Bark Like a Dog
(Fat Wreck Chords)
Louder Than Hell
By Jim DeRogatis
Classy perfumeries usually make available small glass canisters of coffee beans so that you can take a whiff between sniffs, cleansing your olfactory palate before moving on to the next delicate mixture of fancy aromatics. In this age of multihyphenated music, rock fans need an aural equivalent–a strong but simple sample of something that can remind them what the music’s all about.
Don’t get me wrong: Some of my favorite albums this year are the product of the popular postmodern approach, including the funk-trip-hop-boho-soul-rock of Luscious Jackson’s Fever In Fever Out, the psychedelic-lo-fi-ork pop of the Olivia Tremor Control’s Music From the Unrealized Film Script “Dusk at Cubist Castle”, and the hip-hop-musique concrete-rock of Beck’s Odelay. But in each case, you have to be willing to make some significant detours before getting to the visceral rock kick at the center of the maze. With other hyphenated mixtures–say, the ambient-dub-jazz fusion of Tortoise or the techno-ambient-house-prog of the Future Sound of London–you never get there at all. These musics may be linked to rock intellectually, commercially, or socially, but there’s no actual rock in them whatsoever.
Screeching Weasel’s Bark Like a Dog and Manowar’s Louder Than Hell are not just straightforward examples of two of the most visceral rock genres–they’re sterling ones. Just as it’s as difficult to write a good sonnet today as it was in Shakespeare’s time, it hasn’t gotten any easier to make a truly powerful punk or heavy-metal album than it was when the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia or Black Sabbath’s Masters of Reality came out. In fact, it’s probably harder to breathe new life into the formulas since so many pretenders have emerged in the years in between.
Screeching Weasel’s newest is the second much-anticipated reunion album of its career, but it’s every bit as inspired, amped-up, and joyful as the band’s self-titled 1986 debut or its justly celebrated 1988 effort, Boogadaboogadaboogada!. This is simply the best punk band Chicago has ever produced. Yes, I’ve heard your Naked Rayguns and your Big Blacks, and I love ’em to pieces, but for their impurities. Screeching Weasel plays punk rock and nothing but punk rock, following the basic blueprint drawn by the Ramones and the New York Dolls, championed by Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, and most recently peddled by Green Day, which is to say that the band speeds up the tempo on hooky mid-50s-to-early-60s AM-radio rock and pares away all the frills until all that’s left is a pogo-worthy rhythm, a big sing-along chorus, and a hell of a lot of attitude.
Love him or hate him–most people take the second position–notorious curmudgeon, former Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll columnist, and Screeching Weasel auteur Ben Weasel has lost none of his punk songwriting prowess. He may be pushing 30, but he can still nail adolescent angst, and when he marries it to indelible melodies, the most miserable teenager can find a reason for living, or at least dancing around his bedroom. “You’re fat and ugly and an imbecile too / And that’s why they draw funny pictures of you / And talk bad about all the kids / Cause it’s a real cool club and you’re not part of it,” Weasel sneers over Dan Panic’s jackhammer drums and Jughead’s buzz-saw guitar. “Cool Kids” and other Weasel tunes offer membership in an alternative club, appealing in the classic punk-rock tradition to perpetual outsiders and encouraging them to celebrate their individuality in the company of one another.
Ubiquitous on Rebel Radio, Chicago’s independent metal station, Manowar delivers a similar message. “If you like metal you’re my friend,” vocalist and Viking wannabe Eric Adams sings on “Return of the Warlord,” the opening track on Louder Than Hell. The band’s eighth album proves that it’s the last and best of the great old-style heavy-metal bands, up there in a league with Ozzy-era Sabbath, early Led Zeppelin, and vintage Ted Nugent. Bassist-songwriter Joey DeMaio and his “brothers of metal” valiantly fight for what they call “metal that’s real,” eschewing hair spray and mascara, scoffing at whiny, self-obsessed sissy boys like Axl Rose and Eddie Vedder, and championing the life-affirming powers of head banging.
As Adams screeches over Karl Logan’s loud-at-any-volume guitar, “The gods made heavy metal and they saw that it was good / They said to play it louder than hell / We promised that we would,” Manowar’s “The Gods Made Heavy Metal” comes awfully close to Spinal Tap territory. One of the characteristics of heavy metal, punk, or any other pure genre is that outsiders are able to isolate, rip off, and, yes, parody its most distinctive elements. That’s OK, because attacks from the outside only help draw the bands and their fans closer together. In the words of Tod Browning’s freaks (as echoed by the Ramones): Gabba gabba, we accept you, we accept you, one of us.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Covers.