goraphobic Nosebleed's 1999 EP PCP Torpedo begins with the sound of Richard Pryor ranting in character about the travails of the working man, taken from the great, sadly overlooked 1978 film Blue Collar. In the context of the band's later work, one expects disparaging, borderline-offensive commentary from the band, but instead on the EP ANb delivers class-conscious lyrics, oblique but clearly in the politicized grindcore tradition ("Increase individual productivity by martial law / Non-workers are to be considered wasteful, expendable criminals"). Later efforts would present the band as a psychotic variant of Lenny Bruce, challenging listeners to draw their own conclusions about forays into racism, misognyny, anti-Semitism, and—especially—homophobia (singer J. Randall is more obsessed with homosexuality than is the Rev. Fred Phelps) as ANb dished out lines that presumably mocked irrational hatred by articulating its most extreme corollaries, but always with uncomfortably ambiguous overtones.
That ambiguity, of course, is what makes ANb provocative rather than merely offensive. On PCP Torpedo the duo of guitarist/drum-machine programmer Scott Hull and vocalist Randall hadn't yet decided to carry on the épater-le-bourgeois, Baudelaire-via-Anal Cunt project (Hull was briefly associated with that infamous group in the mid-90s). One year after its full-length debut Honky Reduction, ANb issued these ten songs on a seven-minute, six-inch record; it was one of many short releases on the way to the 2002 grindcore landmark Frozen Corpse Stuffed with Dope, and probably the only ephemeral output not collected on the band's 2005 collection Bestial Machinery. Now, paired with a remix disc titled ANbRX, PCP Torpedo has been recovered and presented for historical revaluation.
It holds up surprisingly well. Agoraphobic Nosebleed has drawn much flak for its use of a drum machine, which is seen as a violation of grindcore protocol. But rote dogmatism obscures the hyperkinetic effect to which Hull uses his trusty machines. These songs average about 40 seconds; by 2003's Altered States of America they'd commonly be pared down to a tenth of that, but even here the drumming takes on inhuman levels of speed that embody the EP's title. If the percussive assault gives these brittle, angry little confections a certain sterility (a quality very much absent from Hull's other band, Pig Destroyer), this suggests an aesthetic choice informed by the band's bleak worldview—a plus, not a minus. Certainly Hull knows his way around a studio; rightly renowned for his production work for a plethora of metal bands, his care on PCP Torpedo is audible, from the diverse (but always corrosive) guitar tones to the 3-D vocal effect as Randall's processed scream shoots forward in the mix during the closing second of "The Man From Famine."
ANbRX is a more mixed bag, often best when its technicians wander furthest afield from the source material. Vidna Obama's ambient "Three Ring Inferno" mix pulsates like a haunted electrocardiogram, coaxing the ghost out of ANb's machine—it escapes with a surprisingly warm shimmer at the end. Some of the contributors adhere to the abrasive grindcore mentality, with several of the biggest names showing the least creativity; James Plotkin of Khanate fame offers a rote 1:40 "Phantomsmasher Mix" with a nice vocal meltdown and new-wave synth line in the middle but minimal reimagining of ANb, while Merzbow simply dishes out a noise collage similar to his more rhythmic efforts (though at only a few minutes, much shorter than his comparable work on Discordance Axis). Though Justin Broadrick of Jesu delivers one of the more expansive remixes at nearly seven minutes, his "Flesh of Jesu Mix" sounds more like a compressed version of mid-90s Godflesh soundscapes like "Go Spread Your Wings."
Such middling efforts are compensated for by the (perhaps hungrier) lesser-known names. DJ Speedranch's appropriately titled "Thanksgiving Day (Creed Are Twats and Nickelback Look Like Mike Bolton Mix)" veers from middle-eastern sounds to reggae to a faux-"interview" of ANb, while Hellz Army begin like Aphex Twin in 1994 and promptly disintegrate into a sort of grind-fueled primer on hardcore techno. Dev/null & Xanopticon display some breakcore, with accelerating video-game bleeps that could be an M.I.A. backing track gone mad.
How ANbRX is intended to inspire a rethinking of Agoraphobic Nosebleed is uncertain, given the band's supporting role in many of its own remixes. But it makes for an interesting and engaging experiment, helping to justify the PCP Torpedo reissue in the process. On first thought, this might not be the best introduction to the band, but considering the overwhelming hostility of ANb's entire oeuvre, it could suffice as well as any better-known albums.
Reviewed by: Whitney Strub
Reviewed on: 2006-07-26