[20 February 2003]
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lways mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible.” That was Stonewall Jackson’s motto, and even as his men carried his dying body to the shady trees of Chancellorsville, I wonder who among them might have felt the distant seismic tremors of ANTiSEEN, exemplars of a roaring, sanguinary, and deathless Southern pride that continues to mystify and surprise even after they’re done spattering the stage with blood. Sometimes I’m not sure what to make of ANTiSEEN, though they sure have been thoroughly ignored by mainstream critics. This critical nonchalance seems a bit like bigotry to me: ANTiSEEN are southerners, they love guns and whiskey, and they do everything they can to invade the austere confines of political correctness. Also, they were affiliated with the cursed G.G. Allin, that one-trick-pony poop-tossing sleazeball who is now viewed as the ne plus ultra of rock’n'roll insanity. (Indeed, it was probably ANTiSEEN who brought G. G. Allin to Memphis in 1991, thus inspiring the astonishingly beautiful Drive-By Truckers ode “The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town”). Just like with P-Funk in the 1970s, I think ANTiSEEN is a critical victim of its own singular ghettoized worldview. I mean, on top of the political craziness, the lead singer cuts up his face at almost every gig. It’s almost too easy to dismiss them, isn’t it? And that’s where the mystify-and-surprise comes in, because these guys take their Southern blue-collar pride very seriously and they dare you to peg them as dumb-ass crackers. No, they aren’t racists (their bassist back in 1986 was a black man), and no, they ain’t gonna sing anthems for Lyndon Johnson or George W. Bush. But they will push your face in with some tunes about solidarity-masquerading-as-individuality (“Stormtrooper”, e.g.), and they will keep you attuned to the stanky and bloody beer-soaked netherworld that is their home. I like them. So should you.
Who are ANTiSEEN, then? They formed in Charlotte in 1983, and the core of the band for the ensuing twenty years has been guitarist Joe Young (a buzzsaw mastermind who should get more recognition) and singer Jeff Clayton (his forehead now scarred by countless bloody gigs). Other members have come and gone, but this talented duo has given their sound a buzzing-growly definition that no rhythm section could seduce. The ANTiSEEN catalog has been a shambles for years, and TKO Records is taking on the admirable task of rationalizing it and reissuing it.
The first installment in TKO Records’ Vault of ANTiSEEN Rollout is Drastic / E.P. Royalty, a reissue of their first two EPs (1985 and 1986). With 14 gruff tracks in 22 sludgy minutes, it’s probably gonna kick your superego right out the back door and get your id (and gut) running for the hills. The muddy sound and rudimentary Black Flag imitations don’t score many points for originality, but you can hear that crazy Jeff Clayton coming into his own by rattling the stalactites in his whiskey-burned pharynx as if he were Yosemite Sam doing a Lemmy Kilmeister imitation. And guitarist Joe Young was obviously learning a lot from Tony Iommi and Greg Ginn. The debut Drastic EP is the weaker of these twins, though I dig the shaking-cage anarchy of “Queen City Stomp” and the psuedo-Stooges anomie-dirge “Nothings Cool”. E.P. Royalty, on the other hand, is non-stop fun, even if the jokes fall flat and the politics start getting weird. The sound is a lot more rhythmic, speedy, and funky, and I’m guessing that the presence of bassist Marlon Cherry—a black man in a southern redneck punk band—has something to do with it. (For those who care, closet KISS fan Marlon is now a member of the NYC experimental-rhythm troupe Mecca Bodega, featured occasionally on National Public Radio.) The opening track—an inevitable anti-scene gripe called “N.C. Royalty”—is a headlong bass-heavy rush with a burly Jeff-Clayton bellow declaring that the “N.C. Royalty are ruining my life”. Whatever, 1986 was a weird year for all of us. Still, you might want to listen to “WhitEtrasHbitcH” more than once, because they seem to actually sympathize with the poor sex-slave eternal-teenager whose husband keeps calling her a “white trash bitch”. It ends with the protagonist putting a gun to her husband’s head. (I betcha Le Tigre or the Gossip would do a job on this tune.) On the other hand “RUBY, RUBY, get back to the hills” is Kenny Rogers reversed, a noisy ruckus with ambiguous lyrics. I vote for the stagedive favorite “Cop Out” as the best track here: hardcore transmogrifying back and forth into a funky spatter of angry bile. On the whole the Drastic / E.P. Royalty disc is mostly a historical curiosity, a dirt-eating trip into the germination of the whole Southern hardcore scene. I dig it, but I also dig Black Flag’s Slip It In, so be forewarned.
Part two of the ANTiSEEN rollout is their 1993 album Eat More Possum, and this hunk of noise is an absolute masterpiece, one of the greatest punk albums ever recorded. And if you’re shaking your head at my hyperbole, then you haven’t heard this new remastered version. Apparently the original release in ‘93 was a nightmarish sludgefest, mixed with no definition or separation of parts. Just an amorphous sonic mulch. After several remasters and reissues (detailed in the liner notes), TKO Records finally hit the zone with this definitive version, a spine-tingling concept album about eating meat and living large in Dixie. Hell, purgatory spat the eternal soul of Stonewall Jackson back onto the swampy earth just so he could hear this shit for a brief second. For all I know, this is the first New South hardcore LP to take its inspiration directly from George Clinton: it begins with a spacey speech from the Cosmic Commander of Wrestling (“They have told me rock’n'roll and wrestling secrets that no other human here has ever heard”) and segues directly into bracing cover of the Ramones’ “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World”. Well, they cover the first part of that anyway: after someone counts down in German midway through it, they blast off with their own raucous anthem called “Stormtrooper”, a bellowing hardcore tune like you’ve never heard. The rest of the album wrestles across the mudflats, with conceptual interludes by Jack Starr and some creepy Deliverance-type warbling oddball, and lots and lots of noise. “Animals…Eat ‘Em” is the album’s centerpiece, a thumping anthem for carnivores that takes a jocular logical viewpoint (“Animals, eat ‘em / So you don’t have to feed ‘em”). Me, I don’t eat meat, but I much prefer the proud “fuck you ” of this tune to the quivering-lip sanctimony of the Smiths’ “Meat is Murder” (and anyway both songs just preach to the converted so there’s no point in condemning either for errors of moral dietetics). Other highlights include the harmonica-inflected “Shittin’ In High Cotton”, the speedball cautionary sex tale “Break It Off” (“I’ll have to break it off in your ass”), and the speaks-for-itself hooky punktoon “Trapped in Dixie”. Throughout, you can picture that burly nutcase Jeff Clayton “juicing” his face (i.e. cutting up his forehead and letting the blood run down) and leaning into the crowd as noise guitarist Joe Young keeps the adrenaline riffs rolling. This was 1993. Cobain? He couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.
ANTiSEEN are still going strong (check their website for a gig near you), and though I ain’t about to debate them on politics, I do dig their righteous working-class rage all the way down to the carnivorous core. So check out these albums: it’s the “other side” of punk that you rarely hear about while flipping through Maximum Rock’n'roll or consulting the Trouser Press guides. Decadent, drowning in whiskey, violent, dangerous, it’s a pretty fucking necessary antidote to political puritanism. And yeah, if I could recruit ‘em to my left side of the political fence, I would. Sometimes I think they’re halfway here already.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/antiseen-drastic/