Agoraphobic Nosebleed is a band you don’t forget. The core members (the lineup shifts constantly) are Jay Randall, Scott Hull (of grindcore legends Pig Destroyer), and a drum machine. This isn’t your average drum machine, though—this drum machine is a speed freak jackhammer, ripping through songs with a single-minded velocity that dares its owners to keep up. But keep up they do. Hepped-up on any number of illegal substances, Randall and Hull scream their brains out, use guitars as flamethrowers, and pepper spray songs with provocative samples lifted from trash TV. Rarely has a band been so aptly named—agoraphobic (afraid of open spaces, which is an understatement for vicious 20-second songs), and nosebleed (as in cocaine, high altitudes, or synchronized nerdiness (see The Simpsons’ “Homer Goes to College” episode).
The first reaction Agoraphobic Nosebleed elicits is often, “That was a song?” Speed is the order of the day, although harder stuff like Melvins-inspired noise occasionally joins the cocktail. Consider these “full-lengths”: Honky Reduction, 26 songs, 19 minutes; Frozen Corpse Stuffed with Dope, 38 songs, 34 minutes; Altered States of America, 100 songs, 20 minutes. The latter was an experiment to cram as many songs as possible onto a 3” CD. Of course, the notion of “song” as assemblage of lyrics and chords went out the door. Tracks were blurs of machine-gun violence that ended seconds after they began. The album was unexpectedly funny, almost joyous; the two or so seconds a CD player inserts between tracks acted as a buffer between absurdly short beatings. Altered States married the promise of Napalm Death’s “You Suffer” (officially the world’s shortest song at one second long) and Moby’s “Thousand” (officially the world’s fastest song at 1000 beats per minute).
Disc one of PCP Torpedo/ANbRX is a reissue of 1999’s PCP Torpedo (originally released in the rare 6” vinyl format). These 10 tracks clock in at less than seven minutes. For most bands, this would be a ripoff, but for Agoraphobic Nosebleed, the length is perfect—a succinct bludgeoning. The disc begins with a sample of Richard Pryor confronting an IRS man in Blue Collar: “I take home 210 a week, man, goddamn. I gotta pay for the lights, gas, clothes, food . . . every fuckin’ thing, man. I’m left with about 30 bucks after all the fuckin’ bills are paid. Gimme a break, will ya, mister?” This intro is telling. Despite its mechanical trappings, Agoraphobic Nosebleed is, at its heart, grindcore. No love songs or slain dragons—it’s all 9 to 5, come home to a beer (or something stronger), kids screaming, Sisyphean treadmill of debt, go to bed tired and wake up poor (or is it the other way around), repeat 240 times a year = a lifetime. As Peggy Lee sang so poignantly, “Is that all there is?” For most of us, yes. Songs range from warp speed (“The Man from Famine”) to sandbag-dragging (“Thinning the Herd”), but consider the whole thing a seven-minute primal scream set to 12-armed percussion.
Still, few are inclined to shell out for seven-minute CDs, no matter how lavishly packaged (and in true Hydra Head fashion, the artwork here is top-notch, with eye-popping [or pill-popping] colors suggesting a liquefied still from The Simpsons). So Hydra Head has included a second disc of remixed material, ANbRX (whether RX stands for remix or prescription remains in question). The proposition is interesting; what does one do with source material that’s so short? But technology has progressed far beyond the days when a remix was literally that, another pass of the same elements through the mixing board. These remixes digitally cut, warp, and stretch the source material into shapes far removed from the original (which recalls the famous story in which Aphex Twin [AKA Richard D. James] was commissioned to do a remix of The Lemonheads, but forgot to do the remix. When the record company courier showed up at his door, James grabbed a random tape from his archive and submitted it as his “remix”).
These remixes generally fall into three categories: menacing ambience, drill ‘n’ bass (imagine the skittery beats of Squarepusher, but more hostile), and gabber (an over-the-top techno offshoot that traffics in distorted kicks and zero subtlety). Thus, disc two can be a difficult listen, but the technical skill involved is undeniable. Vidna Obmana bathes churning guitars in cavernous space, while Japanese noise legend Merzbow contributes a typically “is my stereo broken” digital onslaught. Marquee names Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh and Jesu) and James Plotkin (of the world’s slowest band, Khanate, who sound like Black Sabbath on downers) turn in surprisingly pedestrian remixes. However, Broadrick’s sounds like a long-lost Godflesh track, good news to those who feared he lost his edge with his newly-melodic Jesu project. Jansky Noise’s remix is the highlight here. It’s a turbulent sea of distortion and video game bleeps in which fragments of the original song occasionally surface, gasping for air. It’s also mercifully brief; despite its extreme sound manipulation, it retains its source’s spirit.