After going on indefinite hiatus after 1999’s eclectic pop classic, California, Mr Bungle’s shadow over all things weird and avant-garde in metal continues to this day. The self-titled debut from 1990 was a bizarre concoction of party thrash and sinister carnival music, and 1995’s Disco Volante explored cinematic film scores, free-form jazz and grindcore, and even threw in some experimental techno for good measure. But behind the genre-hopping, we always understood that Mr Bungle were an extreme metal band at heart. Anyone who heard the original demo tapes from 1986 will know the sound engineer had a nightmare with the volume levels and couldn’t mix a tin of paint. But the music was savage in its audio assault and demented in personality.
Now the world’s strangest band are back and this time they have Dave Lombardo on drums and Scott Ian as second guitarist. Only this is not a new album but a re-recording of the legendary proto-death metal demo that caught the attention of Faith No More in 1988. As we know, this resulted in a nineteen-year-old Mike Patton making his debut on the world stage and changing the course of heavy music, but it also led to Mr Bungle landing a major label deal to keep him happy and in Faith No More as a full-time member. The fact we have legendary members of Slayer and Anthrax coming together on this record three decades later tells you a lot about the influence and esteem in which the world’s most respected metal musicians hold Mr Bungle.
Scott Ian first heard Mr Bungle after trading their demo cassette in 1986. You can see why he warmed to their sound. Trey Spruance’s grinding thrash riffs are at their string-snapping best on The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny and were the defining feature of the original recording. On this re-interpretation the guitar tone is like Metallica on steroids and more frenzied than the fastest Emperor riffs your mind can conjure. The velocity of his plectrum-picking is more violent than a coked-up UFC fighter. ‘Anarchy Up Your Anus’ and ‘Spreading the Thighs of Death’ are one hundred percent thrash metal utilising the type of precursor death metal Sodom and Possessed helped to pioneer in the mid-80s at their vengeful best.
Every musician is at the top of their game here. Dave Lombardo recaptures his Reign in Blood heroics as if sitting on the same drum stool in 1986. The violent cymbal crashes and murderous snare hits fire like ferocious machine guns and work wonders in tandem with the cold steel of Trevor Dunn’s chugging bass patterns. ‘Sudden Death’ encapsulates the metallic slaughter of Mr Bungle at their heaviest. Scott Ian counted ninety-three different guitar changes when rehearsing this song with Trey and the boys. Think classic Obituary playing Exodus with a galloping thrash rhythm and Patton’s most malevolent death metal vocals rounded out with hardcore throat abrasions. Man, this is fucking brutal!
The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny was the closest Mr Bungle ever got to straight-up extreme metal, and the fact they wrote music as technical and complex as this at age sixteen is remarkable. But, as with anything featuring Mike Patton, the heaviest of metal cannot reduce him to just another component of the group attack. The vocal performance on this re-recording is sensational, switching from testosterone hardcore fury to sinister death metal at the blink of an eye. Hardcore bruisers, like D.R.I, were an obvious influence back in the day but so were the likes of Devo and Captain Beefheart. The humour on ‘Hypocrites/Habla Español O Muere’ will make you chuckle and the lyrics to ‘Bungle Grind’ invite you to wonder what Slayer would sound like with a deliberate melodramatic twist. Yet the more disturbing performance art synonymous with Patton is never far away. Those asphyxiating vocal spasms at the end of ‘Loss for Words’ and ‘Methematics’ will make your toes curl up as you assume the waterboarding position. Is this what it sounds like when Satan’s children attempt to speak in tongues? There’s nothing graceful here.
At eleven tracks and fifty-six minutes, it’s clear this is no nostalgic trip to please the faithful. The quality of the song-writing is apparent on ‘Eracist’, which mixes Killing Joke and Venom with tuneful aggression and brattish punk vocals in the chorus. You never know if the band are imitating the jock culture they despise or venerating the beer-keg party suited to their warped humour and borderline personality disorders. Watch the new promo video if you want more bewilderment.
Few bands can pull off a re-recording of a demo from 1986, but Mr Bungle never conform to any precedents or rules. This record is a necessity, and one we’ve all been waiting to hear. As Scott Ian said in a recent interview, Mr Bungle would have been the Tool of thrash metal, on a label like Metal Blade, if Faith No More had not come calling in 1988. Here they prove him right. This might be the last act of Mr Bungle and a reinterpretation of the past, but it feels like history restoring them to their rightful place in the canon of extreme music.
Release Date: 30/10/2020
Record Label: Ipecac Records
Standout tracks: Raping Your Mind, Eracist, Spreading the Thighs of Death
Suggested Further Listening: Possessed – Seven Churches (1985), S.O.D. – Speak English or Die (1985), Sodom – Obsessed by Cruelty (1986)