Grave.
// Notes from the Road
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