DUMB AND THE UGLY - Atmospheres Of Metal CD (Dr. Jim's/1992)
It's a nice feeling to dig an old chestnut out, blow the dust off its sleeve, give it a spin and still be impressed with its sadly-ignored wares. Such a fate certainly became of this release just today. Here's a great blurb from Aquarius Records regarding Atmospheres Of Metal:
"In our experience a lot of the best (and, of course, worst) cds released end up languishing in a forgotten corner of some distributor's warehouse, or under the label owner's bed... It's quite possible for something great but obscure to get released in an edition of 1,000 and then ten years later there's still 700+ copies gathering dust in a closet somewhere. We suspect that this Dumb And The Ugly cd is an example of this (though that's just a guess, maybe it sold well and has been re-pressed [no it hasn't!]). What we do know is that this came out in 1992 in Australia and we liked it then and it's still great and we somehow just got a hold of a few copies. Despite the title, this isn't a "metal" album per se. It IS quite atmospheric, its eight tracks almost alternating between sheer sinister ambience (shortwave sounds, distorted operatic singing, underwatery drones) and heavy-duty guitar riffage a la Helmet or Circle. It's lumbering thud-rock with definite weird arty dark psychedelic pretensions, successfully so. We've only got a few but presumably there's more where these came from...".
Sadly, I can attest to the fact that there are many copies of this very release sitting in a dark corner somewhere, as I helped Dr. Jim himself move all his excess stock into his attic about 6 or 7 years ago, though he's since moved, so I can only assume two scenarios: he forgot to take his overstocks out of his attic in the move (unlikely), or he's moved them into his roomier riverside mansion where they can collect dust in a comfier abode. Such is all too typical in the world of independent music production (ask me about it sometime... lucky I've got a warehouse to store my overstocks in!), and such is sadly typical of many a great release, of which this is one.
Dumb And The Ugly, that's: Michael Sheridan on guitar, who was also once in No and the Michael Hutchence-helmed Max Q (if anyone remembers them); Dave Brown on bass, who has since established himself as one of the greats of contemporary Australian avant-garde/noise/improv music w/ the likes of Lazy, Bucketrider, Morpho, Candlesnuffer, Pateras/Baxter/Brown, the too-talented-to-live, quickly-extinguished Lang/Lang/Brown trio, etc.); and the "legendary" John Murphy on drums and "noise", he being one of Australia's more talented, amusing and eccentric musical exports, who also did time in the early '80s w/ such notorious outfits as Current 93, Lustmord, Nurse With Wound, Whitehouse and about 50 other bands, and currently resides in the UK, some of the time collaborating w/ Boyd Rice. The band existed from some time in the late '80s and called it a day 'round '93 or so. I saw them play a bunch of times from '91-'93 and befriended them when they realised I was probably the only gormless young aspiring fanzine dork in Melbourne who was willing to give them column space. Y' see, DATU are one of those classic great rock bands whom I happen to love, and they might've had all the right connections and the right overseas fans singing their praises in all the right places (Byron Coley being one of them), though that didn't necessarily add up to diddly-squat in regards to CD sales and/or gig attendances. Their non-generic sound and lack of a vocalist to focus on (this is before "post-rock" [shudder] made instrumental music palatable again for indie geeks), as well as the individual members' ages (mid 30s at the time) and backgrounds in experimental music probably made them a little difficult to swallow as a "rock" band for many. Maybe not for you and me, but we're talking regular joe-schmoe "alternative" putzes who can't seem to get their respective brains around a band lest it be shoved down their throat by the powers that be.
So, all that brings us to Atmospheres Of Metal, their debut full-length CD released sometime late '92 or early '93. Prior to this, the band had released a 7" and 12" EP, both also on Dr. Jim's, and both also very highly recommended. The 7", which I know I own but is currently buried underneath a pile of junk and I can't be bothered locating it, was recorded live and has a thick, downtuned and murky sound perfect for the repetitive grime within its grooves, whilst the 12" possesses a much bolder and accessible sound with the kinda catchy riffs that makes me wonder why they never found a wider audience at the time. Atmospheres Of Metal is caught somewhere between the two. John Murphy was the king of musical references in his day, and if you were to ask him for the sound the band was after, he'd always have a ready-made list of influences to throw your way. It went something like this: "We're trying to combine the hard psychedelic free-form sounds of Hendrix and Cream with the contemporary thud of Swans and Gore with perhaps a pinch of instrumental Black Flag thrown in for good measure. Mix that up w/ the dark soundscapes of early Current 93 and Lustmord, and that's DATU". I'm fairly sure John said as such, and that sums up their sound perfectly.
Atmospheres... is divided up into two distinct parts: the rock tracks and the ambient/experimental tracks, w/ each angle of the band alternating these different sides of their sound track by track. Murphy was/is a shit-hot percussionist in a classic Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker mold, Brown possesses a forceful, aggressive and slightly funky (though not "funkay") bass style, and Sheridan had an armload of killer riffs which combined elements of "classic" hard rock a la Zep/Sabbath w/ a more improvisational angle lifted from Ginn, Ulmer, Sharrock and all the usual suspects. The band had a great knack of taking a monstrous riff and letting it expand and evolve before taking reining it back in for the punch. I'd say they were more like a psychedelic take on the classic Gore/Gone sound of the mid/late '80s - two bands they were undoubtedly aware of - whilst mixing up the riffery w/ power electronics and various tape fuckery. The only oddity here is perhaps the second-last track, "Baby Bites Back", which features the vocals of Jason Vasallo, who was singing for Christbait at the time. Christbait were a sludgy metal/rock behemoth at the dawn of the '90s, somewhat in the Melvins/Godflesh/Fudge Tunnel vein which was all the rage w/The Kids, and were big news down here for a year or two. Jason had a hearty yelp and I can dig his style coz I can see where this was coming from at the time, though first-time listeners may dismiss the song as sub-Rollins Band buffoonery. It's better than that, of course, though it does possess that Angry Dude of '92 Rollins/Helmet feel which I didn't dig at the time, though also felt that DATU pulled it off better than their peers.
I dug the hell outta DATU back in the day and saw some mind-blowing gigs at the time - a dark night at the Arthouse ca. late '92 certainly stands out - and it's good to see that, 15 years later, I wasn't wrong in my judgments. Atmospheres... suffers from a slightly thin and flat sound (whereas their previous records sound sharp and bold as hell), though that's only a slight criticism. Jim still has a few boxes of this sitting around somewhere, of that I'm sure, so I shall simply restate a very basic sentiment I first wrote of the band 15 years ago: do yourself a favour and get hip to the (long-gone) sounds of Dumb And The Ugly.