[31 August 2004]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
The mere prospect of a collaboration between hardcore legends Melvins and Napalm Death would have been enough to set the minds of metal and punk fans reeling, the potential for such phenomenal, ear-bleeding euphoria beyond the limits of one’s imagination. When fans of both bands learned that Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne and the Napalm Death rhythm section of bassist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera were getting together to form a side project called Venomous Concept, such anticipatory excitement was understandable. Throw in the fact that former Brutal Truth vocalist Kevin Sharp, a fine metal barker in his own right, was joining the fray, and that a new album was coming out on the always great Ipecac Records, well, the sky was the limit. Or so it would have seemed.
An obvious homage to ‘80s hardcore outfit Poison idea, Venomous Concept is little more than a recording of a bunch of grumpy old men enjoying being grumpy old men, ranting away at anything and everything, only instead a group of guys bitching, belching, and moaning on a porch with a cooler full of beers, these guys just happen to play some seriously ferocious hardcore punk, and very well, I might add. The thing is, as nasty as the music is, the lyrical subjects at times couldn’t be more dated. “Oink!”, a blunt attack on the police, comes about 12 years too late (“Nazi boy blue is breaking his rules/When he dances his dance and he’s stomping on you”). “Idiot Parade” is a diatribe against corporate rock, while the equally curmudgeonly “Rhetoric” complains about (‘scuse me while I stifle a yawn) mainstream punk bands, as Sharp sneers, “All you fake punk-with fuck to say.”
More annoying are all the anti-authority, anti-political songs, which, in such a crucial election year, sound little more than emptyheaded rants by guys who don’t seem to know how to articulate what they’re feeling in song; for instance, “Total Recall” cops out in the first line when Sharp yells, “Politics are all the same/He said she said stupid games.” The only serious attempt at anti-war statements are a collage of graphic war pictures on the cover and a disturbing enhanced video montage of more war casualties and an autopsy, but all it amounts to is an unoriginal message that all but says, “Uh, war is bad.”
Not that Retroactive Abortion is awful, mind you. It’s just a bit disappointing, as the quartet plow through 16 loosey-goosey hardcore songs in just over 27 minutes; and believe me, Reign in Blood this ain’t. Nor does it want to be, either, as the band delivers a relentless, continual sludgefest that goes by surprisingly quickly. Osborne’s guitar roars as you’d expect it to, the godfather of stoner rock that he is, while the combination of Hererra and Embury on the back end puts the reins on things just enough to keep the band from flying out of control.
The overall sound of the album is excellent, as the self-produced album has a sound so sludgy that it’s kind of like the musical equivalent of monochrome, as drums, bass, vocals, and guitar all blur together like various shades of gray. Like the albums by sludge stalwarts Eyehategod and Outlaw Order, the bass tones dominate, and Embury’s basslines have that warm, stoner rock feel to them. It all comes together the best on the closing track, “Braincrash”, as the band launches into an Anthrax-style groove, with fun, crunchy riffs and a laid-back performance by Herrera.
What’s missing most on a one-off project like this is the humor. Take the Stormtroopers of Death’s infamous 1985 album Speak English or Die, for instance; the band offered up blunt social commentary, but served up a helping of such over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek hilarity, that the laughs more than made up for the record’s musical shortcomings. On this album, though, attempts at satire come off as clumsy, and it all amounts to a half hour’s worth of complaining by a group of musicians who are capable of much, much more. The members of Venomous Concept might have the musical pedigrees, the chops, and the respect, but on this album, they sound as inarticulate as a group of adolescent stoners. Retroactive Abortion is a moderately enjoyable hardcore album… if you ignore the lyrics, that is.