“I know you’ve met them all, but they can’t make you thrash” - Crack That Whip
Here’s the thing to remember about the 80’s, at least here in the USA. There were two prevailing obsessions in pop culture for most of the decade: heavy metal and splatter movies. We could not get enough of jiggling cheerleaders getting stalked and slashed by faceless killers, especially when the latest Ratt or Dokken single was chugging away in the background. And this went on for years, man. Blood, boobs, and headbanging. I’m not sure where this obsession with sex, violence and rampant volume came from, although I suspect nuclear fear and cocaine had a lot to do with it.
Anyway, lots of flash metal bands sought inspiration in splatter, as evidenced by the plethora of ginchy shock n’ roll bands around at the time, midnight tatterdemalions and groovy ghouls like WASP, Gwar, Green Jello, Ripper, Haunted Garage, Nasty Savage, Hallow’s Eve, Lizzy Borden, the Manimals, the Wild, and Kery Doll, among others. But if ya really wanna slice through the all the grisly meat ‘til you hit bone, let us simply park our hearse in front of the 80s gravest gore whores, the darkest defilers of ‘em all, the offal-eating bad asses from Minnesota themselves, Impaler. Impaler were so out there in every possible way that I’m still not sure it wasn’t all just a hazy, blood-soaked nightmare.
Impaler was formed in the early 80s in St Paul, Minnesota, a cold, desolate tundra of black ice and purple rain, by one Bill Lindsey, a dude who grew up on Hammer horror flicks and Detroit rock n’ roll. Their live shows featured Lindsey emerging from a coffin to perform unspeakable acts on the audience, his band, and himself. There was blood, there was horror, there was nudity. But most importantly, there was rock n’ roll. There are many things that set them apart from the rest of the splat-pack, but their impeccable taste in musical influences was the ringer. Impaler loved Alice Cooper, sure, but they also loved the Stooges and the MC5, and that added a raw, primal element to their music that made WASP sound as safe as milk in comparison.
They were also unabashed in their love of punk, particularly the Dead Boys. With the glaring exception of Overkill, who also embraced the nihilistic antics of Stiv and company, most metal bands at the time were still violently opposed to anything punk rock. The relative isolation of their hometown was another factor in their development. St Paul/Minneapolis was a hotbed for punk and indie-rock (Replacements, Soul Asylum, Husker Du, etc), but pretty barren when it came to metal. Impaler’s only real competition in the local scene was pirate-metal chainsaw wielders Slave Raider, and they were just as hopelessly weird. Throw in a couple decades of late-show horror flicks on TV and you’ve got the perfect prescription for Rise of the Mutants, Impaler’s jaw-dropping debut.
Rise of the Mutants was released by Combat records, home of Sweet Pain, TKO, and a few dozen thrash metal bands, in 1985. By that time, Impaler were already a known quantity in metal circles because of a widely circulated round of demos (the “Vicious Demos”, as they were known), live tapes, and a carpet-bombing homegrown media campaign that infected even the smallest circulation Xerox metalzines of the day. Wherever there were metal kids in ‘84-85, believe me, there was an Impaler tape blaring. Not that Impaler’s sound was even all that metal, at that point – they were more of a metallic punk band, like the Dead Boys-meets-Poison Idea-meets Venom, maybe — but the spikes, leather, blood, and subject matter (mayhem, chicks, the devil) were all close enuff for rock n’ roll. The cover of Rise features a very feral Lindsey dressed in post-apocalyptic gear, crouching on the ground like a cornered animal, a hunk of raw meat in his mouth. The back cover isn’t exactly comforting either, with black metal-esque photos of the band bleeding and scowling and abusing some blonde. The whole thing looks like the work of maniacs. And that’s how it sounds, too.
With a the “Eep!” of an amp switching on, Rise kicks in with Shock Rock, Impaler’s self-aggrandizing ode to themselves. It rides on a wall of ear-smashing fuzz and a Plasmatics riff (Tight Black Pants, I think), and thrashes around like Jason in Friday the 13th after somebody shoots him with a spear. It’s bloody and ugly and just sounds like fuckin’ trouble. Bills yelps, “Want it, need it, crave it every day, I’ll have it! I demand it! Loud, I say! Shock Rock!” in a voice that’s somewhere between Dave Mustaine’s snarl and, uh, Johnny Thunders’ snarl. It’s bracing stuff, but it’s practically sedate next to it’s follow-up, Crack that Whip, a sub-sonic wall of acid-metal guitar, a propulsive, sleaze-punk beat, and a berserk vocal performance from Lindsey, where he professes his love for S&M sex. The flipside is more metal-tinged, but no less manic, as theme song Impaler lays on the glam-doom slabbage like St. Vitus fighting off a knife wielding New York Dolls (or voice versa, whichever image pleases you more), and closer Heaven’s Force throws a little 70s thunderboogie and devil imagery into the mix. The production is non-existent, the performances are all ramshackle propulsion, and there is genuine joy in these grooves, buried deep under the blood and guts. A damned and demented classick, this one.
Rise was released at the height of PMRC record-banning hysteria, and made their vaunted “obscene” list, along with WASP and 2 Live Crew, which helped Impaler’s sales enormously. A year later, they followed up with their first full-length, the more metallized If We Had Brains We’d Be Dangerous (Combat, 1986). Brains was produced by Husker Du mainman Bob Mould (!). It was also much more of a straight-ahead metal record, which only cemented Impaler’s stature as the Shock Metal’s reigning mutant kings. In 1988, they even recorded at Prince’s Paisley Park studios (the album, Wake Up Screaming was eventually released in 1990), which, you have to admit, is pretty fuckin’ shocking. In one form or another, Impaler have carried on their bloody work and are still releasing albums and playing gigs. As far as I know, they’re still eating raw meat, too. Given the sorry state of rock n’ roll these days, I’d say “the kids” could use a little raw meat in their diets.
**Next: Grave New Record — Discharge blow it completely **