1/ Twenty Four Hour Dawn (Blind Idiot God) 8.53 2/ High and Mighty (Blind Idiot God) 5.53 3/ Antiquity (Blind Idiot God) 3.42 4/ Earthmover (Blind Idiot God) 6.23 5/ Night Driver (Blind Idiot God) 6.27 6/ Wheels of Progress (Blind Idiot God) 7.55 7/ Ramshackle (Blind Idiot God) 4.36 8/ Voice of the Structure (Blind Idiot God) 4.37 9/ Under the Weight (Blind Idiot God) 4.00 10/ FUB (Blind Idiot God) 6.46 11/ Barrage (Blind Idiot God) 5.45 12/ Strung (Blind Idiot God) 6.18 13/ Shutdown (Blind Idiot God) 4.33 Recorded 2008-2010 at The Barber Shop Studio, Hopatcong, New Jersey and Orange Music, West Orange, New Jersey Tracking engineers: Jason Corsaro and James Dellatacoma Mix translation on tracks 2,5,7,10 and 13 by Bill Laswell at Orange Music, West Orange, New Jersey All other mixes by Andy Hawkins and James Dellatacoma Mix engineers: Robert Musso and James Dellatacoma Produced by Bill Laswell and Andy Hawkins Mastering by Michael Fossenkemper at Turtletone and Alex DeTurk at MasterdiskAndy Hawkins: 6 and 7 string guitars; Gabe Katz: 5 string fretted and fretless bass; Tim Wyskida: drums.
2015 - Indivisible Music (USA), 0001.1 (2x12") 2015 - Indivisible Music (USA), 0001.1 (CD)Note: Available HERE.
Normally, when a band I love decides to release an album after over 20 years of no new output, I get nervous. A lot of things could go very, very wrong with a band in two decades: drugs, divorce, intra-band drama and a sad refusal to come to grips with the pathetic reality that is the current state of affairs of the music business. I don’t like cringing when I hear a new record from once-cutting-edge players. I don’t like having to say “Well, they tried…” I really, really hate having beautiful memories of mind-opening bands tarnished by a lackluster album that has “mid-life crisis” written all over it. This sort of thing happens fairly often, so I greet news of this sort of effort with a masochistic mix of anxiety-riddled anticipation and sinking dread.
But I wasn’t too worried when I learned about Before Ever After, Blind Idiot God’s first album since 1992’s Cyclotron: it was not only improbable that the album would suck, it was also a safe bet to assume that it would do what it does, which is to kick a crushing amount of ass, very loudly. I had two solid reasons to be so assured of this: 1) as with their previous two albums, this record was co-produced by B.I.G. guitarist Andy Hawkins and Bill Laswell, and Bill Laswell does not screw around with bad music, and 2) from the group’s inception (aside from being superlative players), B.I.G. have always thought outside the box when it comes to writing and recording music —waaay outside the box. It’s like having confidence that a chess master known for unorthodox strategy will always be several moves ahead of most players, even after long time away from the board — he hasn’t been slacking, he’s just been thinking of new ways to fuck you up. And Before Ever After will, indeed, fuck you up.
Formed in 1982 in St. Louis, Missouri, Blind Idiot God arose from the nascent American hardcore punk scene. A three-piece, the band conducted a fruitless search for a vocalist who would fit their style before deciding to forge ahead permanently as an instrumental act. Viewed historically in the broader stylistic context of the hardcore scene at the time, this might seem perplexing — I mean, how hard could it be to find some angry Midwestern kid willing to shout anti-Reagan invective over three distorted chords and jackhammer drumming? However, Blind Idiot God stood apart from the fairly straightforward sped-up punk of their peers — not many teenage hardcore bands in the ’80s (or today, for that matter) cited influences like Stravinsky, Coltrane, Funkadelic and Black Uhuru along with the obligatory Black Flag, but B.I.G. did, and the complexity of their music reflects that fact.
