[16 July 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The single for Severed Heads’ surprise critical smash song “Dead Eyes Opened” is one of those nuggets that probably sounded really crazy and new at the time it was released but not so much these days. This isn’t the fault of the Australia-based synthpop act who included the song on a demo tape at the last minute just to fill up a large amount of blank space (remember cassettes?). So they didn’t even have any plans for this 6:32 dance track outside of making the demo tape look good. And wouldn’t you know it, after Gary Bradbury and Simon Knuckey sent out the tape in 1983, “Dead Eyes Opened” was the song that actually caught on with independent radio. There are many catchy elements going for it, like the hypnotic keyboard motif that moves in a graceful cycle and a steady beat that doesn’t ask too much of you. On the other hand, it has a sample from a British news anchor discussing a grisly murder and a metallic blast of noise. In a sense, this song didn’t really have a melody. But that didn’t stop distributors from asking the band to make a single out of it. And that’s what we have here, “Dead Eyes Opened” with two b-sides, “Bullet” and “Mount”, now being re-released by the Dark Entries label.
Like I said, the thrill of the new from 1983 doesn’t always translate the same way to modern times. Lots of this kind of avant-electro-whatever has come and gone since then. But if you can block out current music and technology long enough to focus on these 11 minutes of music, the Dead Eyes Opened single can still sound startling. All you have to do is ignore the fact that certain types of popular songs need a core to their existence and view these three tracks as collages, crawling from a dank synthesized underbelly that people were just becoming cognizant of in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
The other side of the 10” unsurprisingly doesn’t try to topple the main attraction. For one thing, “Bullet” and “Mount” aren’t very long. Severed Heads don’t allow themselves much time to get too weird on these two tracks. Still, there is a drop of weird in their formula that they have no way of masking, like the sped-up vocal sample that repeats over and over at the start of “Bullet”. The keyboard “riff” for “Mount” could be taken as an industrial template, but Bradbury and Knuckey dress up the rest of the mix as if they were chasing a far more ambient idea. It’s an odd juxtaposition, one that you might miss if you had it on as background. And just like that, the song fades out after just two minutes and sixteen seconds.
Dead Eyes Opened is an odd little semicolon from the past. Putting the spotlight on a reissue can feel like spitting in the wind. But on the other hand, I feel that labels like Dark Entries are spoiling us by introducing a new generation to music that, even in the right time and place just for it, slipped away in the night with only a handful of new fans. And it’s that thought that teaches me not to take things like the Dead Eyes Opened single for granted.