DWARR - Animals LP/CD (Drag City/2010)Drag City's strike rate in the reissues dept. the last couple of years has been spotless. First there was the Death reissue, the Michigan brother-band trio who, in the mid '70s, recorded an unholy combination of the MC5, Funkadelic and (very early) Bad Brains before imploding, only to see their sadly ignored wares given a whole lease of life in the 21st century; then there was the Endtables 12" from last year, which pieced together this Kentuckian mob (I've written about them before here)'s scant studio recordings - the missing link twixt The Wipers and Pere Ubu - and let them be heard by a wider audience; and then there's Animals, the second LP written, played by, produced and released by the man known as Dwarr, AKA Duane Warr from South Carolina in 1986.
I must admit to having never even heard of the guy prior to hearing this CD and receiving a press sheet. So far as I knew, the Holy Trinity (+1!) of '80s doom metal consisted solely of Saint Vitus, Trouble, The Obsessed and Pentagram. If you were keen on low-end riffs, boogie beats, bellbottoms and Tony Iommi moustaches, the '80s was a lonely place. Sure there were others, but the ones most people care to mention have been spoken for. Unbenownst to me, the cult of Dwarr had spread far and wide in the interim, w/ this LP commanding the kind of price which would have the average collector living on pasta for a month.
Although often lumped into the "metal" genre, the music of Dwarr is far less "metallic", in the classic "heavy" sense, than any of his contemporaries. Baked in a deep glow of psychedelia, w/ the foot often heavily placed on the flange, Animals possesses some major Hawkwind and Pink Floyd damage, both with and without Syd, with some moments uncannily reminding me of early Siouxsie & the Banshees (the opening Oriental motif at the start of "Time" gets me thinking of "Hong Kong Garden"). Of course none of this is to imply that this is anything less than HM at its purest, or that it's informed by punk rock (or post-punk) in any manner, and if you've seen photos of Duane Warr, you could probaby hazard a guess that the Sex Pistols meant zip to him.
Animals, like the best doom metal, sounds like it was recorded and released in 1971, no matter what era it was really birthed in, and the lo-fidelity recording adds an extra aura of mystery surrounding the cult of Dwarr. Of course, you don't spend good money to be mystified by the aura of a man w/ a guitar if the results aren't worth hearing (or perhaps you do), and what makes Animals worth the bucks is the strength of the songwriting.
There's reconfigured 'Sabbath riffs throughout, though Warr's buzzing, clanging psychedelic guitar strangulation is what makes this such a hot listen. He's part Tony Iommi, part Jimi Hendrix and part Greg Ginn, w/ spastic guitar shards flying in all manner of directions. He can exude a light spaciness when it's warranted, like the quieter moments on 'Floyd's Ummagumma, and erupt into discordant solos in a moment's notice, sometimes his lightning fast fret work, such as in "Just Keep Running", bordering on a kind of shred that would usually make me wince, though it's still steeped heavily in a '70s drug-metal vibe and not the school of guitar masturbation so popular at the time of recording.
Fact is, his relentless string-bending is hardly given a moment's rest, each song twisting and turning w/ chaotic, layered solos shreeking inventively throughout so that each song's course is a fairly unpredictable ride. Lyrically, he's also in the mold of early '70s primo metal, visiting the themes of war, death, drugs, despair and alienation in a non-idiotic manner, w/ no bragging of banging hot chicks to be heard. None of this sounds affected, none of it is contrived: it's an honest reflection of the vision of its creator, certainly a unique record for its era and still one which is hard to pigeonhole 25 years later.
Duane Warr later found God (as they all must) and released a few more LPs of Christian rock/doom/metal which I'm yet to hear, though if they're half as good as Animals, then they're twice as good as most records hailed as "forgotten masterpieces" which only result in disappointment, a sense of despair and the feeling of a wallet being emptied for no good reason. Take the punt on Dwarr and thank me later.
LATE ADDITION/POSTSCRIPT: Here's a promotional clip I just found for "Are You Real?" from the album in question. Dig the "heavy" vibes and the awe-inspiring visuals which obviously kept to a tight budget.