Blind Idiot God have been referred to as heavy metal, noise rock, post-hardcore (whatever the fuck that is), math rock and tech-prog. I don’t know exactly what to call them (beyond beautifully heavy instrumental rock), but I do know that there is absolutely no need for a vocalist in their music. As a vocalist, I view my primary function within a band as the layer conveying clearly the truth of an emotion or a point through my words and delivery. B.I.G. are one of the few instrumental rock bands I have listened to that do my job exceedingly well without a single word being sung — that’s why their songs don’t come off as mere exercises in technical prowess; instead, each tune sounds as if it was written about something, the same way I write songs about whatever socio-political/economic disaster du jour is currently pissing me off. Their ability to convey specific emotions wordlessly, with just a single guitar, bass, and drum kit, has astounded me ever since my very first listen to their 1987 self-titled SST debut on through Before Ever After, and their musical lexicon has only expanded over the years.
A double LP clocking in at 74 minutes, Before Ever After takes the listener on an extended sonic journey that blurs the lines of demarcation between punk, metal, jazz, funk, rock, ambient and plain old noise (and not “noise rock,” but actual noise) to the point that the starkly different elements become protean components of an ever-shifting, yet somehow entirely singular whole.
Andy Hawkins once again shows that he is a guitar player of prodigious talent, wrenching an astonishing array of sounds from his instrument, while bassist Gabe Katz is monstrously steady with the low end. The nearly nine-minute-long opener “Twenty Four Hour Dawn” could be seen as a microcosm of the entire album — it moves all over the place, through abrupt tempo changes, tonal shifts from abrasive to ambient, and vast, pulsing waves of dynamics that swell over the track, building and ebbing like ocean tides during hurricane season, but it never wanders into the realm of self-indulgent wankery. (Always a distinct possibility with players of such high caliber.) More crunching, straightforward tracks like “Strung” and the lumbering “Earth Mover” display B.I.G.’s ability to showcase the primacy of the almighty riff, while the frenetic “Barrage” is just that: a pummeling fusillade that leaves the listener feeling slapped around. The creepy, feedback-drenched noise track “Voice of the Structure” sounds like the prelude to an ax-murderer’s rampage, while the next number, “Under the Weight,” is the unnerving follow-through — the song sounds like some sort of futuristic violence binge.
(Laswell’s production sounds superb, but to anyone familiar with his legendary and extensive catalogue, that should come as no surprise. Every instrument on the album is balanced, crystal-clear and natural-sounding — the recording and mix nicely capture the musicians’ actual playing, not an endless digital cut-and-paste punch session.)
My only concern as I read the album’s press release was the replacement of their original drummer, Ted Epstein, with Tim Wyskida (formerly of drone group Khanate), and I was only really worried about one aspect of the music — could he play the reggae? There is no room for sloppiness within the loping rhythmic backbone of reggae, and the genre has historically produced the most rock-solid of drummers. Wyskidsa handles the crucial rhythms more than admirably.
Wait — oh yeah, I forgot to mention that every Blind Idiot God album has contained dub reggae tracks. In fact, these tracks are the only ones the average terrestrial radio listener could easily identify by genre — “OK, that’s reggae.” Everything else would most likely draw a perplexed “whatthefuckisthis?” Understandably, right about now some of you are probably thinking, “Reggae? OK, you had me up until now” — it’s not as if Blind Idiot God isn’t already a sufficiently diverse band, and on paper the idea of three white Midwestern dudes trying to play Jamaican music seems like an absolutely terrible idea (and more than once I have witnessed other bands attempt this, with tragic results), but B.I.G. actually excel at the form — they obviously respect the roots of the genre, but add their own touch to the dubby grooves, making them entirely their own. Spaced-out tracks like “Night Driver” and “Ramshackle” could very easily have come out of Scratch’s fabled Black Ark had it been a hangout for over-caffeinated punk bands raised on Ornette Coleman. The album’s closer, the stripped-down “Shutdown” is actually menacing — and when was the last time you heard a reggae song that made you think, “It sounds like something bad is about to happen to someone”? I suppose “dub noir” might be an apt description, but like the rest of Blind Idiot God’s music, any attempt at pigeonholing is just an exercise in inexactitude and futility. Throughout Before Ever After r, Blind Idiot God sound precisely like Blind Idiot God and nothing else, and for those who are unfamiliar with the band, just trust me, that is a very, very impressive thing to sound like.
My only real beef with the record is the oddly out-of-place, surf-rock-styled “Fub” — it just seems a bit incongruously happy to me — but seven so-so minutes out of a 74-minute, kick-ass full-length ain’t too bad. And Before Ever After can be an exhausting album to sit through — one and a quarter hours of any band can wear you out — but it is, after all, an album, and as such forms a beautifully varied yet cohesive extended musical narrative. That’s something that’s rapidly becoming a rarity in this age of shortened attention spans and platinum digital singles, and B.I.G.’s latest is a rewarding listen for those with a respect for the kind of brutal and sustained creative exertion it takes to make a really well crafted album. After more than 30 years of successfully pushing the envelope and smashing barriers with their work, Blind Idiot God definitely deserve that kind of respect, so crank this record way the fuck up.
A superior piece of work from a groundbreaking band that still makes most others look rather primitive in comparison (the Village Voice’s Anne Marlowe once wrote, “Blind Idiot God’s soundchecks are better than most bands’ entire shows”), Before Ever After doesn’t inspire nostalgia in me — it just inspires.
Randy Blythe (courtesy of the The Talkhouse website)
Coming back from an extended break seems to be always tricky, for any band. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, Blind Idiot God were releasing great record after great record. Their refreshing style and no boundaries approach to mixing different genres under their unique kaleidoscope resulted in three excellent albums. The band officially went in hiatus in 1996 and was reinvigorated in 2001, with the addition of Tim Wyskida (of Khanate) on the drums. Still it is not until 2015, a stunning twenty-three years that it took for the band to release new music. So, the big question would be if the long wait was worth it? Fuck yeah it was!
Listening time after time to Before Ever After it seems like it is the album that we have been waiting from the experimental band. No matter how great the self-titled album, Cyclotron and Undertow were, in their newest offering Blind Idiot God are fulfilling their promises in the most breathtaking way. Even though a lot of what was going in the three first albums of the band seemed to be quite abstract and improvised, in this case their ability to create free flowing music is in a whole other level. The opening song sees them turning to moments where they reach an absolute zenith of absurdity. Trips to jazzy feelings in songs such as “Under The Weight” and more of a funk and bluesy offering in “Fub” see the band encompassing novel approaches to their existing patterns. And they can go quite crazed at moments as well, do not forget that this band has strong root within math rock and post-hardcore scenes. Take tracks such as “Earthmover” and “Strung” and you will find some of the most bizzare and frenzied rhythmic patterns out there.
Apart from creating strange arrangements within the songs, these guys are masters of improvisation. If that was apparent in the first three albums of the band, it is a focal point in Before Ever After. The guitar solos spread over this album are insane, giving an absolutely great feel in the tracks. There is a sense of urgency to them, but at the same time they do not feel pushed. The guitar solos in “Twenty Four Hour Dawn” and “Earthmover” are brilliantly placed and performed, as are the subtler parts in songs such as “Ramshackle” and “Fub.” showing that no matter in which mode Blind Idiot God are, they are equally capable of producing their conceptual designs to great extents. Even within the dub tracks of the album, such as “High and Mighty” and “Night Driver,” the lead work is impeccable.
The same principle is followed on the drums and bass, with Wyskida and Katz giving their all to create such an energetic offering. It is especially stunning to see how they can move within some parts with more rigid structures, as is the case with “Antiquity” and how they can complement the more straightforward moments of the album, while still giving one hell of a performance. And then there are those moments were it seems like all three members will start improvising at the same time, leading to completely out of this world parts, such as in “Wheels of Progress.”
There are a couple of aspects that have changed within the years for Blind Idiot God, and it is more than welcome in this case. There seem to be moments when the music seems to be taking on a much heavier personification than what was used from the band. “Antiquity” and parts of “Wheels of Progress” have that quality, but then you get a track such as “Strung” and even so with “Earthmover” you see the band taking on a drunken heavy rock mantle. Of course that is just a lure and a couple of minutes in the song you will get the perfect dissonance that the band is so capable of calling whenever it is needed. The ease with which Hawkins can come up with these discordant parts is insane, ranging from whole sections, as is the case with parts of “Strung,” to big and dissonant leads in “Under The Weight” and finally to simple bends, in parts of “Twenty Four Hour Dawn” and “Barrage,” that keep you always on the edge.
It is part of this sort of huge, tidal wave sounding attribute that the guitar has and always had in the works of Blind Idiot God. It is not random that the band decided to kick off the album with that aspect of their sound being the first thing you would experience. And it is a trademark sound that they seem able to be able to use in a myriad of different ways. The way the leads wash over in parts of “Wheels of Progress” gives that imposing character to the sound, as do the heavier riffs in “Barrage.” Hawkins even includes “Voice of the Structure,” a track that sees the band shifting towards an ambient side, with just the guitar exploring different sonic qualities. That is also a slight wink towards Azonic, Hawkins' solo project.
Of course the final aspect that needs to be addressed here is no other than the dub influence. Well it is clearly more than an influence. Even though Blind Idiot God would include dub tracks in their previous albums, their approach of that sound in Before Ever After is on another level. The attitude is more exploratory in these songs as well, and even though they feature great melodies and infectious grooves, you can still feel that ugly Lovecraftian beast lurking underneath. “High and Mighty” is the first track that you encounter in this trip which will immediately get stuck in your head, with its huge bass and pumping sound. “Night Driver” on the other hand has a smoother and slightly darker tone, with an underlying emotional vibe as well, while “Ramshackle” features an almost playful attitude from the band. “Fub” is probably the best combination of all the different aspects of Blind Idiot God, featuring dub moments, as well as jazz parts and heavier passages. And then there is finally “Shutdown” which is closer to the vibe of “High and Mighty” and finishes off the album with its gorgeous melodic parts and intoxicating rhythm. Do not think for a second that this is straightforward dub, and even though the songs have that “lying on a beach” vibe to them, it feels more like you are in a beach on some science fiction based planet, getting burned by its three suns in front of a sea which is actually comprised of molten uranium.
As great as their earlier works were, Before Ever After finds Blind Idiot God playing in a whole different level. The fluidity that they are able to achieve is highlighted perfectly by the stellar production of this album. It is just one of these weird cases, with a band going away for so long and then manages to comeback not just with a reprisal of their previous material, but rather with their best work to date.
Spyros Stasis courtesy of the Scene Point Blank website
The first thing that will hit you upon playing the new Blind Idiot God album, their first record in 23 years and itself more than a decade in the making, is the volume. Not necessarily the loudness, though they’ve always been a band that benefit from being turned up to 11, but the sheer space-filling wholeness of it all. Andy Hawkins might be the only remaining member of the St Louis-via-Brooklyn trio that blasted off with a truly bar-raising self-titled debut for SST in 1987, but his rich, diffusive guitar tone alone feels like it can carry all the weight and pressure that he, bassist Gabe Katz and drummer Ted Epstein created when they whipped hardcore, metal, dub and even 20th-century classical influences into a whirling dervish of sound, like what might happen if you locked King Crimson in a studio with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry or something.
The second thing you might notice is that Hawkins’ guitar isn’t even the focal point of ‘Twenty Four Hour Dawn’, the colossal nine-minute track that opens ‘comeback’ album Before Ever After (they’ve been back, as a studio and part-time band, since 2001; it just took them this long to put the album together). Rather it’s the deft, agile percussion of Tim Wyskida, formerly the backbone of bleak, glacially slow doom outfit Khanate, that’s strongly foregrounded. The Tim Wyskida heard here is an entirely different proposition, playing with the same confidence – you can’t hide your mistakes when you’re playing with seconds between hits – but diametrically opposed in his dynamics, with busy rolls and fills between the snare’s snap and crunch, the rumble of toms and kick-drum matching the low-end frequencies of Gabe Katz (who withdrew from the band in 2012 due to hearing issues and tendonitis, but not before laying down years’ worth of bass tracks). It’s almost like a hat tip to Damon Ché of drummer-led ensemble Don Caballero, which also happened to be one of the bigger instrumental rock trios to emerge in BIG’s absence after 1992’s Cyclotron.
Not that there’s ever been a suitable replacement for Blind Idiot God. No one else blends genres quite like they do; no one else, apart from maybe Bad Brains, would have the chutzpah to merge seamlessly from hardcore to dub and as they did on their three previous long-players and as they do again here, sliding into the head-bopping jam of ‘High and Mighty’ that itself gives way to the crushing ‘Antiquity’, which teeters like a rollercoaster from a heavier-than-thou see-saw riff into quick bursts of noise-laden speed. If it brings to mind older tracks like ‘Subterranean Flight’ from their debut, or ‘Rollercoaster’ from 1989’s Undertow, that’s no bad thing: Before Ever After is the same Blind Idiot God as before, except now in glorious high definition, Bill Laswell at the desk capturing every detail even bolder and brighter than his crystalline job on Cyclotron two decades ago.
Those details are everything. Wyskida and Katz swing out in the loose jam-room intro to ‘Earthmover’, which evolves into a slow-burning stoner rock number, or at least their approximation of stoner rock as transmuted through Hawkins’ trademark tone and note-bending. ‘Night Driver’ is another dub excursion, Katz locking down a reverb-dripping groove for Wyskida to follow with his echo-rich percussion bouncing in step, with Hawkins layering on textures and fragments of melodies as if they were paint on canvas. That jam-room feel returns in the lurching ‘Wheels Of Progress’, stop-start rhythms and riffs taking their time to coalesce into lock-step locomotion, then breaking down back into the song’s constituent parts, making space for an extended picked-riff solo by Hawkins that’s mesmerising in its clean-tone simplicity.
‘Ramshackle’ relieves some of the elastic tension with its chipper dub to end the first half of this expansive double LP. Yes, there’s still more to come – 76 minutes of music all together – and really it’s a record that’s best taken in separate sittings, as the size and density of it all is positively exhausting to the ears, and the head. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss the nuances within the walls of sound BIG build on the rumbling, tumbling ‘Barrage’, the factory-machine pummel of ‘Under The Weight’ and concrète-esque grinds and howls on ‘Voice Of The Structure’, the most experimental track of this set. You wouldn’t want to be numb, either, to the hypnotic riff repetition of ‘Stung’ and syncopated funk-dub hybrid ‘Fub’, nor ‘Shutdown’ with its album-closing chill-out vibes.
In any other situation I might complain that it was too much, that a little editing wouldn’t have gone amiss. But much like with latter-day Swans (an ironic comparison to make, knowing that Hawkins used to live with Michael Gira in Martin Bisi’s Gowanus studio, and reportedly never cared for his roommate’s band), the songs themselves are the thing, even if the record as a whole is a lot to swallow. It’s up to the listener how many of these timeless space jams you want to take in one go, or even in what order to take them (the LP version’s track order is quite different to the CD/digital release). Besides, it’s surely looking a gift horse in the mouth to gripe that Hawkins and company have given us too much. We should be grateful that they’ve given us anything at all, never mind that it’s as incredible as it is.
MacDara Conroy (courtesy of the Thumped/A> website)